A Bumpy Road to Mediation
By George Brose
Brose, a mediator from near Dayton, Ohio, has traveled for the last
three summers to train and then
mentor mediators in Rwanda,
Burundi and North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo. The mediation
approach AGLI is using is called “transformative mediation” and
fits in well with the concepts of AVP and HROC. Here is a report
from one of his practice mediation sessions which shows the complicated
and family/community based mediation common in Africa versus the
private, individual mediation done in the United States.
Philippe Nakuwundi, Jeanne Masabo, Edith Niyonsavye, Anne-Marie Ntamamiro,
Jean-Berchmans Ndayishimiye and I drove almost 45 minutes together
on a bumpy dirt road to get to a primary school where we were greeted
by a representative of the local peace committee. The participants
in the mediation arrived shortly after. All greeted us, but some
refused to greet each other and it was clear that lines had already
been drawn and tensions were high.
In greeting people, I met one man who had come as an observer, Jean-Marie
Vianney Hazushimana. He greeted me in Kirundi, which I do not speak
but said I could understand. He spoke my languages, Swahili and French,
both fluently and told me he had first fled Burundi to Tanzania in
1972. He had come back several times but each time was forced to flee
again. He said he was neither Hutu nor Tutsi, but had descended from
a mwami (chief) clan the Hansa family and they were considered royalty
and not tribalized. I had read about this the night before. He had
a younger sister in Ottawa, Ontario, and I said I would try to contact
her when I got home to say I had met him. I then went in to observe
one of the two mediations which had already started in the peace center
office, a building still under construction.
When I got there,
they were in caucus (talking to each side separately). One of the
mediation observers, Josias Nduwimana, a Quaker pastor from
Kibinda, told me, “George, this one is very difficult”.
A widow and her two young boys are in conflict with her brother-in-law,
the brother of her deceased husband. By custom, the brother-in-law
is supposed to dispose of land to benefit the widow and himself. It
seems that the widow took it upon herself to sell off the piece of
the land that the brother-in-law wanted to keep for himself.
In the mediation, the widow is sitting with her two boys, about age
11 and 12. The brother-in-law is sitting with his family. There are
a number of people on the far side of the room. The disputants are
against the walls on both sides of the co-mediators. There are a number
of people in the room apparently from the extended families on both
sides. It looks like a trial with spectators. One of the brother-in-law's
relatives walks out followed by his wife. Capitoline Burakuvye, a mediator/observer
goes out with them. The older boy now speaks. The brother-in-law shakes
his head asserting he is not in accord with what the boy is saying.
Then the widow speaks as I step out to take a phone call from Bujumbura.
There seemed to be a lot of action while I am outside. When I come
back in Jeanne is making of summary with which no one seems to agree.
Okay, they can correct and clarify as part of the process. Who are
all the spectators? Are they relatives with vested interest? Does this
become a face saving exercise with so many spectators? I don't know,
but the disputants apparently agreed to the spectators being in there.
After a few more rounds of conversation, the man who bought the land
says that he would back out of the deal if the parties would be willing
to start over in the traditional way. I think he will still get some
land and the brother-in-law will save face. There is a bargain struck,
and all the family members stand up and applaud. Jeanne summarizes
again to make sure everything is clear.
The peace committee leader, Marc Ndarigendama, then makes a speech
to the room, tells the young boys that he hopes they will remember
this day, and that problems can be resolved. It must have really been
bothering the extended families as so many were present. Everyone made
the sign of the cross and sang a beautiful and unusual hymn in that
it had no beat, no hand clapping at all. It was a very haunting melody.
I was allowed to record this part of the process and it was a truly
wondrous event. I have never seen anything like this in ten years of
mediating. The peace committee person, Marc, also wanted me to take
a picture of the event so that it could be hung in that room as a reminder
to the community. We had a boisterous ride back to Gitega, amazed that
the case had come together in the last minutes before our scheduled
departure. To me it was like days when I was a cross country and track
coach and the athletes had trained hard and performed well.
The ride home is great but the euphoria wears off quickly and you
know that the next weeks will bring other cases that may not finish
so well. But after a day like this one, your hopes will always be high
and you look forward to the next opportunity.
Next article: Applying
These Teachings: Testimonies from Congo By Zawadi Nikuze