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Community Organizing to Prevent Violence
Andrew Peterson, AGLI Extended Service Volunteer
From PeaceWays, Fall 2010, Volume V, Issue II

During the 2010 Burundian elections, the HROC program formed 18 Democracy and Peace Groups and trained people to be citizen reporters. Here are two results from this organizing. AGLI is currently implementing a similar, but more ambitious program for the 2013 Kenyan elections.

Democracy and Peace Groups
One of the people whose house was burned participated in the HROC workshop. After calling in the problem, we were encouraged to go to the site where it happened and help the victim. When the victim promised to seek revenge, we urged him to seek nonviolent solutions, after his house was burned he went to live with his mother in a simple straw hut. We kept up with him, and some of us donated things to help him out. I gave him two pieces of clothing myself. We were afraid he would become angry and commit violence in revenge, but he has remained peaceful.

We focused our efforts on speaking with youth who we thought were at risk of getting involved in violence. We used playing soccer as a starting point to our relationship. Then later when the topic shifted to politics, we would urge them to consider carefully where violence led in the past in 1993 and suggested that if they love their country they will find other means of addressing the problems they perceive. For example, after the communal elections, one young man said that he would go into the forest to join an armed militia. Since we knew he was a good student, we suggested that such behavior might be common for uneducated people, but that he should think more carefully. He seemed to take this to heart. We also spoke with parents to urge them to keep an eye on their children, for example to consider where they might have been if suddenly they start coming home late.

Citizen Reporters
On the eve of the presidential elections, everything was very tense, the bars were all closed, and the police were on high alert. Then I heard that three people were arrested that evening who we knew were not actually engaged in illegal activities. I texted [another member of the Democracy and Peace Group, a Tutsi who lives in the internally displaced persons camp], who agreed to follow up on the case with the police. From there, the two of us communicated by cell phones to coordinate our efforts to speak with various local officials and administrators. Eventually we heard from the Commune administrator that they could not be released because it was too late in the evening, but that if one of us came the next morning we would see that they will be released. Later we heard from one of those arrested that one of the police officers was asking him, “Who are you that you have these administrators suddenly concerned about your status?” So it was really our coordination through the SMS network that helped these innocent people be released without harm.