Shaping cross-border peace through dialogue, advocacy and research

The regional programme known as ‘Trans-border dialogue for peace in the Great Lakes Region’ is piloted by Interpeace in partnership with six local organisations based in Rwanda (Never Again Rwanda), Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The programme operates with three boundary partners, including community members (youth, men and women), decision-makers and regional institutions through four major strategies. These include participatory-action research, dialogue and advocacy and collaboration with CSOs to expand the engagement of actors. After a phase I that ran from 2013 to 2018, the programme embarked on Phase II, operational from January 2017 to 2020.

For the year 2017, major activities of the programme consisted of ordinary dialogue sessions with cross-border dialogue spaces (GDPs), community forums organised around issues that emerged from GDP sessions, advocacy meetings with decision-makers around the same issues and research on resilience for reconciliation.

Regarding the dialogue, 14 dialogue sessions were held within 4 GDPs co-facilitated by NAR and other stakeholders. A total of 313 people including 172 men and 141 women attended the sessions. They included Rubavu-Goma, Kamembe-Bukavu, Bugarama-Kamanyola-Cibitoke and Bugesera-Kirundo. The initial sessions aimed at drawing up annual plans for GDPs, while others consisted of operationalizing those plans. Thanks to said sessions, a couple of community forums and advocacy meetings with decision-makers were planned and carried out.

During the same year, GDPs with the support of partner organisations organized community forums to engage community members involved in cross-border activities with regular border-users from local communities in discussions on major challenges faced from a cross-border perspective and propose solutions. In this regard, 5 community forums were carried out, 2 of which were in Goma,1 in Rubavu,1 in Rusizi and 1 in Bugesera.

The community forums in the form of Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were organized in Rubavu and Rusizi on the 14th and 28th of June respectively, and were aimed at identifying and analysing major issues faced by people involved in cross-border trade and movement via Poids Lourds, Rusizi II & III border posts, respectively. On the former border post, the FGD brought together 27 people including 12 male and 15 female. The participants highlighted issues such as: multiple taxes paid on the Congolese side without any receipts; the presence of several but unidentified Congolese officials (with neither name nor uniform) who collected taxes without any receipts; and a “human tax”, worth 500 Congolese francs per person, standing for the visa fee while this fee is imposed nowhere else on Rwando/Congolese border.

In addition, as a result of an issue raised and discussed within Bugesera/Kirundo GDP, another community forum was organized on 22nd September 2017, in Rweru Sector (a sector neighboring with Burundi), Bugesera District. It aimed at identifying and analysing issues faced by Rweru residents as a result of the political and security crisis in Burundi. Participants were 27 community members including 16 men and 11 women. Issues raised and discussed include, among others: cases of cow theft by individuals from Burundi; the cross-border trade (mainly of fruits) that was frozen which impacted negatively the livelihoods of those involved in that trade, especially women and the freeze of cross-border movement, especially by Rwandans who cannot safely travel to Burundi.    

With regard to the FGD in Rubavu, it brought together 8 people, 3 male and 5 female. A couple of issues were identified and analysed including: long queues on the Rwandan side while some border-users carry heavy loads/goods while other goods are often carried by porters with the risk of losing them eventually; high taxation of some products by the Rwandan customs; multiple taxes paid on the Congolese side and without any receipts; the presence of several but unidentified Congolese officials (with neither name nor uniform) who collect taxes without any receipts; and the absence of approved taxation tariffs of products/goods, which makes the whole taxation system subjective and corrupt.

To address the issues identified, participants proposed solutions that were, later on, shared with decision-makers and officials in a couple of advocacy meetings organized to that end.

Overall, 4 advocacy meetings were conducted: 2 in Goma (DRC),1 in Rubavu and 1 in Rusizi. The first one was held in Goma on 9 September and brought together provincial decision-makers (Government, Parliament, Police, Justice, Agence Nationale de Renseignement, City of Goma), telecommunication Companies, and GDP members with the support of the Pole Institute and NAR, to discuss the problem of child kidnapping in Goma.

After the screening of an adhoc video earlier produced following a round of interviews with families of the victims, fruitful discussions were done among 25 participants consisting of 16 men and 9 women. Participating decision-makers and representatives of telecommunication companies committed to work together to curb this problem. Moreover, a follow-up committee was established to reach out to relevant national authorities to involve them in addressing this issue. After a couple of days, the impact of the advocacy meeting started yielding fruit as a couple of suspects were prosecuted, unlike the period before where suspects were immediately released.

The second advocacy meeting in Goma was convened on 9 November, and brought together provincial decision-makers (Government, Parliament, Police, Agence Nationale de Renseignement, City of Goma), a representative of Rwanda Revenue Authority from Rubavu (Rwanda), representatives of selected CSOs involved in cross-border trade and GDP members with the support of the Pole Institute and NAR, to discuss challenges and problems affecting people involved in cross-border activities (Poids Lourds Border Post). Both meetings were GDP initiatives supported by Interpeace and partner organisations through the regional programme. Core tools used in this meeting included an adhoc film produced by the regional programme and a summary of issues that emerged from a previous related community forum. Major issues raised are those that came out of a FGD with selected users of Poids Lourds Border Post (see above). Following the discussions, decision-makers, especially the President of the North-Kivu Provincial Assembly, committed to work with relevant authorities to ensure that clear laws and regulations were put in place and enforced to regulate taxation system and order at the border between Rubavu and Goma. In the same vein, the decision-makers requested the meeting organizers draft the meeting report and share the report with them for follow-up and action.

As far as the advocacy meeting in Rubavu is concerned, it was organized along with the celebration of the International Day of Peace, on 29 September. NAR organized the event in collaboration with the Pole Institute (Goma), Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle and ADEPE (Rubavu). Participants included selected decision-makers from Rubavu District and the City of Goma, CEPGL and representatives of selected CSOs operating in cross-border trade in both cities. It aimed at providing community members, decision-makers and CSOs with a space to discuss major obstacles to peace and peaceful cohabitation in the sub-region. Issues discussed for advocacy purposes included largely those that had emerged from both the FGDs in Rubavu in June and a community forum organized the previous day (28th September), with people involved in cross-border activities in Rubavu and Goma. It was recommended that NAR organize individualized visits with targeted institutions to discussed the meeting recommendations and hence move to action aimed at addressing the issues raised.

In the same line, a reflective meeting was organized with decision-makers in Rusizi District, on June 30th. It brought together 69 decision-makers and officials at both the district and sector level among whom there were 51 men and 18 women. The meeting focused on introducing and discussing NAR programmes, approaches and achievements to participants, as well as the issues that emerged from the FGD which had been conducted with citizens (Rwandans and Congolese) involved in cross-border activities. District authorities and officials not only requested NAR to contribute in building their capacities in participatory approaches for more participation in planning, implementation and evaluation processes, but also to facilitate them in setting up citizen forums in the district. As regards the issues relating to the cross-border activities, given that most of them concern the Congolese side, the district authorities not only called the border-users to abide by the laws and regulations to avoid penalties, but also promised to advocate for them.

In relation to research strategy, the programme embarked on a new research project focusing on resilience for reconciliation. It stemmed from recommendations from a previous research on Land, Population Movement and Conflict in the Great Lakes Region, completed and validated in 2015. Three workshops were organized, 1 in Bukavu in August (40 participants, consisting of 31 men and 9 women) and 2 in Rubavu in April and October (59 participants consisting of 40 men and 19 women). They brought together members of the Technical Support Group, researchers from partner organisations and Interpeace staff as well as 2 research experts from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to get immersed with the research concepts and elaborate the methodology and data collection tools. By the end of the year (2017), core conceptual and methodological aspects were available, while the first draft questionnaire was elaborated and reviewed. The critical phases of this research process are expected to begin in 2018.

The writer is the Coordinator of the Great Lakes Program at Never Again Rwanda.