Taking stock of the past year and looking into 2018’s prospects

Reviewing 2017, what were NAR’s achievements in relation to its objectives?

In 2017, the Societal Healing and Participatory Governance program was a highlight because of the numerous Spaces for Peace that took place. Most of them had started two years ago and in 2017 we recorded some increase of trust demonstrated through the collaboration of organized community activities. We had about four community exchange meetings, which were organized together with local officials across communities where Spaces for Peace operate and also where they invited local community members to participate.

Is there anything thing to report back to stakeholders about these ‘spaces’?

Normally these spaces are closed because the members support each other to express themselves about their sensitive past. However, the fact that they’ve been able to open up is an addition because they could demonstrate the journey that they have gone through and share this with the rest of the community to help them understand what they have been up to and to call upon them to increase their support towards those activities. So, from those exchange meetings we learnt a lot about other existing opportunities in the community, which will be leveraged on to increase our interventions within the community healing.

Are there any new partnerships worth talking about? 

Our collaboration with the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) bore some fruit as we had a couple of meetings with them to discuss what could be done in terms of improving the healing process in the country and orienting the healing to the community. This is mainly because, for many years, we have been looking at it from a mental health perspective, which is not a bad thing because the Ministry of Health has done a lot of work establishing infrastructures to support trauma victims. The community-oriented approaches are still limited so NAR has been collaborating with these institutions to make sure that the healing work goes to another level. We organized a strategic meeting, which brought together the Ministry of Health, the NURC and civil society organisations who are involved in healing. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how we could work together to bridge the gaps in terms of healing but also how to join our efforts to support the government institutions.

NAR’s peacebuilding work is usually well documented through conferences. Tell us more about these conferences in reference to 2017.

In the peacebuilding program, we’ve also been able to organize a conference on memory, policy and practice of the commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. This is an important conference (held in April). We were able to bring together the young people from NAR’s clubs and associations to collaborate and look at the pathways that may have led to the genocide there is a need to look at the conditions that preceded the genocide itself. This meeting attracted over 100 young people from across the country to share their understanding about how they can collaborate from within their respective initiatives to continue to take the peacebuilding to another level. The conference was a good opportunity for the youth to increase their knowledge in terms of the dynamics which led to the genocide, which is something they hear about everyday, but in an open space whereby they can discuss their own understanding and also make suggestions about the practices, which are linked to the commemoration of genocide, for us to improve in the future. In terms of advocacy, we’ve been able to denote a strategy for advocacy which incorporates our Spaces For Peace, because we want to establish a mechanism where the issues which are discussed in the community can, at the end of the day, influence the way policies and decisions are taken at the national level.

So, these strategies are existent due to the good work done in 2017 and this is something that will continue to help us and guide our efforts to advocate for the promotion of healing and the existence of collaborations to bring various approaches together and reach out to more people.

Are there any other 2017 engagements worth talking about?

We hosted a Youth Parliamentary Exchange Forum on the International Day Of Peace, which brought together over 400 people from various districts of Rwanda. Again we organised this with NURC and we discussed building peace in families because research has shown that there is an increment of inter- and intra-family conflict which constituted a very serious challenge to peace in the country but, at the same time, obstructing the opportunities for the young ones to learn about peace values. NAR believes that peace values can start being taught from the families. If we see these trends of intra-family conflict, it’s an issue that all of us need to look at. This was our topic in the Youth Parliamentary Exchange.

We had the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth, the Ministry of Justice and other institutions concerned with these conflicts, and the youth were able to interact with the policy-makers about some possible strategies that government is using and how they can relate to what the non-state actors are doing in this regard.

How do you review the governance pillar?

We have continued to run citizen forums in several districts across Rwanda. There are 13 spaces discussing governance issues affecting local communities. This is done to build the capacity of citizens to analyse governance, decision-making and policy-making so that they can provide more meaningful input to their leaders. Of course, with the decentralisation policy and Vision 2020, the government of Rwanda has put a focus on decentralising power but also in citizen participation. If you look at the decentralisation policy, it provides opportunities for citizens to participate, however there are still gaps in terms of how to provide this in terms of implementation and this is where NAR is chipping in to give support. In 2017 we saw many districts increasing consultations in the Imihigo process, for instance, to seek input of the citizen forum members.

Speaking of other pillars, what do you think was the highlight of 2017?

NAR saw its education and sustainable livelihood pillars grow and, right now, we are partnering with the Rwanda Education Board and USAID through an intervention called ‘Soma Umenye’ to try and increase literacy amongst children in all schools of Rwanda through a writing competition called ‘Andika Rwanda’. We hope that through participating in this writing competition, children and students will not only learn to read and write, but can also start tapping into these values to write stories that are relevant to our context and which can help our counterparts to learn from the very local authors. For a long time, we relied on textbooks, stories and poems written by foreign writers, but now we want to increase local authorship through this writing competition. We’ve seen this really taking shape and through this NAR has facilitated in all thirty districts in Rwanda.

Let’s talk about NAR’s outlook for the future, particularly in 2018. What do you want to achieve?

We want to build sustainability for these community associations that are dealing with healing, because we are reaching a level where they can invest into activities because theories have shown that the culminating point of a group that has gone through healing is taking action. We want to work with these groups to build their sustainability. We have seen the citizen forums increasing understanding and their capacity to analyse. We have seen them working together and we hope that their togetherness can enable them to continue to do whatever they have been doing, even with minimal support from NAR. We want to bring governance advisors into various districts so that they can collaborate with the district authorities to organize spaces for citizen consultation, but also to design innovations, which enable citizens to increase their participation and take up the issues which are remaining.

In terms of peacebuilding (and you can refer to this politically), how do you see the larger Great Lakes region unfold in 2018?

We are partnering with Interpeace to implement the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Programme, which involves actors from Burundi and the DRC as well as Rwanda and aims to look at building spaces for dialogue among the citizens of those countries. So we have a number of cross-border dialogues for peace and these are prominent spaces aimed specifically at citizens at the borders of, for instance, Rwanda and the DRC or Rwanda and Burundi. We have been seeing that, beyond the political issues, citizens remain engaged to collaborate because; irrespective of any wall between us thousands of people still cross the border everyday seeking a living. NAR in 2018 will continue to invest itself in the Great Lakes programme. It will continue its partnership with Interpeace and its partners in those various countries but at the same time, bringing youth together from the DRC and Burundi and also from Uganda to interact about their role in peacebuilding through what we call the ‘Public Speaking and Exchange Program’, which is supported by the GIZ. This program happens yearly and consists of students coming together, forming teams and making speeches that reflect peace values and the role that can be played by young people in mitigating conflict in this region.

The interviewer, Alex Rijpma. is a Communications Intern with Never Again Rwanda.