The recent history of the Great Lakes region holds many instances of violent conflicts that left behind wholesale effects. Most of those conflicts originate from individual countries before spreading across the borders. The genocide committed against the Tutsi in Rwanda is undeniably an eloquent illustration of this reality. Despite their limitations, a great deal of effort has been progressively made to manage those conflicts both locally and nationally. From a regional perspective, not much seemed to have been done beside diplomatic and political arrangements. It is this gap that instilled in 2013 the establishment of a programme known as “Trans-Border Dialogue for Peace in the Great Lakes Region”.
The programme is based on the premise that domestic peace in each individual state in the region depends partly on the neighboring countries and that a sustainable path towards peace requires absolutely a joint undertaking between and including the people from the entire region. It is piloted by International Peacebuilding Alliance (Interpeace) and implemented by 6 partner organisations from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. In the latter country, NAR implements this programme along with its other programs. Core pillars of the programme include participatory action research (PAR) dialogue, and advocacy.
PAR is applied with the premise that none else can be more knowledgeable of any community or national issue than those who experience or face it. In this regional programme, community members and civil stakeholders and decision-makers are provided with space to engage in the identification and analysis of what major challenges to peace and thus propose solutions. So far two pieces of PAR were conducted on Stereotypes and Identity Manipulation in the Great Lakes Region and Land, Population Movements and Identity Conflict in the Great Lakes Region.
The dialogue pillar consists mainly of five cross-border dialogue spaces for peace at the community level, four of which involve Rwandan participants. Since 2015, such spaces are operational in zones such as Rubavu-Goma, Kamembe-Bukavu, Bugarama-Cibitoke-Kamanyola and Bugesera-Kirundo. For each space, participants include 30 community members from both sides of respective borders.
The dialogue processes enable community members, on permanent basis, to identify structure and harmonize their priorities as well as needs and express them through consultative mechanisms to local, national and regional authorities. They also provide opportunities and spaces for the discussion of key issues and conflict resolution in their own communities to reduce mistrust and strengthen inter-community linkages.
Both PAR and dialogue processes feed the advocacy pillar which endeavors to translate the recommendations or solutions that emerge from research and dialogue process into concrete actions at both programmatic and policy levels.
Overall, the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Programme is mostly proud of having contributed to a big extent to dispel mistrust, suspicion and identity stereotypes among community members from different sides of the borders. Such a change is increasingly being extended to their respective communities via targeted community outreach endeavors by members of these dialogue spaces.
As of now (February 2017), the programme is switching from a four year phase one which kicked off in 2013 to its second phase running up to 2020.
The writer is the coordinator of the program for more information please visit the NAR website www.neveragainrwanda.org
Peace beyond the Borders