On Tuesday 9th, International Alert in Rwanda launched our report, Healing Fractured Lives, and the accompanying film (see my previous post) based on the photography of Carol Allen Storey. Discssuing the vivid personal accounts in the report and the film brought out some insights about how peacebuilding can work in even the most extreme circumstances.
Up-close and personal
The launch meeting drew participants from the government, civil society, media, academia and the international aid donor. And the first thing everybody agreed is that peacebuilding is personal, just like the violence was.
Some of the accounts of participants in Alert’s reconciliation and reintegration programme, the subject of the Healing Fractured Lives report, include events that are heart-rending and horrific (“my brothers killed my husband and six children and made me watch”) followed by processes of self-exploration that move you equally to tears but in the other direction (“the trauma counselling helped me to forgive my brothers”). But more broadly, what comes out of the accumulation of these narratives is that peacebuilding in local communities can only move forward if this personal development out of the pain can happen. And by extension, peacebuilding for a nation can only be real if it is real in the local communities. Thus there is an unbreakable link between the personal and the national processes of healing and moving forward. Deny the importance of the personal and you deny the possibility of peacebuilding.
That is not to say that peacebuilding is exclusively personal. There have to be also the national policy issues, the reconstruction of infrastructure and economy, new ways of addressing political difference, the right macro-economic possibilities, a new look at education, in all likelihood the reform or reconstruction of the police and military. But peacebuilding cannot be done without that component of individual engagement.
The second thing to come out of the discussion at the launch meeting was a specific characteristic of the Reconciliation and Reintegration programme, which is essentially summed up in the title – it is reconciliation and reintegration and each works to strengthen the other.
In fact, the programme puts three strands together – trauma counselling, dialogue and microfinance. Understand it, for shorthand, as addressing the feelings, the views and the economic prospects of communities and of individuals still bearing the marks of the 1994 genocide.
The report includes a really instructive tale told by one of the dialogue participants who has also received some micro-financial assistance. He tells of a previous time he received microfinance. With his head all over the place, he took the cash to the market and bought things. End of story. He remarks that he was unable to think in a way that helped him use the money sensibly. But this programme’s preparatory work helps people think about themselves. They can process their feelings with the support of their peers; the trauma counsellors have received some training but are from the community and stay in it – they don’t have degree certificates and a couch. They get to know about opportunities through the dialogue clubs and can discuss them also with their peers. And then they can apply for a small loan.
And if they have no collateral to put up, a solidarity group is formed that collectively puts up the collateral and binds the recipient into a relationship of personal obligation.
But perhaps the most important, challenging and distinctive thing about this programme is that it is inclusive. First, it includes perpetrators of the genocide as well as those victims who survived. It includes young people who had little awareness of what happened. It includes women as well as men.
It has to include everybody because people of all kinds – including survivors, ex-prisoners and ex-combatants – live side by side in villages. Being inclusive is a straightforward pragmatic recognition of what is needed if the country is to move forward. It cannot go forward by leaving significant numbers of people behind, leaving them out.
It is, for obvious reasons, controversial to be inclusive in this way; it is also essential.
We also talked a lot about working in partnership. Alert’s entire programme staff in Rwanda amounts to two people plus one on finance and operations. So how do we do everything that’s in this programme? The answer is that we don’t.
We work with five Rwandan partner organisations. It would not be possible for an international NGO like Alert – even though we are staffed in Rwanda wholly by Rwandans – to run this kind of programme and, even if possible, it would be wrong. Rwandans will build peace in Rwanda, outsiders like ourselves will assist, encourage, nudge and get resources.
The bigger Rwandan aid picture
The M-23 uprising in eastern DRC has not only harmed very large numbers of Congolese (including nearly two million people displaced) and badly destabilised the country, it has also generated controversy around the alleged role of the Rwandan government, accused of aiding M-23. And there is a back-story of earlier controversies and accusations (always denied) about Rwanda’s role in the DRC’s eastern provinces. This has led several donor governments to delay spending decisions on aid, deferring already agreed instalments. Amid the general debate about the effectiveness of development assistance, there has now arisen another about the rightness of continued aid to Rwanda.
What was clear in the room as we launched the report on Reconciliation and Reintegration is that our programme is part of a bigger picture of “job not yet done.” The western donors have made a pretty strong point by withholding payments that go directly to support the government’s national budget. There is concern among business people, for example, about what may have to happen to taxation and what harm that might do to both investment and consumption.
But in whose interests is it if aid dries up and economic instability does follow? – neither the government, nor the people, nor the foreign governments who have been supporting peacebuilding and development in Rwanda since the genocide.
It is hardly surprising if Western donors object to, as some of them are seeing it, their aid being treated as a blank cheque. But using financial leverage to force the Rwandan government to do western governments’ bidding is not likely to work. On the other hand, persuasion and economic realism could combine together to find a way out. There is no visible reason why not.
And in the midst of all that, the Rwandan people continue to need assistance so that in local communities and as a country they can find a way forward, out of the shadow of 1994.
***Apologies, by the way, for the lack of my usual links and references.The internet connection I’ve got is too slow.