Construcción de paz y cohesión social en la respuesta humanitaria en Nigeria

[Articulos Individuales de la edicion de Intersecciones de Otoño del 2019 se publican en este blog cada semana. La edicion completa puede ser encontrada en MCC’s website.]

El CCM Nigeria y sus organizaciones asociadas, los Equipos de Preparación y Respuesta ante Emergencias (EPRT por sus siglas en inglés) y Ekklesiya Yan’uwa A Nijeriya (EYN, o la Iglesia de los Hermanos en Nigeria), han encontrado que integrar la sensibilidad al conflicto en las iniciativas de asistencia humanitaria es fundamental para el éxito de estos proyectos y para promover la cohesión social dentro de sociedades desgarradas por conflictos violentos. El realizar un cuidadoso análisis de conflictos durante la fase de diseño del proyecto y luego desarrollar las capacidades locales para la paz durante la implementación del proyecto ayuda a que el proyecto evite agravar las tensiones dentro del contexto pluralista nigeriano en el que las relaciones intercomunitarias se han deteriorado y en las cuales la sospecha entre los grupos permite que la desconfianza mutua e incluso el odio y la enemistad florezcan, lo que lleva a la violencia.

Los actores humanitarios pueden tener objetivos dignos y tratar de satisfacer las necesidades humanas básicas, pero si no incorporan la sensibilidad al conflicto en la planificación e implementación del proyecto, pueden provocar daños graves para las personas participantes del proyecto.

En las últimas dos décadas, los conflictos violentos en y alrededor de Jos, Nigeria (donde se encuentra la oficina del CCM Nigeria), han aumentado, resultando en pérdidas devastadoras de vidas y destrucción de propiedad. Estos conflictos provienen principalmente de las luchas por el control y acceso a los recursos, incluso cuando se movilizan diferentes identidades (como las religiosas y étnicas) para encender estos conflictos. Hace casi dos décadas, el CCM trabajó con líderes nigerianos en el área de Jos para establecer una organización, la EPRT, comprometida con la prevención no violenta de conflictos. La EPRT, una red de líderes nigerianos musulmanes y cristianos en Jos y sus alrededores, emprende acciones proactivas para mitigar conflictos entre personas de diferentes religiones y grupos étnicos. La EPRT también a cabo asistencia humanitaria en el contexto mixto religioso y étnico de Jos. Al llevar a cabo estas iniciativas humanitarias de emergencia, la EPRT ha logrado el éxito al incorporar numerosas prácticas de sensibilidad al conflicto en sus iniciativas humanitarias, tales como: colaboración interreligiosa e interinstitucional, que crea un entorno propicio para desarrollar el programa y minimizar las sospechas entre líneas religiosas; inclusión de las mujeres como parte de los equipos de respuesta a emergencias, lo que ayuda a garantizar que las mujeres de las comunidades afectadas hablen sobre el diseño del proyecto y que las necesidades de las mujeres, niñas y niños sean consideradas en todas las etapas del ciclo del proyecto; y el uso de personas voluntarias de la comunidad que representan diferentes religiones. Estas estrategias han contribuido decisivamente al éxito del trabajo de EPRT.

Al desarrollar intervenciones en situaciones de crisis complejas, los actores humanitarios deben considerar los divisores (acciones que queremos detener o las actitudes que queremos cambiar) y los conectores (acciones y actitudes que queremos fomentar). Las intervenciones humanitarias en un contexto conflictivo se convierten en parte de ese contexto, lo que hace que sea esencial para las organizaciones humanitarias comprometerse con un enfoque de No Hacer Daño en su distribución de ayuda humanitaria. Al planificar sus intervenciones humanitarias, la EPRT primero analiza los divisores que impulsan los conflictos intercomunales y los posibles conectores que pueden ayudar a mitigar dicho conflicto y luego integra ese análisis en el diseño de sus respuestas humanitarias para que no aumente la tensión interreligiosa o intergrupal, sino que cree espacio para la coexistencia pacífica.

La EPRT colabora con 11 organizaciones nigerianas, con un equilibrio de organizaciones cristianas y musulmanas y de organizaciones dirigidas por mujeres y hombres. Esta red diversa de asociaciones de programas fortalece los esfuerzos de la EPRT para reducir las emergencias violentas en el estado del Estado de Plateau en Nigeria, donde se encuentra Jos. Las actividades de la EPRT incluyen el establecimiento de clubes de paz en las escuelas, realización de talleres del Proyecto Alternativas a la Violencia (PAV), realización de evaluaciones de necesidades y evaluaciones de impacto ambiental, distribución de ayuda humanitaria y mantenimiento de un sistema de alerta temprana que moviliza a líderes religiosos y constructores de paz nigerianos para responder proactivamente desde el principio para evitar que las tensiones entre comunidades se vuelvan violentas.

Una distribución de ayuda reciente realizada por la EPRT con el apoyo del CCM en cuatro campamentos informales para personas desplazadas nigerianas, así como en las comunidades anfitrionas circundantes de Rawuru, Kworos, Barkin-Ladi y Kassa, utilizó enfoques participativos durante el proceso de diseño, de modo que las personas beneficiarias se involucraron en todos los aspectos de la respuesta. Las personas beneficiarias se unieron activamente para identificar las fortalezas y capacidades de las familias y comunidad, priorizar las necesidades de los hogares y comunidad, asegurar el apoyo logístico y de planificación, implementar actividades del proyecto (con la implementación llevada a cabo por equipos interreligiosos con equilibrio de género) y monitorear la distribución de artículos de ayuda. La EPRT invierte tiempo y esfuerzos para asegurar el apoyo de varios líderes religiosos y comunitarios, dado el hecho de que estas partes interesadas críticas tienen un enorme poder social y capital que se puede utilizar para ayudar u obstaculizar las respuestas humanitarias. Al involucrar a las personas beneficiarias y líderes locales en el diseño, implementación, monitoreo y evaluación del proyecto, la EPRT mejora el sentido de pertenencia y aceptación local del proyecto. Este sentido de pertenencia local también significa que la EPRT recibe retroalimentación oportuna y sincera de las personas beneficiarias y líderes locales sobre las fortalezas y debilidades de sus respuestas humanitarias. Las intervenciones humanitarias de la EPRT no solo satisfacen las necesidades de las personas desplazadas y miembros vulnerables de las comunidades de acogida, sino que también buscan fortalecer la tolerancia interreligiosa y construir una base común mediante la creación de espacios seguros compartidos para la construcción de relaciones a través de líneas etno-religiosas. Aunque los cristianos nigerianos percibieron que las crisis violentas que habían estallado en el área de Jos eran impulsadas por musulmanes, la EPRT basó sus distribuciones de ayuda en la necesidad, no en la religión, credo o estatus social, reconociendo que las distribuciones imparciales de ayuda tienen el potencial de construir la cohesión social en un contexto en el que algunos actores buscan crear y ampliar las divisiones a lo largo de líneas religiosas.

Issa Chung, miembro del Equipo de Preparación y Respuesta ante Emergencias (EPRT) local en la comunidad de Bukuru de Jos, Nigeria, presentando en una reunión en marzo de Los equipos locales de EPRT, una colaboración entre el CCM y JDPC (Justice Development and Peace CARITAS) buscan construir y promover una paz sostenible, lo que resulta en la reducción de la violencia electoral, conflictos comunitarios y emergencias/crisis en el Estado de Plateau, creando una cultura de armonía y aceptación entre estudiantes de secundaria en todo el estado. (Foto del CCM / Allan Reesor-McDowell).

La experiencia de un intento de distribución de ayuda en el campo de Gurku por parte de una organización musulmana ofrece un segundo ejemplo de la importancia de un enfoque de sensibilidad al conflicto en la planificación de la distribución de artículos de ayuda en un contexto interreligioso. Este grupo musulmán había planeado distribuir ayuda solo a musulmanes durante el mes sagrado del Ramadán dentro de un campamento formal que incluía musulmanes y cristianos. Dado que los hogares en el campamento eran de diferentes grupos religiosos, los funcionarios musulmanes del campamento rechazaron los artículos de ayuda, insistiendo en que hasta que todas las PDI en el campamento se beneficiaran, independientemente de su afiliación religiosa, la distribución no podría realizarse. Los líderes del campamento habían participado en talleres organizados por la EYN sobre el enfoque de Sanidad y Reconstrucción de nuestras Comunidades (HROC por sus siglas en inglés) de Ruanda, que habían enfatizado la importancia de considerar los generadores de conflictos y los conectores al desarrollar respuestas humanitarias y, por lo tanto, prepararon a los líderes comunitarios para hacer preguntas críticas sobre iniciativas humanitarias como esta propuesta por una organización musulmana que habría tenido consecuencias negativas al fracturar la cohesión social.

Los actores humanitarios pueden tener objetivos dignos y tratar de satisfacer las necesidades humanas básicas, pero si no incorporan la sensibilidad al conflicto en la planificación e implementación del proyecto, pueden provocar daños graves para las personas participantes del proyecto. Se debe tener cuidado para garantizar que las normas culturales y doctrinas religiosas no interrumpan la distribución de la asistencia humanitaria y que el proyecto no cree más conflictos al ignorar las normas culturales.

Durante décadas, el CCM en Nigeria ha trabajado junto con organizaciones asociadas como la EPRT y EYN para satisfacer las necesidades humanas básicas, abordar las injusticias y reconstruir comunidades que anteriormente estaban segregadas por líneas religiosas. Gracias a estos esfuerzos, el CCM y sus organizaciones asociadas han descubierto que integrar la sensibilidad al conflicto y construcción de la paz en el corazón de cada proyecto, promover la cohesión social a través de las diferencias y construir capacidades interreligiosas para la paz son esenciales para el éxito de las intervenciones humanitarias.

Hyeladzira Balami es asistente administrativa y financiera del CCM Nigeria.


The Do No Harm Project. The “Do No Harm” Framework for Analyzing the Impact of
Assistance on Conflict: A Handbook.
Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, 2004. Disponible en: https://www.cdacollaborative.org/publication/the-do-no-harm-framework-for-analyzing-the-impact-of-assistance-on-conflict-a-handbook/.

Peacebuilding and social cohesion in humanitarian response in Nigeria

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[Individual articles from the Fall 2019 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

MCC Nigeria and its partners, the Emergency Preparedness and Response Teams (EPRT) and the Ekklesiya Yan’uwa A Nijeriya (EYN, or the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), have found that integrating conflict sensitivity into humanitarian assistance initiatives is critical for the success of these projects and for promoting social cohesion within societies torn apart by violent conflict. Conducting a careful conflict analysis during the project design phase and then building on local capacities for peace during project implementation help the project avoid exacerbating tensions within the pluralistic Nigerian context in which intercommunal relationships have deteriorated and in which suspicion between groups allows mutual mistrust and even hatred and enmity to flourish, leading to violence.

In the last two decades, violent conflicts in and around Jos, Nigeria (where MCC Nigeria’s office is located), have increased, resulting in devastating losses of life and destruction of property. These conflicts primarily stem from battles for control of and access to resources, even as different identities (such as religious and ethnic identities) are mobilized to enflame these conflicts. Nearly two decades ago, MCC worked with Nigerian leaders in the Jos area to establish an organization, EPRT, committed to nonviolent conflict prevention. A network of Nigerian Muslim and Christian leaders in and around Jos, EPRT undertakes proactive action to mitigate conflicts amongst peoples of differing faiths and ethnic groups. EPRT also carries out humanitarian assistance in Jos’s religiously and ethnically mixed context. In carrying out these emergency humanitarian initiatives, EPRT has achieved success by incorporating numerous conflict sensitivity practices into its humanitarian initiatives, such as: interfaith and inter-agency collaboration, which creates a conducive environment for program delivery and which minimizes suspicion across religious lines; inclusion of women as part of emergency response teams, thus helping to ensure that women in affected communities speak into project design and that the needs of women and children are thus considered at all stages of the project cycle; and using community-based volunteers who represent different faiths. These strategies have decisively contributed to the success of EPRT’s work. 

In developing interventions in complex crisis situations, humanitarian actors must consider dividers (actions we want to stop or attitudes we want to change) and connectors (actions and attitudes we want to encourage). Humanitarian interventions in a conflictual context become part of that context, making it essential for humanitarian organizations to commit to a Do No Harm approach in their distribution of relief aid. In planning its humanitarian interventions, EPRT first analyzes dividers that drive intercommunal conflict and potential connectors that can help mitigate such conflict and then integrates that analysis in the design of its humanitarian responses so that they do not heighten interreligious or intergroup tension but rather create room for peaceful coexistence.

Humanitarian actors may have worthy goals and seek to meet basic human needs, but if they do not incorporate conflict sensitivity into project planning and implementation, serious harms can materialize for project participants.

EPRT collaborates with 11 Nigerian organizations, with a balance of Christian and Muslim organizations and of organizations led by women and men. This diverse network of program partnerships strengthens EPRT’s efforts to reduce violent emergencies in Nigeria’s Plateau State where Jos is located. EPRT’s activities include the establishment of peace clubs in schools, leading Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops, conducting needs assessments and environmental impact assessments, distributing humanitarian relief and maintaining an early warning system that mobilizes Nigerian religious leaders and peacebuilders to proactively respond early on in preventing intercommunal tensions from turning violent.

A recent relief distribution carried out by EPRT with MCC support in four informal camps for displaced Nigerians as well as in the surrounding host communities of Rawuru, Kworos, Barkin-Ladi and Kassa used participatory approaches during the design process, so that beneficiaries were involved in all aspects of the response. Beneficiaries actively joined in identifying family and community strengths and capacities, prioritizing household and community needs, securing logistical and planning support, implementing project activities (with implementation carried out by gender-balanced, interfaith teams) and monitoring the distribution of relief items. EPRT invests time and efforts to secure the support of various religious and community leaders, given the fact that these critical stakeholders have tremendous social power and capital that can be used to help or hinder humanitarian responses. By involving beneficiaries and local leaders in project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, EPRT enhances local ownership and acceptance of the project. This local ownership also means that EPRT receives timely and candid feedback from beneficiaries and local leaders about the strengths and weaknesses of its humanitarian responses. EPRT’s humanitarian interventions not only meet the needs of displaced persons and vulnerable members of host communities, but also seek to strengthen interreligious tolerance and build common ground by creating shared safe spaces for relationship-building across ethno-religious lines. Although the violent crises that had erupted in the Jos area were perceived by Nigerian Christians as being driven by Muslims, EPRT based its relief distributions on need, not on religion, creed or social status, recognizing that impartial aid distributions have the potential to build social cohesion in a context in which some actors seek to create and widen divisions along religious lines.

An experience of an attempted relief distribution in Gurku camp by a Muslim organization offers a second example of the importance of a conflict sensitivity approach in planning the distribution of relief items in an interfaith context. This Muslim group had planned to distribute relief assistance only to Muslims during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan within a formal camp setting that included Muslims and Christians. Given that the households in the camp were from different faith groups, the Muslim camp officials refused the relief items, insisting that until all IDPs in the camp benefited regardless of religious affiliation, the distribution could not take place. Camp leaders had participated in workshops organized by EYN on the Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) approach from Rwanda, which had emphasized the importance of considering conflict drivers and connectors when developing humanitarian responses and thus prepared community leaders to ask critical questions about humanitarian initiatives like this one proposed by a Muslim organization that would have had negative consequences in fracturing social cohesion.

Humanitarian actors may have worthy goals and seek to meet basic human needs, but if they do not incorporate conflict sensitivity into project planning and implementation, serious harms can materialize for project participants. Care must be taken to ensure that cultural norms and religious doctrines do not disrupt the distribution of humanitarian assistance and that the project does not create more conflict by ignoring cultural norms.

Issa Chung, a local Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT) member in the Bukuru community of Jos, Nigeria, presents at a meeting in March 2018. Local EPRT teams, a collaboration between MCC and JDPC (Justice Development and Peace CARITAS) seek to build and promote sustainable peace, resulting in the reduction of election violence, community conflict and emergencies/crises in Plateau State creating a culture of harmony and acceptance among secondary school age children throughout Plateau State. (MCC Photo/ Allan Reesor-McDowell)

For decades, MCC in Nigeria has worked alongside partners like EPRT and EYN to meet basic human needs, address injustices and rebuild communities that were previously segregated along religious lines. Through these efforts, MCC and its partners have discovered that integrating conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding into the heart of every project, promoting social cohesion across differences and building interreligious capacities for peace are essential for the success of humanitarian interventions.

Hyeladzira Balami is administrative and finance assistant for MCC Nigeria.


The Do No Harm Project. The “Do No Harm” Framework for Analyzing the Impact of Assistance on Conflict: A Handbook. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, 2004. Available at https://www.cdacollaborative.org/publication/the-do-no-harm-framework-for-analyzing-the-impact-of-assistance-on-conflict-a-handbook/.

Interfaith bridge-building and violence aversion in Chad

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In the late 1970s, Chad entered a civil war for political power between geographically- and culturally-based groups. Even though the civil war pitted Christians against Muslims, religion was not a major motivating factor for militants. Over the past decade MCC has partnered with the department of Ethics, Peace and Justice (EPJ), an operative branch of
the Protestant churches in Chad, to promote conflict transformation in interfaith settings. This article examines the religious context and history of Chad and discusses how EPJ draws upon religion as a resource for proactive peacebuilding and violence aversion.

In terms of religious affiliation, Chad’s population is divided among Muslims (55%), Catholics (20%) and Protestants (15%), with the remainder practicing forms of African traditional religion. Religious identity is tightly intertwined with tribal and ethnic affiliation for geographic reasons. Islam entered northern Chad with Arab traders in the
twelfth century, while western missionaries arrived from the south during the twentieth century. Both religions are blended with rituals and beliefs that predate the arrival of Abrahamic faiths in Chad.

Like other colonial administrations, France’s colonial regime exploited and exacerbated ethnic and religious divides. Chadians in the overwhelmingly Muslim north routinely resisted the imposition by the colonial authorities of a French education system. The colonial regime, in turn, disproportionately appointed people from the predominantly Christian south to lead various government departments. Following independence in 1960, it was therefore southerners who occupied the majority of civil service positions. The
country’s first president, N’Garta Tombalbaye (a Christian southerner), appointed a majority of Muslims (65%) to his first cabinet. Originally named François, Tombalbaye established a tyrannical one-party system that brutally promoted a top-down cultural revolution that pushed for movement away from Christian and Muslim influences towards a recovery of Chadian traditions. Following a decade of armed rebellions, Tombalbaye
was assassinated in 1975, plunging the country into an armed power struggle between the predominantly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south that continued into the 1990s. The religious differences between these two regional populations led adherents to vilify the religion of the other. Religion remains a dividing factor in population, with the
government perceived as being dominated by Muslim ethnic groups.

Within this post-civil war context, EPJ has worked to strengthen relationships across religious divides as part of peacebuilding and violence prevention efforts across the country. Over the past decade EPJ has earned a reputation as a leading organization of interfaith dialogue. Initially EPJ addressed conflicts within the church, but in 2008 expanded its violence aversion efforts by hosting an interfaith conflict transformation workshop for 30 Muslim and Christian leaders. This workshop became an annual event in N’Djamena, running through 2011. In 2012 EPJ stretched these interfaith peacebuilding efforts beyond the capital to host a workshop in Mongo. Momentum grew, with EPJ initiating workshops specifically targeting women and youth. Since 2013, EPJ has organized 29 week-long workshops for over 1100 participants in 15 different locations.

While current violent conflicts in Chad today flow from multiple sources (such as competition over resources and political power), participants in these conflicts routinely frame the conflicts in religious terms, making interfaith peacebuilding efforts that draw on religion as a source of conflict transformation a vital necessity. EPJ’s workshops highlight common ground between faiths and offer alternatives to violence. Each workshop is attended by local representatives who are selected by the national religious
bodies of each faith. EPJ strives to have 40% of workshop participants be Muslim, along with 30% each for Protestants and Catholics, although these percentages vary.

At the beginning of each workshop, participants are usually quiet, tense and polite, sitting with their co-religionists. Over the course of the workshop participants hear and discuss stories from sacred texts that describe how both Jesus and Muhammad taught their followers to do good to their enemies.

EPJ workshops center on a relatively set course of seminars led by EPJ staff that promote strong interfaith relations, present nonviolent conflict management strategies and teach mediation techniques. EPJ consistently invites MCC staff to contribute to the overview of the biblical basis for peace. EPJ also invites leaders from Muslim and Catholic institutions to give seminars on how their respective faiths understand peace. Catholic participants draw on Catholicism’s rich tradition of social justice teaching, while Muslim scholars highlight passages from the Qur’an and stories from the hadith (traditions about the prophet Muhammad) that exemplify peacebuilding in action. The workshop leaves considerable time for group discussion, encouraging thoughtful engagement with presenters and among participants. By the end of the workshop, participants typically report transformed perspectives. For example, after a workshop in the eastern city of Am Timan, one of the Muslim participants, Imam Ibrahim Abdoulaye, stated: “We have never heard teaching like this before; it needs to continue. We want to help.”

EPJ routinely faces two significant hurdles as it works to break down barriers between participants. First, Muslim and Christian participants need to hear that their own faith holds deep and rich peace teachings. Both Christian and Muslim sacred texts contain plenty of examples of violence seemingly portrayed in positive terms, from the conquest narratives of the Old Testament and literalist interpretations of Revelation, to violence
carried out by the nascent Muslim umma (community) in Medina, the conquest of Mecca and certain hadith about Muhammad. Participants often arrive at the workshop convinced that their sacred texts justify violence. EPJ staff and the invited speakers complicate this understanding by lifting up examples from Muslim and Christian scriptures that reflect a
commitment to peacebuilding, with a specific emphasis on Jesus’ life and teachings (especially the Sermon on the Mount) and Muhammad’s respect for both Jewish and Christian communities as well as his teachings on conflict resolution.

The second obstacle is to dispel notions of persecution that Christians and Muslims hold concerning one another. Both Muslim and Christian participants will point to the other with accusatory claims, citing current or historical outrages, such as Boko Haram’s massacres or the history of Africa’s colonization by western powers such as France. Citing such histories and present realities, Christian and Muslim participants can retreat into defensive postures that justify violence. EPJ works with participants to overcome such defensiveness and to focus on past histories of cooperation and coexistence and on possibilities for the future.

EPJ’s interfaith peacebuilding efforts have gathered momentum since 2013, with its conflict transformation workshops increasingly in demand and gaining support from Chadian leaders. Challenges certainly remain, including establishing better mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the longer-term impact of the workshops on communities where the workshops are held. Yet EPJ’s experience has already clearly demonstrated
that participants emerge from the interfaith peacebuilding workshops with an increased desire and willingness to collaborate across religious lines, which is no small feat in a context in which appeals to religion too often stoke rather than transform conflict.

Mark Tymm works with MCC partner, Ethics, Peace and Justice, in N’Djamena, Chad.

Learn more:

Abu-Nimer, Mohammed and David Augsburger. Peace-Building by, between and beyond Muslims and Evangelical Christians. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009.

Azevedo, Mario J. Roots of Violence: A History of War in Chad. London: Routledge, 1998.

Flood, Derek. Disarming Scripture. Metanoia Books, 2014.

Empowering children in their own protection

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

While adults are ultimately responsible to keep children safe, young people can also play an active role in contributing to their own protection. As part of its commitment to ensure safe and healthy childhoods and transitions to adulthood, Justice Development and Peace/Caritas (JDPC) is in the forefront of the campaign against all forms of child abuse in Nigeria. In 2014 JDPC, an MCC partner organization, developed a five-year child protection policy to guide its personnel and volunteers in the conduct of their activities and has established a network for child protection in Plateau State in partnership with other civil society organizations.

The Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT), a program of JDPC, focuses on establishing peace clubs in schools across Plateau State, along with other peacebuilding initiatives focused on dialogue, civic and political education, conflict mediation and conflict prevention through early warning and early response systems. EPRT has observed that the skills students learn in peace clubs are empowering students in ways that are reducing their vulnerability to abuse, even though peace clubs did not start with child protection as their primary purpose.

The primary vision for peace clubs was building a peaceful society through youth leadership training, with school-based peace clubs teaching young people strategies to face a wide array of difficulties or challenges. These strategies include: asking for help when encountering seemingly unsolvable problems; asserting one’s agency; determination and continuing to work for resolutions when conflicts get difficult; listening effectively; being creative; taking care of oneself; standing for justice; and being effective and efficient peacebuilders. Secondary school students are also taught how to
creatively resist teachers and other adults who may want to cause harm or abuse them sexually or physically.

EPRT has adapted peace club manuals developed by the Peace Clubs organization, led by Issa Sadie Ebombolo, and MCC Zambia for use in Nigeria, including a module that educates children on gender-based violence and introduces them to practical strategies for addressing it. Strategies of resistance promoted in the peace club curriculum include
using persuasive words, body language or behaviors that will disarm the aggressor and create the opportunity to draw the attention of parents, guardians and school or other authorities.

While children should be empowered to protect themselves, adults also have a responsibility to provide safe spaces for children, especially those who have been abused or traumatized. Through its high-profile presence across Plateau State, EPRT provides a system through which children and others can report incidences of sexual abuse, rape or other forms of abuse for onward submission to relevant authorities, thus supporting children in their efforts to protect themselves.

A major achievement of the peace clubs is that members are able to spread their skills by educating their peers in school and others in their homes and communities. Their activities are helping reduce incidences of child abuse which was rampant and growing at an alarming rate in Plateau State. EPRT hopes that the peace club model in Plateau State will help the child protection movement spread to other parts of Nigeria and beyond.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children.” The children of the world must be empowered in their own protection, so that society may be free of traumatized children who carry unaddressed burdens from abuse by parents, relations and others. Working diligently at child protection is an essential component in creating a future in which war songs and drums of war are silenced and
energies are re-directed from the wasting of selves through killings and destruction to growth and development.

Boniface Kazah Anthony is program manager for the Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT) department in the Social Justice and Human Development for Peace Initiative (JDPC Jos) in Jos, Nigeria.

Learn more:

Peace club manuals and curricula from Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique and Burundi available at: http://apcc.mcc.org/home/peace-club-materials

Reconciliation in post-war Burundi

[Compiler’s note: At the time of this writing, Burundi had just re-erupted into political unrest after a ten year period of peace. Up to twenty people have been killed in clashes between protesters, police and military forces. Additionally, over one hundred thousand have fled the country in anticipation of further violence. But, in a large part due to efforts such as those described below, the vast majority of the Burundian population has remained nonviolent and peaceful.]

The small country of Burundi, situated in the Great Lakes region of Africa, has experienced decades of complex violent conflict highly influenced by ethnic and regional elements. The widespread massacres and the civil war that took place in Burundi between 1993 and 2005 have left victims and offenders on all sides of the conflict. Within this context, many Burundians have dared to work toward reconciliation among people from different ethnic groups, regions and political parties.

Peace studies scholar John Paul Lederach describes reconciliation as the confluence of truth, mercy, justice and peace: peacebuilding processes must provide time and space for all four elements. Reconciliation is the process of rebuilding broken relationships by addressing harms and choosing to move forward peacefully together. In the Burundian context reconciliation processes play out at political, social, media and community/grassroots levels: each level is distinct and all levels are interconnected. MCC’s Burundian partners work primarily in grassroots reconciliation through a peace committee approach that empowers and trains local leaders to mediate conflicts in their communities. Understanding the different forms of reconciliation and recognizing their interconnectedness help to clarify the vital role that grassroots reconciliation plays in Burundian communities.

At the state level, political reconciliation serves as a national strategy for responding to atrocities and human rights abuses. Efforts at political reconciliation in Burundi have involved attempts to achieve transitional justice through the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC). The 2000 Arusha Peace Accords laid the groundwork for setting up a Burundian TRC to investigate cyclic violence since Burundian independence, to punish or forgive offenders, to offer reparations to victims and to establish the truth while clarifying a shared history. In 2015 the members of the TRC were elected, but the commission has not yet commenced its investigations.

Work towards social reconciliation in Burundi occurs at the level of civil society involvement. Civil society refers to non-governmental organizations and institutions linked by the common interests of citizens. Ideally, civil society actors, such as the leaders of religious, traditional, academic and humanitarian communities and organizations, remain apolitical as they advocate for the broader population, but such neutrality continues to be a challenge in Burundi, where most civil society actors tend to become politically polarized. The Great Lakes Initiative, with which MCC partners, is an example of social reconciliation as a movement of religious leaders to end the cycles of violence that tear apart the region by promoting reconciliation through their institutions.

The media plays a major role in situations of violent conflict, but at the same time has great potential to be utilized as a tool for reconciliation in what we call media reconciliation. Media is often manipulated to spread rumors and messages of hate that increase tensions and cause panic. Reconciliation through media promotes professional, responsible and neutral media that provides a platform to share diverse opinions, inform the population and hold political and social leaders accountable.

During the 2015 political unrest, the Burundian government cut certain private radio emissions broadcasting what it viewed as anti-government messages. Protesters destroyed the private pro-government radio station and in retaliation all of the anti-government radio stations were destroyed. Due to the radio stations’ lack of neutrality in their broadcasting, they became targets of political violence. Remaining media outlets provide space for occasional programs that speak on themes of reconciliation, but unfortunately peacebuilders in Burundi do not yet have a formal platform for sharing the message of reconciliation through media.

Finally, community or grassroots reconciliation works toward social cohesion at the very base. At this level, communities organize structures to address conflicts, seeking creative solutions that apply to their contexts. Peace committees in Burundi are grounded in traditional restorative justice practices in which the bashingantahe, or community elders, guide mediation processes between parties in conflict. Based upon this traditional institution, peace committees offer a more inclusive form of restorative justice that works alongside the state judicial system, receiving cases and reducing the number that arrive in court. By providing a space for dialogue among members in a divided community, peace committees unite people around common values that encourage peaceful coexistence.

An MCC partner, the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation under the Cross (MIPAREC), works in grassroots reconciliation by training and accompanying almost 400 peace committees throughout Burundi. The peace committee approach brings together volunteers from all social categories (representatives of the hutu, tutsi and twa peoples; displaced and repatriated persons; bashingantahe; demobilized combatants; religious leaders; etc.) to work together for social cohesion in their communities.

Peace committees in Burundi engage in many different types of peacebuilding activities, from people learning to forgive those who killed their family members during the civil war to using mediation to resolve land conflicts for the thousands of internally displaced and repatriated families throughout the country. Peace committee members also train their communities in conflict transformation, advocate to the appropriate authorities on behalf of vulnerable persons and mobilize communities to work together on development projects such as rehabilitating the homes of repatriated persons and building health clinics.

MIPAREC promotes social reconciliation by serving as a civil society link between grassroots reconciliation and political reconciliation processes. Using experiences with peace committees, MIPAREC collaborated with other peacebuilding organizations through the Quaker Peace Network (QPN) to develop a transitional justice model applicable to the Burundian context. QPN was able to propose this model to the country’s National Assembly as it drafted legislation to establish the truth and reconciliation commission. Understanding what grassroots reconciliation looks like in practice allowed MIPAREC to integrate realistic approaches to national reconciliation into the proposed bill.

Each level of reconciliation plays an important role in creating positive peaceful change in divided societies. At MIPAREC, we believe that grassroots reconciliation serves as the necessary foundation for encouraging sustainable reconciliation at each level. Communities need to accept the values of tolerance and empathy in order to live peacefully together with a certain degree of trust. Social cohesion must first be established in communities in order for efforts at higher levels of reconciliation, such as a national truth and reconciliation commission, to be effective.

Reconciliation in post-war contexts is a complicated and long process. Particularly following a civil war in which neighbors killed neighbors, trust is profoundly lost. Rebuilding trust is essential in allowing communities to coexist peacefully and in preventing violence in the future. Reconciliation in post-war contexts focuses on providing a space for dialogue that can help heal the wounds of war. Burundi still has a long way to go in addressing wounds of the past, building trust and finding healthy ways to move forward. We hope that our efforts in grassroots reconciliation are playing a role in uniting communities even while deep-rooted divisions remain a major source of conflict in Burundi. This year has been a great test for peacebuilders in Burundi. Even as violence erupts due to political unrest, many communities are holding on to higher values of tolerance and peace, resisting violence for the benefit of their communities. Grasping on to these scraps of hope, we continue on this journey toward sustainable reconciliation in Burundi.

Oscar Nduwarugira is the Director of the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation under the Cross (MIPAREC), an MCC partner organization in Burundi. Melody Musser is the Communications Specialist for Peacebuilding for MCC Burundi/Rwanda.

For more, check out the Summer issue of Intersections on Conflict, Reconciliation and Partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. 

Conflict, reconciliation and partnership in Africa’s Great Lakes region

The Great Lakes region of central Africa—the countries grouped around Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika—showcases both the very best and the very worst of humanity. The region has seen its fair share of war and conflict: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a twenty-year ongoing legacy of conflict and war in eastern Congo and a prolonged civil war in Burundi (a country where, just weeks ago, political tensions broke out again after ten years of peace) have all left their marks on the bodies and psyches of the peoples in the region. At the same time, the Great Lakes region is home to a vast and ever-growing community of peacebuilders, researchers, teachers, civil society actors and citizen activists who strive to re-establish and maintain peace.

The past and current conflicts of the region are nothing if not interconnected, both to each other and to the wider world. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda emerged from the same ethnic tensions (created and fostered by the colonial powers) that fueled the Burundian civil war. The conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi caused the displacement of refugees (and rebel groups) into Congo. International organizations and actors are omnipresent (although not with uniformly positive results). Through all of these events, the ugly specter of colonialism makes its enduring presence felt across the entire Great Lakes region.

Local dynamics often have regional and international causes: in eastern Congo, for example, a mine worker’s livelihood can be affected by the local military commander, by merchants in neighboring countries or by legislation enacted in the United States. In the Great Lakes, as elsewhere, following one single thread often leads to the discovery of a rich and varied tapestry of causes, effects, solutions and consequences, all tied into
one another, each one impossible to consider on its own.

True understanding is an act of compassion and the root of real peace. In this issue of Intersections, a team of authors from the Great Lakes region, along with MCC workers, present several windows into the dynamics that shape the region as a whole. While their articles do not present definitive solutions to the challenges facing the Great Lakes countries, the authors do highlight several key dimensions of the quest for durable peacebuilding and sustainable development in the region, including: the vital role played by
the church in durable peacebuilding efforts; the importance of supporting the efforts of local organizations; the pressing need to address the economic and human security devastation created by militias in the DRC; and the promise of grassroots peace initiatives in Burundi and Rwanda.

Patrick Maxwell is MCC’s Eastern Congo Peacebuilding Coordinator

Learn more by reading the summer edition of Intersections here.