Displaced people who have returned to Burundi after many years in exile in Tanzania, sitting talking outside a transit camp in Makamba Province.
Photo: Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana/Reuters/Scanpix
South African peace organization extends influence
Sida is supporting the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) in its attempts to contribute to sustainable peace and development in Africa. Through its work in high-profile mediation – especially in Burundi and DR Congo with Nelson Mandela and former Botswana president Quett Masire as chief mediators – the organization has achieved true legitimacy as an impartial conflict resolver.
Tor Sellström, who has been working as an expert advisor at ACCORD’s office in South Africa (a posting funded by Sida) for four years, says:
“ACCORD works with active mediation on site in conflict areas as well as running its educational operation. The aim is always to eliminate violence from the political agenda and to get people to drive their own issues in democratic forums instead of with a Kalashnikov in their hands.”
Local lessons strengthen regional conflict work
ACCORD has mediated in several major conflicts since it was founded. It has been particularly active in Burundi – where there has been ethnic opposition since the early 1970s – and has set up several local offices there. As a result, the situation in the country is now more stable and many displaced people are returning to their home villages.
However, the issue of displaced people returning to their homes can be an explosive one because often their houses and land will have been seized by the very people who once ejected them. ACCORD works in this environment to find practical solutions to highly sensitive matters of dispute.
“We bring together different parties by working with traditional societal structures,” Sellström says. “We engage with and educate local leaders and then try to negotiate with both parties. In 80 per cent of cases, they come to an agreement. It has been very successful. The matter is usually solved by dividing the piece of land in question between them and making houses, wells and other facilities communal.”
The important lessons that have been learned from the local mediation work in Burundi have already been applied in other conflict situations in the region. The conflict in Angola partly touches upon the problems that have arisen in Burundi. There is also a risk of a fragile peace process there being damaged by confrontations between settlers and displaced people returning home.
“In Angola we’ve been able to transfer valuable experiences from the work at grass-roots level in Burundi,” Sellström says. “Having a regional approach is an advantage; we work by strengthening the combined regional knowledge around conflict management through best practice.”
African Union an important partner
The knowledge gained at ACCORD must also be used outside the organization to strengthen the continent’s capacity to meet the needs for conflict resolution in Africa. The co-operation with the African Union and other regional co-operational organizations is contributing to the building of permanent institutions for domestic African conflict resolution.
“A famous person, such as Kofi Annan, often mediates in a conflict these days,” Sellström says. “But these organizations need broader administrative knowledge if the desired level of consistency is to be achieved with the peace work in Africa.”