Almost 20 years after the genocide in Rwanda, it’s still difficult to have an open dialogue about what really happened and why. Suspicion and fear make it hard to move on and tensions are still present among different social groups. The Sida-supported IRDP project has generated a unique research and dialogue during the last ten years, and created a good basis for an open and inclusive political discussion as a way to build peace.
"More than one million people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. If we are to move on and make sure this never happens again, we need some answers to the questions about how it could happen, and why."
These words come from Jean-Paul Mugiraneza, one of the driving forces behind the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), which was established in 2001 with support from Sida. The programme was launched at a time when repressed feelings from the genocide had created a strong mistrust in the Rwandan society. By creating discussion forums, IRDP has given people the possibility to meet and reconcile.
One of the most important initiatives has been the so-called dialogue clubs. Getting victims and perpetrators to attend a mutual discussion was very difficult initially. One key factor has been to first nominate a local moderator whom everyone trusted and who could persuade people to participate. Jean-Paul Mugiraneza recounts many emotional and intensive meetings.
"One discussion was about reconciliation. A man who had been released from prison talked about being happy and moving on, whereupon an elderly woman exclaimed: “You can be happy, as you’ve still got your children. But I am all alone, because you killed my sons and daughters”. It was that same man who had brought the murderers to her house. Without any living family members, the woman had difficulties coping with her life as she was growing old."
The mistrust between people is larger today than before the genocide, because now, everyone knows what can happen. In fear of sparking a new conflict, the government has avoided discussions in public about the sensitive issues that still divide the country, and history lessons have been kept out of school books for a long time . IRDP’s forum thus constitutes a unique and neutral venue for all those issues that used to be taboo.
"We are here to facilitate a dialogue between all parties without an agenda of our own," says Jean-Paul Mugiraneza. "This has made it possible for people to open up. We act as a communication channel between people and decision makers, where representatives from the government and the civil society come to us to hear about people’s opinions."
Ethnicity still very sensitive
The issue of ethnicity is still extremely sensitive in Rwanda, despite the abolition to mention ethnic affiliations after the genocide. A documentary produced by IRDP shows a clear evidence of that.
"3000 people were interviewed about ethnicity and its influence on people’s ordinary life, at work and in other relations. 53 percent think that the situation has somewhat improved but almost half the population in Rwanda still see ethnicity as a major problem," he says.
If Rwanda is to continue its path towards a stable society, people need to start talking about their history and participate in the decision-making process. Involving young people in that debate is crucial, so IRDP has also arranged debate clubs in schools. According to Jean-Paul Mugiraneza, the aim is to stimulate a more critical way of thinking, and leave behind the culture of “blind obedience” that characterize the Rwandese people, and that once led to the genocide.
The road to reconciliation and an open democracy is a long and difficult one. The important meetings taking place in dialogue clubs around the country are a bold step towards achieving that goal, such as the discussion held in the village of Nyamata in 2004 about how people could suddenly turn into murderers.
"A perpetrator who was just released from prison fell to the ground asking for forgiveness, whilst crying and explaining that he had fallen for the pressure from government and peers to kill the Tutsis. Also present at the meeting was a relative of a man who had been killed, and he came forward saying: “Ok, but can you at least show us where he is buried, so that we can at least give him a decent last journey?” A couple of weeks later they found the grave, and this made it possible for the family to take an important step further," says Jean-Paul Mugiraneza.
Hutu? Tutsi? Twa? Or Rwandan?
Watch the first chapters of a movie (approx 15 min) initiated by IRDP, where people from different ethnic groups in Rwanda meet and discuss.
IRDP’s dialogue work was initiated in 2001. The programme is implemented in cooperation with the international organisation Interpeace, with financial support from Sida. Debate sessions are carried out in so-called dialogue clubs at the grassroots level, in 25 secondary schools and with other stakeholders and political groups of interest on a national level.
Participatory research has been an important working method in structuring the information generated during the discussions and avoiding rumors that had previously caused a lot of hatred between people. The discussions are often filmed and broadcasted on TV and radio. Another crucial aspect is that everyone is welcome to participate in the discussions.
Examples of achieved results:
• More open dialogue. An evaluation performed at the end of 2011 shows that IRDP’s programme has contributed to promoting the culture of debate in the Rwandan society. This has also influenced new political guidelines.
• Communication channel. The evaluation further shows that IRDP works as an important communication channel in the society: vertically between decision makers and the people, as well as horizontally between different political and civil society actors.
• New law about political parties. One subject that was heavily discussed in the dialogue clubs was why opposition parties were not represented at a local level. A discussion then took off in IRDP’s national groups and with the forum of political parties, which most probably contributed to a speedier process of passing the new law that allows establishment of other political parties at a local level.
• Better cooperation. The talks have not only improved relationships between people in the same village, but also improved their living conditions through small income generating projects.
• 7000 members from all over the country regularly participate in IRDP’s work. Information is disseminated all over the country through film festivals, TV, monthly radio shows, newspaper articles and books.