By DONNA URSCHEL
African leaders and scholars gathered at the Library of Congress recently to discuss reconciliation—how people, in post-conflict environments, can promote healing and mutually beneficial and trusting relationships that will ultimately lead to sustainable peace in countries torn apart by war, genocide and other violence in Africa in the last two decades of the 20th century.
The participants talked about their experiences with religion, truth commissions, the media and other culturally-based methods of reconciliation at an all-day seminar in March. It was sponsored by the African Section in the African and Middle Eastern Division and the John W. Kluge Center at the Library, in collaboration with the African Presidential Archives and Research Center of Boston University, the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, the Nigerian People's Forum, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
The Samputu-Ingeli Dance Troupe of Rwanda—demonstrating how music can be a tool of reconciliation—concluded the seminar with dances and African drumming. The three-member troupe included a Hutu, a Tutsi and a Twa, representing the three ethnic groups in Rwanda. In addition, lead performer Jean-Paul Samputu sang and played the guitar.
Members of the first panel examined the role of religion in achieving reconciliation. The Rev. James Movel Wuye and Imam Istaz Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa, once bitter enemies, are the co-founders of the Muslim/Christian Youth Dialogue Forum, in Kaduna, Nigeria. They discussed the work they are doing among people who are fighting in Nigeria.
Wuye said, "We teach them conflict management and in the course of that we inject our spirituality. That is the binding force. We explore the scriptures in the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible. With that you can change the strongest Goliath into the softest baby."
Wuye and Ashafa set up meetings and conferences for opponents to meet and talk in the presence of others. "It is not easy, but it is a doable thing," Wuye said. They have also enlisted the help of religious leaders on election day at the voting polls. Whenever religious leaders are monitoring the polls, elections result in less rigging and fewer incidents of violence, according to Wuye.
By combining traditional conflict resolution techniques with religious exhortations, Wuye and Ashafa have helped to reduce hostilities, managing to mediate peace agreements between fighting Christians and Muslims. The same approach should be used on an international level, according to Ashafa. "In today's world, now more than ever, there is a need for reconciliation."
Dr. Athanase Hagengimana, an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a John W. Kluge fellow at the Library of Congress, discussed the contributions of religion to truth and reconciliation in Rwanda. His observations are based on interviews and psychological assessments of more than 300 perpetrators of genocide currently detained in a Rwanda prison.
Hagengimana said he found the prisoners to be open and willing to describe the atrocities they committed, because many had been "saved" and were "born again." "If you are born again, you are a new person," Hagengimana said. "The old person is no longer there. You don't have a relationship with the old guy. Now you are a new person who is clean and you are not ashamed to tell what the old person did."
Many new churches, which came to Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, reached out to the prisoners. Not only did the churches preach forgiveness among the victims' survivors, but they preached to the killers in prison about the importance of the "apology." He observed, "In my experience, people who have killed have more problems than people who are grieving. Guilt is more painful than sorrow."
Hagengimana said, "I have witnessed survivors who, full of religion, have healed from trauma and can reconcile with criminals. And I have seen criminals be born again, free to confess what they did. They went to the family of survivors and apologized and revealed everything, and they are now functioning."
The symposium's second panel, which featured four speakers, examined truth and reconciliation commissions. Since 1974 there have been at least 20 separate truth and reconciliation commissions around the world, according to the panel's moderator, Carole Henderson-Tyson, president of Henderson's Global Voices.
Paul Simo, the Africa Program director of Global Rights, talked about the key lessons he learned from truth and reconciliation processes in Sierra Leone. "It is vitally important that the truth and reconciliation process is a national conversation, by making the process open to civil society," he said. A second important task is to explore the causal relationship between economic privilege, competition for scarce resources and conflict. The third lesson, according to Simo, is to place key national reconciliation efforts in the broader framework of accountability. "Wrongdoers need to answer for their actions," he said.
Joseph Nzabmwita, defense attaché at the Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda, discussed the gachacha model of reconciliation, a traditional African village system that works on the principle of reconciling the parties and promoting social harmony rather than penalizing the guilty party. "Under the Western criminal justice system, it's going to take 100 years to try these cases," Nzabmwita said. "So who is that justice going to benefit?"
After July 1994, at the end of the genocide in Rwanda, there were nearly 1 million dead. "Our government was destroyed and our society dismantled," Nzabmwita said. "We needed to move ahead. We needed to rebuild our society. So we sat down and went back to our roots—simply sitting together and discussing among ourselves the truth." The truth included learning from the perpetrators where to find the dead bodies so families could give them proper burials. After learning the truth, healing could begin. "Through gachacha, we will benefit," Nzabmwita said.
Derek Moyo, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa, said reconciliation could not be imposed or legislated. Also, reconciliation is not a one-day event. "It is a process that will go beyond the truth commissions. The truth commission is just one method," Moyo said. He also said models of truth commissions cannot be transplanted elsewhere into other situations.
Edith Ssempala, ambassador from the Republic of Uganda, said the current president of her country has formed a broad-based government, representing all the people, to promote national reconciliation. Reconciliation, however, requires patience. "We have not fully been reconciled in Uganda. We still have a long way to go. We have to give ourselves more time and be patient," she said.
The third panel presented reflections on reconciliation by former African heads of state from Botswana and Burundi.
Ketumile Masire, president of Botswana from 1980 to 1998, discussed the reconciliation efforts in South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. "I want to emphasize that every conflict situation is different and thus requires a particular reconciliation approach. Also conflicts have complicated roots; rarely is there a simple determinant, such as ethnicity, religion or economics. But many are at play.
"Whatever the circumstances, one cannot build reconciliation on a system of injustice. Justice is the bedrock in any nation that seeks to be free of resentment and wounds of history," Masire said.
Pierre Buyoya, president of Burundi from 1987 to 1993 and from 1996 to 2003, now a visiting senior fellow with the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, described the importance and effectiveness of the Wise Men Council in Burundi, a traditional grassroots institution. Each village has its own council and councilmen are selected in front of the whole village. The council resolves 80 percent of the conflicts. "Nobody needs to pay large legal fees. Without the council, the legal system would have to be 10 times larger," said Buyoya.
The fourth and final panel was titled "Implications of Sub-Regional Issues for Reconciliation." It included three speakers: David Shinn, adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University; Juanita Jarrett, co-founder of the Mano River Women Peace Network in West Africa; and Myron Golden, Africare's regional director of French-speaking West and Central Africa.
The points made during the fourth panel included the need for foreign governments to rethink their role in assisting African countries with conflict resolution; the importance of understanding the potential contributions and limitations of the traditional African reconciliation methods; the importance of bringing men and women together; the willingness to meet with those in rebellion, and the need to remain focused on the reconciliation.
The symposium concluded with a final question-and-answer period prior to the performance of the dance troupe.
Carolyn Brown, director of Collections and Services at the Library, said "As global citizens, we have a responsibility to seek other solutions to conflict, to seek solutions that will end in long-term peace and in the healing of the human family."
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.
On March 21, 2005, Lamin Sanneh, Kluge Chair of Countries and Cultures of the South, Kluge Fellow Athenase Hagengimana and special guests presented an all-day symposium on "Reconciliation: Lessons Learned from Africa," focusing on resolution between former participants of genocide and their victims' families. [Read Press Release]