In many armed conflicts around the world, borders are an important but often poorly understood feature. Conflict dynamics on one side of a border often have an impact on the other side. Despite this transnational nature of conflict, peacebuilding interventions have often focused on areas within a country – and often face difficulties operating on both sides of a border.
The regional programme of Interpeace is taking peacebuilding across borders in Africa’s Great Lakes region. The regional programme supports cross-border peace initiatives together with our partners, Never Again Rwanda (NAR) in Rwanda, Centre d’Alerte et Prévention des Conflits (CENAP) in Burundi, Pole Institute et un Centre d’Etudes Juridiques Appliquées (CEJA) in North Kivu as well as Action Pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC) et un Reseau d’Innovation Organisationelle (RIO) in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC).
Working in border communities between Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and DRC’s North Kivu and South Kivu, our Great Lakes programme has supported numerous activities that have addressed cross-border conflict drivers and improved the resilience of communities living near the borders. The programme has also contributed to a strong collaboration of civil society organisations in three countries which would have been unlikely if it were not for this programme. This is sustained through frequent coordination and collaboration.
That is why, from 27 to 31 January 2020, 35 peacebuilders from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) met in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss coordination of our efforts in 2020 to rebuild trust, resilience and advance social cohesion in the Great Lakes region. The meeting was facilitated by our regional programme.
“This meeting was highly important for our partnership,” said Eric Mahoro, Deputy Director of Never Again Rwanda (NAR). “For any partnership to be effective, there is need to plan and think together. This is what strengthens the spirit of working together, the openness required for sustainable partnership.”
Cross-border dialogue is important to strengthen social cohesion in this region, but often, countries act separately to resolve cross-border rooted conflicts. In the last four years, our Great Lakes programme has facilitated inclusive and participatory cross-border dialogues that have contributed to the transformation of violent persons into peace actors, restored trust in communities and fostered social cohesion.
“Permanent spaces for dialogue across borders have nourished fruitful interactions that led to advocacy in communities on problems experienced locally, related to population movement across borders and their living conditions in the different countries,” explained Daniella Niteka, Researcher at Centre d’Alerte et Prévention des Conflits (CENAP) – a conflict prevention organization in Burundi.
“In Cibitoke, dialogue was used to help repatriate Burudians who lived in difficult conditions in South Kivu on the other side of the border in DRC,” said Daniella.
The spaces for dialogue bring together people from across the border, offers them the chance to work and reduce stereotypes, and increases cooperation between people of these countries irrespective of what goes on at high political level. Some of the spaces have come up with resolutions that are used to engage official decision makers locally at the border level and even at a higher level.
According to Mr Mahoro, “the local leaders’ association of Francophone mayors has been instrumental in increasing understanding of decision makers on border issues, inviting them to multiply efforts to deal with problems they face in border communities.”
Interpeace’s programme in the Great Lakes has also facilitated conflict prevention dialogues related to the management of waters between countries in the region and cohabitation among border populations. Our peacebuilders have carried out research on land, power and identity related conflicts, as well as on resilience for reconciliation in the volatile political context. The programme empowers people to resist manipulation and be resilient in the conflict situation.
The meeting in Nairobi discussed the future of the programme and how to build on the lessons learned and successes of the last four years. It also discussed priority areas and the importance of ensuring that local communities are increasingly involved in the cross-border peacebuilding initiatives.
“We looked at significant changes from the different locations that we can be proud of. We’ll continue with the work to elevate the impact we have achieved at local level,” said Dr Theo Hollander, Interpeace’s Senior Representative for Eastern and Central Africa.