Regional Workshop: Cross-border Dialogue and Youth Empowerment for Peace in the Great Lakes Region

Having long been plagued by instability, conflict, and war, the people of the Great Lakes region remain steadfast in their pursuit of peace.  With this objective in mind, young people from Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi met for three days in Kigali from 11 to 13 December for a workshop organised by Interpeace and its local partners, namely Pole Institute and Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Centre d’Alerte et de Prévention des Conflits (CENAP) in Burundi, Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle (VJN) and Never Again Rwanda in Rwanda. This workshop was part of the ‘Cross-border Dialogue and Youth Empowerment for Peace in the Great Lakes Region’ programme. The aim was to exchange ideas on peace initiatives led by young innovators and peace fellows supported by the programme.

“Living together” despite a history of cyclical violence – Identifying resilience capacities for reconciliation in the Great Lakes Sub-Region

Can reconciliation be sustainable between communities that have experienced the most extreme forms of violence? This is one of the questions posed by 150 high-level stakeholders, during a regional forum held in December 2015 in Kinshasa, where they mandated Interpeace and its partners to conduct a research on the experiences of reconciliation in Burundi, DRC and Rwanda, to identify how these experiences can be leveraged to increase social cohesion and support peacebuilding efforts. The three countries make up a sub-region of the Great Lakes that has been marred by decades of violent conflict, including the Genocide against the Tutsi, the civil war in Burundi and the first and second Congo Wars. Our latest report presents results of a research conducted in Burundi, Rwanda and the provinces of North and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to respond to this mandate by identifying the resilience capacities that foster reconciliation in the sub-region.

The report, entitled “Resilience Capacities for Reconciliation in the Great Lakes Sub-Region”, is the  third published under the programme: Cross-Border for Peace in the Great Lakes Region, launched by Interpeace and six partners in the Region in 2011.  As with the previous research, it employed Participatory Action Research (PAR), combining qualitative and quantitative approaches, and engaged more than 9,000 people in the region – 50% of the participants were women and more than 30% were people under the age of 30.

Advancing reconciliation in the Great Lakes Region

The report sheds light on how the population of the sub-region defines reconciliation as well as the enabling factors and obstacles to reconciliation. It highlights a number of existing capacities in the sub-region that enable people to overcome the distrust left by years of conflict and to live together peacefully. These capacities manifest through individual, relational, cultural and institutional practices, allowing communities to cope with the consequences of violent conflict, and more importantly, to positively and sustainability transform relationships. The report also presents recommendations and priority actions, formulated by stakeholders themselves, to advance reconciliation in the region.

Among the key findings, the study highlights the importance of peace education for changing attitudes of individuals and structures, deconstructing prejudices and stereotypes, and developing the capacity to live together in a shared regional space. Consequently, stakeholders recommended promoting peace education that builds upon the existing efforts of members of the community and that is aimed at building a regional identity and sense of belonging.

The report also demonstrates how cross-border relations have played a major role in building resilience to conflict, despite geopolitical tensions. The efforts of women and youth to maintain these relations despite and during times of conflict as well as during times of peace were perceived to be a potential strength to build upon. Therefore, stakeholders recommended amplifying these efforts through the expansion and strengthening of inclusive economic projects of women and youth.

According to the research, approximately two thirds of the population in the region have experienced some form of violence related to conflict. The report highlights how trauma stemming from past and ongoing conflicts play a large role in the lives of the people of the Great Lakes sub-region. As such, stakeholders recommended initiating and expanding national and regional trauma healing strategies that are designed to heal wounds of the past as well as foster reconciliation and social cohesion.

Furthermore, insecurity, and in particular the proliferation of armed groups in eastern DRC and its regional implications emerged as a significant challenge to the sustainability of reconciliation efforts,. Stakeholders recommended cross-border learning and collaboration on demobilization and socio-economic reintegration of ex-combatants.

A key take-away from the report is that recognizing, strengthening, and building upon the resilience capacities that exist across Burundi, DRC and Rwanda has the potential to enhance efforts to foster sustainable peace and reconciliation throughout the region.

Cross-Border for Peace in the Great Lakes region programme

The Cross-Border for Peace in the Great Lakes Region programme was launched in 2011 by Interpeace and its partners to address key challenges to peace and reconciliation. The programme is currently in its second phase and is implemented by the following partners: Interpeace, Réseau d'Innovation Organisationnelle (RIO); Action Pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC) in South Kivu; Pole Institute and Centre d'Etudes Juridiques Appliquées (CEJA) in North Kivu; Centre d'Alerte et de Prévention des Conflits (CENAP) in Burundi and Never Again Rwanda (NAR) in Rwanda. This report is the third published under this programme. The first, published in 2013 focused on "Stereotypes and Identity Manipulations” and a second report on "Land, Identity, Power and Population Movements" was published in 2016.

"I walk with the boys" Trajectories of young people towards violence: mirror of the gender dynamics of their society? A local analysis of gender roles and social pressures in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali

Resulting from a participatory research conducted by Interpeace and its partners Indigo Côte d'Ivoire and the  Institut Malien de Recherche Action pour la Paix (IMRAP), the report entitled Beyond ideology and greed: trajectories of young people towards new forms of violence in Côte d'Ivoire and Mali published in 2016, highlighted how the educational crisis on the one hand, and the search for social recognition and new success models on the other, explain the trajectories of young people towards alternative spaces of socialization, which can lead to (the use of) violence. During the discussions and debates following its dissemination, several questions pointed to the issues of gender. While girls are generally not among the active providers of violence, it is important to highlight their experiences in the path to violence in order to understand their level of involvement and participation. It is also important to understand how these dynamics influence the trajectories of girls, and how education influences them.

On this basis, a complementary research process was conducted jointly in Côte d'Ivoire and Mali to deepen the understanding of the gendered dynamics based on the findings of the previous research.

Among the most important research findings, we found that: A). Society’s expectations of young people, whatever their gender, is focusing more and more on their economic contribution. In fact, the less privileged they are, the more pressure they are under to contribute. B). Though women are beginning to take on a more important economic role, this does not ensure their “emancipation”. However, it brings on a crisis of masculinity for men, who must now redefine and assert themselves in some way. C). Overly strict forms of authority and social control can push certain young people, both boys and girls, towards marginalization, and therefore lead some to carry out violent acts. And D). It is necessary to develop new success models for young boys and girls who have trouble identifying with social models set by traditional and community spheres, by their elders or by school.

These conclusions constitute the launching pad for collective action around the central question of success models set out for young people, both boys and girls, in the region.

"Let’s make History begin on October 2nd": from signing the agreement to building lasting peace in Colombia

A first step to build lasting and sustainable peace in Colombia

On Monday September 26 in Cartagena, Colombia, the Final Agreement ending the conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) was signed. Real peace, however, involves much more than signing an agreement. This is only a first step. An indispensable one, because it generates spaces for coexistence and restores the bonds of trust that violence has broken. As Colombian Human Rights defender, Claudia Mejia Duque explains: "the war in Colombia not only claimed lives, it also destroyed the trust between us and we must work to rebuild it."

Claudia Mejía Duque, Colombian Human Rights Defender, at event: Women Choose Peace in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez.

The armed conflict in Colombia is one of the oldest in the world. According to the report of the National Centre for Historical Memory, between 1958 and 2012 there were at least 220,000 people killed, 25,000 missing and 4,744,046 were displaced. "In Colombia we live a true exodus" says Irma Perilla, director of Thought and Social Action, PAS. "Seeing the dimension of what internal displacement is, motivated me to work for this cause: a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict."

In order to end the conflict with the FARC-EP, the spirit of the agreement negotiated in Havana between 2014 and 2016, sought to guarantee that the violence would stop and never occur again. To achieve this, the agreement should not be limited to the termination of hostilities, it should also be taken as an opportunity to address the structural problems affecting large groups of the population, particularly in rural areas, which have prompted the emergence of different types of conflicts ranging from ideological and political issues, to organized crime. Therefore, the agreement consists of six points, and compliance with each of them is a necessary condition for a lasting and sustainable peace: comprehensive rural reform, political participation, ending the conflict, solution to the problem of illicit drugs, victims of the armed conflict and the implementation, verification and countersignature of the agreement.

52 years of armed conflict come to an end and new challenges and opportunities emerge

After signing the agreement, the main challenge to building peace in Colombia begins: its implementation. "I am very impressed by the negotiations of Havana. The support they had, the content, the fact that they had a gender commission. They are comprehensive, complete agreements, "says Monica McWilliams, Vice-Chair of Interpeace’s Governing Council and signatory to the peace accords in her native Northern Ireland. "The key question is whether there will be proper resources, sufficient commitment and enough political will to implement these agreements." Resources and political will, are the two pillars on which the long process of building peace in Colombia will stand on, which begins the day after the referendum is held on October 2nd.

Monica McWilliams at event organized by Interpeace Latin America, Alianza Para la Paz and the Colombian Police in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo Credit: Arnoldo Gálvez.

A legitimate peace can never be a decision made at the highest political level, but a possibility subject to democratic decision-making mechanisms. What has been signed between the government and the FARC-EP on Monday, must now be endorsed by the Colombian society on October 2, through a plebiscite where all Colombians answer: "Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace? " The main concern of those who support the peace process, is that the ignorance of the content of the agreements, decades of mistrust and the pain of the victims, may prevent an affirmative response.

Peace will not be perfect, and if Colombians decide to endorse the agreement, the peace process will be long and complex. However, there can be no possible solution without ending the armed confrontation. The ceasefire itself, which is just a first glimmer of hope for Colombia, has already brought positive benefits. Irma Perilla assures it: "Today, when we have not yet earned the countersignature, this peace process has already given results: no more soldiers have fallen, no more guerrillas have fallen, no more civilians have fallen caught in the middle of the armed conflict.” Monica McWilliams co-founded the Northern Ireland Monica witnessed the profound changes that peace brought in her country, "the daily life of Colombians will dramatically change once you start implementing the peace agreements. The world will see Colombia under a different light, tourists will begin to arrive in the country, investments will increase as investors seek stability. But most important is the life in the communities, the tranquility that will exist in communities. The primary objective of the agreements must be the security and serenity of Colombians."

Rewriting History in Colombia

One of the most difficult aspects to cope with and assimilate during a peace process is the ability of people to talk to their enemies. However, reconciliation is another essential condition to interrupt the cycles of violence. “If Chile and Argentina had to talk about transitional justice to move from military dictatorship to democracy, in Colombia we have to go through the same thing. Only truth, justice and reparation is what will prevent this from happening again. And for those who think that peace will bring impunity, I'm sure that Colombians will not allow crimes against humanity to go unpunished. " Congresswoman Angela Maria Robledo, Co President of the Peace Commission of the Congress of Colombia, added: "We need to start weaving a common story, seated in truth and memory, so that in the midst of our plurality, we can live together".

Congresswoman Angela Maria Robledo, Co President of the Peace Commission of the Congress of Colombia. Photo Credit: Arnoldo Galvez.

The key to peace, said President Juan Manuel Santos when he began to position the peace process, is not in the bottom of the sea, I have it in my pocket. And we went, women, indigenous people, peasants, Afro-descendants, youth, to say, Mr. President, the key to peace is also ours. "

"Many people thought that the end of the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC was not possible. And now we see that it is possible, "says Monica McWilliams. "Colombia cannot afford to miss this opportunity. It cannot be enslaved by history; they must make history begin on October . "