Africa’s Great Lakes region has experienced recurrent conflicts that have claimed millions of lives since the 1960s. In Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, many of the conflicts are deeply interconnected. Although communities in the region coexisted peacefully in the past, they attest that the trust between them gradually eroded. Conflicts that were fueled by the manipulation of identities and stereotypes and by leaders who were seeking power and resources contributed to the breakdown of trust. These negative stereotypes were progressively internalized by local communities and handed down over the decades to successive generations. Strong mistrust and suspicion have as a result emerged as fundamental obstacles for sustainable peace between the peoples of the three bordering countries.
Beginning in 2013, Interpeace has been implementing the Cross-Border Dialogue for Peace in the Great Lakes programme in partnership with six partner organizations from the region: the Centre for Conflict Alert and Prevention (CENAP) in Burundi; Never Again Rwanda (NAR) in Rwanda; and in the DRC, Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC), Pole Institute, Centre d’Etudes Juridiques Appliquées (CEJA) and Réseau d’Innovation Organisationnelle (RIO). Prior to 2013, Interpeace and partner teams carried out an exploratory and preparatory process to consult the Great Lakes populations on the relevance of a regional programme and the strategic focus it should have. The consultations showed a strong need and desire for cross-border dialogue from various actors in the region. The theme of identity-based stereotypes and manipulations crystallized as a major obstacle for sustainable peace in the region.
The goal of this cross-border programme is to establish a regional structure that can help rebuild trust and deconstruct negative stereotypes between Burundians, Congolese and Rwandans. This is pursued through regular cross-border dialogue spaces where communities can openly discuss the root causes of the conflicts afflicting them, as well as develop consensus-based and locally owned solutions.
The programme also seeks to close the gap between citizens and policy-makers through a dialogue process that brings together grassroots communities, national decision-makers and regional organizations. By promoting participatory approaches in the decision-making process, the programme seeks to contribute towards sustainable peace in the Great Lakes region.