Rwanda: new findings and protocols to improve mental health and social cohesion

Studies show a high prevalence of mental health disorders in Rwanda. This imprint of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi has made reconciliation and societal healing difficult. During a hybrid conference in the capital Kigali, on 2 September 2021, Interpeace and partners presented findings from baseline research carried out on mental health and societal healing in Bugesera District.

The conference was organised by Interpeace, in partnership with the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) and Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR). It was supported by the European Union (EU) through its embassy in Rwanda.

During the event, participants also discussed the development of several protocols, informed by this baseline survey, to assess ongoing efforts and intervene on issues related to mental health, social cohesion, and sustainable livelihoods in Rwanda.

Since the genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has gone through 27 years of sustained development and growth. However, the country continues to grapple with significant mental health challenges. A considerable  proportion of the Rwandan population lives with trauma linked to the genocide against the Tutsi.

My mother is always lonely. When I ask her a question about what happened during the genocide, she immediately goes to the room and cries, and I feel sad because there is nothing I can do to help her feel better,” said one participant of the baseline study.

This is exacerbated by psychological and socioeconomic distress which have contributed to disrupt social cohesion. These prevailing mental health conditions have made it difficult to rebuild trust and reconcile people in Rwanda.

Bugesera has suffered a lot from the genocide against the Tutsi. Traumatised people have difficulties to forgive and trust each other, and to embrace development and sustainable livelihoods,” said Richard Mutabazi, Mayor of Bugesera District.

However, the government of Rwanda and local civil society organisations have already made significant investment and progress towards trauma healing, social cohesion and improving livelihoods. To support these ongoing efforts, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Prison Fellowship Rwanda and Interpeace started implementing the pilot phase of a societal healing programme in Bugesera District, which was the hardest hit by the genocide against the Tutsi. This baseline study on mental health and societal healing was part of this programme, launched in October 2020.

We wanted to assess the current state of communities in Bugesera District, in relation to mental health, social cohesion and collaborative livelihoods, and then use the data as a basis to develop intervention protocols for the district and beyond,” explained Frank Kayitare, Interpeace Rwanda and Great Lakes Representative. He added: “We have gained invaluable input from government and non-governmental organisations. These inputs have made our programme more responsive; allowing for a potentially more resilient outcome.

The presentation of this study’s results at the conference, on 2 September, marked the completion of the first stage of this pilot programme, known as ‘’Reinforcing community capacity for social cohesion and reconciliation through societal trauma healing in Bugesera District’’.

We are very happy to see this project come to fruition after multiple discussions that started on this very important topic between Interpeace, the government, the EU and other partners over a year ago,” said H.E Nicola Bellomo, EU Ambassador in Rwanda.

The mental health challenge in Rwanda is multidimensional. Lack of remorse and forgiveness, impunity, and poverty were all cited in the research as factors that underlie mistrust between social groups. Another important aspect revealed by the study was the challenge to successful reintegration of convicted genocide perpetrators who have completed their prison term. Specifically, it was found that reintegration is very often an extremely challenging experience, for the former perpetrators but also for the communities receiving them. Issues of social stigma, rejection by the family, and inability to sustain livelihoods were most frequently reported among released ex-prisoners. These social challenges faced by ex-prisoners compound problems caused by a long period of incarceration, which include loss of social and professional identity, erosion of family relationships and emotional expression, and loss of hope in the future.

Challenges at community level are not only one-dimensional and require collaborative effort. What is happening in Rwanda is a ground-breaking and shining example. We should think of scalability of these initiatives for a better outcome,”, said Dr Theo Hollander, Senior Regional Representative for Eastern and Central Africa at Interpeace.

In terms of livelihoods, the baseline survey revealed evidence of economic hardship. People struggle to survive as well as they can in adverse circumstances. A key challenge that emerged from the study is low agricultural production contributing to food insecurity. Reliance on rain-fed farming, insufficient access to irrigable land, limited use of fertilizers, and limited ownership of livestock, all contribute to this challenge. Residents inevitably rely on markets to supplement their food supplies, which in turn pushes young people into menial labour roles in order to generate the required cashflow, reducing their availability to participate in education and training. Vocational skills were found to be lacking in the district, with the vast majority of respondents reporting that their only vocational skill is farming with basic tools.

Our goal in Rwanda is to develop comprehensive interventions, blend Rwandan home-grown solutions with international best practices and utilize multiple types of evidence to improve mental health,” said Ntwali Jean Paul, Deputy Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Rwanda.

The study additionally assessed gender and youth perspectives and dynamics in terms of mental health, family relations, prisoner reintegration, and livelihoods. The study found that women in Bugesera district were deeply affected by the genocide, through various direct and indirect pathways. Regarding mental health, the study found that more women than men reported problems with anxiety and depression. With respect to the inter-generational transmission of genocide legacies, the study identified two major challenges for young people; the first is growing up in a family in which the parents suffer from extensive psychosocial issues due to their traumatic experiences, to the extent that it undermines their capacity as parents. The second is the difficulty for parents to discuss events and experiences that often cause their children to feel confused, angry, or insecure.

Mental health is crucial to advance social cohesion in Rwanda. Teams from Interpeace Rwanda, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, the Ministry of Health and Prison Fellowship Rwanda have been supporting Rwandans and the government to address these mental health challenges and trauma and we are committed to do more with our partners,” said Scott Weber, President of Interpeace.

The results of the baseline survey have informed the development of several new protocols for assessment and intervention, which will guide further efforts related to mental health, social cohesion, and sustainable livelihoods in Rwanda. The set of protocols included a holistic mental health and psychosocial care intervention combining Rwandan home-grown solutions with international best practices. Specifically, the screening protocols aimed to assess the community population and assign participants in interventions, based on their individualized needs. Among other developed protocols, there is a resilience-oriented therapy protocol and socioemotional skills curriculum for mental health care; multi-family healing space and adaptations on the sociotherapy protocols for social cohesion; prisoners’ risk and resilience assessment and prisoners’ rehabilitation protocols and reintegration roadmap; as well as collaborative livelihoods protocol to guide the community-based enterprises development.

Please follow this link and listen to the conference recording:

Our societal healing programme in Rwanda enhances capacities of communities through an innovative and holistic approach to expand investment in mental health, address trauma and advance social cohesion. The programme is funded by the EU through its instrument contributing to stability and peace (IcSP).

Favoring technical training in “Boquerón” detention center in Guatemala

The “Boquerón” detention center is located in the district of Santa Rosa in Guatemala, less than an hour away from the capital. In 2015, Interpeace’s Regional Office for Latin America, began to implement a project to provide technical training for young inmates in this detention center. The project was made possible with the cooperation of the Spanish NGO International Youth Initiative and the financial support of Malaga’s City Hall.

For Interpeace, the implementation of treatment programmes in detention centers, is intended to promote rehabilitation processes and support the General Direction of the Penitentiary System in Guatemala. This is accomplished by providing inmates with social, educational, cultural and productive job training workshops.

As part of the project, technical training was provided for young inmates at “Boquerón” in graphic design, serigraphy and dye-sublimination; workshops in computer programming and maintenance, as well as diverse methods of craft elaborations. In addition to these workshops, the young inmates were also trained to develop skills in management and conflict transformation, psychology and personal motivation. Moreover, Interpeace provided them with a screen printing apparatus, as well as several supplies and equipment for dye-sublimination, which uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as plastic, cards, paper, or fabric.

Workshop at Boquerón Detention Center in Guatemala. Photo credit: Interpeace.

The systematic nature of society requires interventions oriented toward generating synergies which favor interactions between different tracks or different sectors of society, which is why Interpeace also applied its Track 6 approach in this project. Interpeace officials performed several activities at the political level (Track 1) with the Vice Minister of Security and the Directives of the Penitentiary System, conducted activities with other organizations of civil society working in support of the prison system (Track 2) and implemented activities directly with the young inmates, who are the beneficiaries of the project (Track 3).

The ultimate goal of the project was to expand the social function of the prison system and to achieve specific objectives such as reducing leisure time in detention centers and provide methods of rehabilitation and social reintegration with respect to the inmates’ human dignity, human rights and laws.

Shirt elaborated by the participants of the Boquerón project in Guatemala. Photo credit: Interpeace.

Documentaire - Renforcement de la confiance entre les populations civiles et les forces de défense et de sécurité : diagnostic et solutions pour une paix durable au Mali

Ce film présente les réflexions et solutions développées par plusieurs milliers de Maliens pour répondre à la crise de confiance entre les populations civiles et les forces de défense et de sécurité. Ce défi avait été précédemment identifié par les Maliens comme obstacle prioritaire à la paix (cf. Autoportrait du Mali sur les obstacles à la Paix).

Il s’agit de la seconde étape d’un processus de recherche-action participative visant la consolidation de la paix au Mali, à travers l’établissement d’une vision commune des obstacles et solutions à mettre en oeuvre.

Including women’s voices in Constitution-Making

Every year approximately 20 countries go through the process of writing or revising a constitution and a further 20 envisage doing so. At a recent event, “More Inclusive Ways to Peace: The Role of Women in Constitution-making processes”, experts and advocates in the field of constitution-making gathered to discuss how this process could be made more inclusive, ensuring that women’s voices are heard.

Scott Weber, Director-General of Interpeace, opened the discussion by stressing the potential that each constitution-making process represents for peacebuilding. He said they present a chance “for those countries to embrace more inclusive political practices by ensuring women participate fully at every stage and every level of the constitution-making process.”

Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, Permanent Representative of the United States in Geneva, acknowledged that steps forward have been made in many countries due to the advocacy of women’s groups and civil society. Progressive and inclusive constitutions are important, she said, but warned that this is not enough.


Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto displays a copy of the US constitution during her opening remarks. Photo credit: François Wavre/ Lundi13 for Interpeace

“Equality on paper does not necessarily translate to equality on the ground.” She said. “There is no doubt that this form of equality will require more women in leadership positions on all fronts, in all sectors.”

This theme was continued by Fatima Outaleb, the founder of Union de l’Action Féminine in Morocco, who discussed the difficulties faced in achieving a truly representative constitution. In part, she said, the problem is one of political will, but civil society has also been responsible. “We as civil society have not done much to include the people we are speaking on behalf of,” she pointed out.

Ensuring gender equality in the constitution-making process is essential to building a sustainable peace, that's according to Farooq Wardaq, the former Minister of Education for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, who held key government roles in the revision of his country’s constitution and in ensuring women’s equal participation in elections.

A key to their success, as Wardaq pointed out, has been countrywide civic education that put a priority on reaching out to women. “Up until that time people thought the constitution was a book on a government shelf that meant nothing for their lives. This we had to change.”


Fatima Outleb discusses the challenge of fostering inclusivity in Morocco. Photo credit: François Wavre/Lundi13 for Interpeace

As a consequence of the constitution, he said, women now participate in 40% of national decision-making overall, and hold 29% of the seats in the upper house, 22% of the lower house and 22% of the provincial councils.

In order to advance women’s role in constitution-making and nationbuilding processes, Interpeace’s Women’s Constitutional Voices Programme provides a space for women to have their voices heard and to share their experiences and expertise.

“Our aim is to provide a platform for women – and for men who are fighting for gender justice – to share what works,” Scott Weber concluded. “It is up to all of us, men and women, to work together for find more inclusive ways to peace.”

Women's Constitutional Voices event: Engaging women in constitution-making processes

Interpeace and the Permanent Mission of the United States to UN in Geneva are co-organizing a panel, “More inclusive ways to peace: the role of women in constitution-making processes”. The event will be held on Thursday 12 November, at 9.30am at the Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge.

Featuring speakers from different regions and generations who have played key roles in ensuring a better role for women in political processes, including constitution-making, the discussion will center on the need for women's full and equal participation at every level of the constitution-making process. The event will also showcase the important role that women are already playing in these processes.

Speakers at the event will share their personal experiences of the struggle to achieve gender justice in the constitution-making process, setting this in an international but also local context.

This panel is part of Interpeace’s Women’s Constitutional Voices programme that seeks to increase women’s inclusion in the peacebuilding and constitution-making process.

More Inclusive Ways to Peace: The Role of Women in Constitution-Making Processes
12 November 2015 - 9h30 - 11h30
Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge
Espace Henry Dunant

To register, please click here.

Event speakers

Fatima Outaleb is a founding member and executive board member of Union de l’Action Féminine (Union of Women’s Action) Morocco. The organisation has been part of the women’s lobby to implement the gender parity provision in Morocco’s constitution.  As a human rights and gender advocate she has focused on women’s empowerment and gender justice across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Fatima also runs a shelter organised by Union de L’Action that helps women victimized by domestic violence, rape and other abuse.

Michele Brandt currently directs Interpeace’s Constitution-making for Peace Programme and its newest project -- Women’s Constitutional Voices.  For over twenty years she has implemented constitutional and gender justice programmes including in post-conflict countries. Previously she has worked as a constitutional advisor to UNAMA and Constitutional bodies in Afghanistan. In East Timor she was gender and judicial officer with UNTAET as well as an advisor to the Constituent Assembly.  In Cambodia, she co-founded a Women’s Crisis Center and led a legal aid association. Michele has written numerous articles and guidance tools on constitution-making and gender justice – including the Interpeace handbook on constitution-making.

Louise Kasser Genecand became the youngest member of the constituent assembly in Geneva at the age of 23. Serving from 2008 to 2012, she oversaw the organisation and development of the assembly. Previously, she worked as an advocate for youth engagement and the right of foreigners to vote, in Geneva as well as the federal level. She is now an attachée for intercantonal affairs at the presidential department of the canton of Geneva.

Farooq Wardak, in 2002, served as Director of the Constitutional Commission Secretariat as well as the Secretariat of the Constitutional Loya Jirga, the grand Assembly that ratified the constitution.  In this role, he supported efforts to ensure women's participation and representation at every stage and level of the process.  In 2004, he was appointed as Director of the Joint Election Management Body’s Secretariat (a UN and Afghan Government body) and organized the voter registration process and presidential election.  He has also served as State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Director General of the Administration as well as Minister of Education.

Sapana Pradhan Malla is an advocate for women’s participation in political and public policy processes. She is a founder of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) and a cabinet-appointed Gender Advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal. While a member of the country’s 1st Constituent Assembly tasked with writing a new constitution, she worked to ensure the inclusion of a comprehensive women’s rights agenda. In 2008, Sapana was awarded the prestigious Gruber International Women's Rights Award and the Asia Foundation’s Lotus Leadership Award in 2013 for her contributions to advancing women’s rights in the developing world.

Also appearing at the event

Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto
In May 2014, Pamela Hamamoto became the second woman to serve as Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva. During her term in office she has sought to use Geneva’s unique position as a center for global humanitarian organizations to create new opportunities for women and girls. As part of this goal the US mission launched The Future She Deserves in 2015, an initiative to promote collaboration between Geneva based organizations on gender issues.

Renée Larivière will moderate the event. She currently heads the Development and Learning division of Interpeace. Her main responsibilities are focused on providing the vision and leadership for Programme Development, Learning and Policy and IPAT. She also supports the development of the Constitution Making for Peace Programme. Operating in the complex environments of fragile societies, she has extensive experience in working closely with the different stakeholders that have an interest in building sustainable peace.  Renée came to Interpeace in 2007. Prior to this she worked in Peru on issues around the access, use and management of natural resources. Renée also worked in Pakistan with LEAD International and at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Announcing the speakers for Nairobi Peace Talks

The speakers of the Nairobi Peace Talks, to be held on 12 November 2015 at 16:00 local time (GMT+3), include people from across Kenya who are committed to peace. They will share their personal stories, and show how everyone can contribute to peace. The speakers include:

Ikal Angelei is an environmental activist. She is co-founder and Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, a grassroots organization that seeks to foster social, economic and environmental justice in the Lake Turkana Basin. In 2012 she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, particularly for campaigning against the environmental consequences of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam on behalf of Northern Kenyan indigenous communities.

Nardos Bekele-Thomas is the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Resident Coordinator of the United Nations system in Kenya. Nardos leads and coordinates the United Nations' efforts to support the Government in creating and sustaining an enabling environment for the promotion of human rights, good governance and the improvement of the quality of life and the well-being of the people of Kenya by reducing poverty, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable groups and regions.

Abbas  Gullet is Secretary-General of the Kenya Red Cross. Under Abbas, the timely interventions of the Kenya Red Cross have earned it recognition as one of the best performing National Red Cross Societies globally. Abbas was the first African Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), but he chose to return to lead the Kenya Red Cross. His personal leadership in emergencies and humanitarian situations has made him one of Kenya’s most recognizable faces. In 2007 he was named “UN in Kenya Person of the Year”.

Yusuf Hassan is a Kenyan diplomat, journalist and serving Member of Parliament. He began his career as a journalist, working for Kenyan and international news agencies before joining the UN. Hassan was elected to the Kenyan Parliament in 2011. In 2012, he was wounded in a grenade attack in Nairobi and was re-elected while recuperating in hospital. He continues to advocate relentlessly for tolerance, human rights, social justice and equality.

Francis Kariuki, known as ‘The Tweeting Chief’, has captured national and international attention for his use of Twitter as a tool for community policing and neighbourhood watch, reporting and preventing crimes. He also uses Twitter to send messages of hope and peace.

Selline Korir is founder of the Rural Women Peace Link (RWPL), a network of grassroots women's organizations operating in areas affected by armed conflicts in western parts of Kenya. Selline has worked for many years in different rural parts of Kenya, empowering women and girls to become active citizens and agents of change.

Josephine Kulea is the Founder and President of Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF). She is a courageous activist addressing harmful cultural practices facing children in the pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya. Her tremendous work has been rewarded with numerous awards, and it has been recognized widely, including by President Obama.

Solomon Muyundo, better known as “Solo 7,” is a grassroots artist from Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. During the 2008 post-election violence he started to paint murals delivering messages of peace in public spaces. Solomon estimates that he's painted his street art in more than 4000 locations around Kibera on bridges, fences, and buildings.

Geofrey Odongo was elected Deputy President of the Children’s Government of the National Children’s Government of Kenya by pupil representatives from all of Kenya’s 47 Counties. Under the leadership of Godfrey and his fellow members, the Children’s Government has focused on a campaign to fully ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child; education and nutrition; and even encouraging older youths to break free of the long held belief that only white collar jobs count for a decent living.

Juliani was born and raised in the low-income Dandora neighbourhood of Nairobi. He is a popular hip-hop musician known for his socially conscious lyrics, with themes that mainly focus on social, spiritual and political emancipation and the dream of a united Kenyan nation.

Zarina Patel is an author, human rights activist and environmentalist. Famous for almost single-handedly saving the public Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi from land grabbers in 1991, Zarina is a founding member of the Asian African Heritage Trust and was a member of the Ufungamano initiative for Constitutional Change in Kenya. She has authored three books and is currently managing editor of AwaaZ magazine.

For full biographies of the speakers, click here.


Victoria Rubadiri, a news anchor for NTV Kenya, will moderate the event.

Afrizo, a band that combine English, Swahili and other African languages in to their dance and story-telling performances, and Sarabi, who use a musical fusion of East African rhythms, Afro Beat, rock and reggae, will provide music for the event.

Claudia Meier will provide graphic design during the event. Claudia is a peacebuilder with a passion for photography, process facilitation and all things visual. Since March 2014, she has been Interpeace’s Rwanda and Burundi Programme Officer. As a self-taught graphic recorder, Claudia illustrated Build Peace 2015, an international conference on technology in peacebuilding, and is part of the organizing team for Build Peace 2016.

Nairobi Peace Talks
12 November 2015
16:00-18:00 local time (GMT+3)


The Nairobi Peace Talks will be held on 12 November 2015 at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON). Organized under the theme ‘I Contribute to Peace’, the event aims to inspire broad reflection on how everyone has a role to play in promoting peace. The event is organized by Interpeace and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) with the generous support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Kenya.

This event will mark the first time the Peace Talks are held in Kenya. Speakers from all over the country, and coming from diverse backgrounds, will share their personal stories and experiences, demonstrating their commitment to peace. The Nairobi Peace Talks will highlight how every individual can contribute to peace in their own unique way, such as by building bridges between communities and pursuing mutual understanding.

Due to limited space at the venue, attendance is by invitation only. The Nairobi Peace Talks will however be filmed and made available on the website. The event will also be webcast live here.

You can also follow the Nairobi Peace Talks at #NairobiPeaceTalks and at: