Restoring Trust between Police and Communities in Ethiopia - Zenebe’s Story

Before the development of a trust building programme between communities and the police in four Woredas (district-level administrative units) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there were elevated crime rates, particularly in property crimes like vandalism and theft. Simultaneously, violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery remained at a moderate level. Through a partnership between the Ethiopian Police University (EPU) and Interpeace, the implementation of a community security approach, led to improved trust between the police and the community, resulting in notable declines in crime rates and increases in people’s sense of safety.

Zenebe*, a married father of four children and a resident of one of the Woreda witnessed the transformative impact of the trust building dialogues organised by Interpeace. These dialogues provide platforms for community representatives and police officers to discuss local peace, develop problem-solving strategies, and implement capacity-building initiatives. In particular, the scanning, analysis, response, and assessment (SARA) problem-solving approach facilitated joint efforts in identifying and addressing community concerns, supported by the Community GIS Tool (CGIST), which helps to map and analyse data for informed decision-making on safety and crime prevention.

Reflecting on the past, Zenebe recalls the historical marginalisation of community members in police operations, leading to a disconnect between community priorities and police actions, breeding mistrust and suspicion. The trust building programme marked a shift towards collaboration, aiming to involve residents in shaping police services.

"Most of the programme activities were new for all of us. The police in this country did not have the culture to genuinely engage community groups to take an active role in setting priorities and service needs,” Zenebe recalls.

Zenebe recalls how the programme introduced new practices, such as engaging community groups in decision-making processes, fostering inclusivity, and taking proactive measures to enhance community safety. Initiatives like the "shay-bunna" (coffee-tea drinking session) forums, where residents held weekly discussions over a cup of tea or coffee, have strengthened social bonds and facilitated dispute resolution and resource mobilisation.

Following the programme’s implementation, Zenebe and other community members feel empowered to influence security policing in their Woreda., The initiative proves to be an eye-opening experience for both residents and the local police department, instilling a sense of unity and optimism about the future of security. 81% of the community members' responses reflected this positive outcome.

"Because of my participation in the trust-building programme, I am now able to effectively collaborate with the local police in problem identification and resolution. I now believe that the police service at the Woreda level adequately represents my needs and priorities. The local police department is now using inclusive approaches in planning and delivering police services. For example, the police department invited community representatives, including myself, to provide feedback by 2023. This is really impressive, and I've never seen anything like it in my life," says Zenebe.

While celebrating achievement, Zenebe emphasises the importance of sustained engagement from stakeholders to ensure long-term success.

"The local police department's commitment to working closely with community groups to maintain peace at the grassroots level has improved significantly. However, I am convinced that community representatives and police officers require ongoing support to maintain programme outcomes. More specifically, various collaborative problem-solving pieces of training and the CGIST tool are critical to increasing community members and police officers' capacity to deal with community concerns on a long-term basis at the district level."

Zenebe's journey reflects a positive transformation in police-community relations. Sustaining these gains requires collaborative commitment from all stakeholders, aligning with Interpeace’s vision of unity for lasting peace at the grassroots level. As the community looks to the future, expanding the trust-building programme to all regions of Ethiopia remains essential for sustained progress and peacebuilding efforts.

*The name has been changed to ensure security.

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).

Libya: the value added of local peace and reconciliation processes

Libya goes through challenging months as the country heads towards elections on 24 December. On 2 July 2021, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), supported by the UN, was not able to reach a consensus on the constitutional basis of the upcoming elections. Earlier in June, during the Second Berlin Conference, there was no significant progress in terms of withdrawal of foreign troops or mercenaries from the country.

In this highly divided context, community-based reconciliation processes are critical to address conflicts stemming from local grievances. However, too often, local populations and communities are not sufficiently involved in the higher-level peace processes. To bridge this gap, Interpeace has gathered a broad range of change agents involved in establishing a common vision of priorities for peace to bring solutions at the local level through community dialogue.

The deep political divisions that characterize Libya both stem from and feed into local grievances – creating a vicious cycle and making the work at the community level all that more important. Since 2011, Interpeace’s engagement in Libya has focused on the development of local infrastructure for peace and social cohesion. Amid this prolonged state of conflict, Libyans are frustrated with the continued political stagnation, failed dialogue processes, and unkept promises. In the context of long-standing multifaceted crisis in Libya, there are high hopes for a democratic transition in the coming months, even with the last setbacks, but that is complicated by numerous social and political challenges in addition to the ongoing conflict and the spread of Covid-19.

The years of conflict have also weakened the already fragile social cohesion and widened the gaps in the country. Re-establishing social cohesion and inclusion must be a priority while building sustainable peace in such a complex conflict situation as the one in Libya. Through its project “Strengthening Local Cohesion in Libya: A Pathway to Lasting Peace”, Interpeace seeks to reinforce local resilience capacities for sustainable peace and contribute to the development of local environment for stability and future growth in Libya. Almost 30 communities benefit from the programme.

Over the last ten years in Libya, Interpeace has developed and accompanied a network of over 200 ‘Change Agents’ or ‘Dialogue Facilitators’, across the country working directly with the population. This group is made up of influential individuals of all ages, genders and social status. Its members play an important role in building resilient peace in Libya from the bottom-up, by ensuring that engaged communities are equipped to be more resilient to conflict, especially at the community level. This initiative is aimed at catalyzing collaboration between Libyan communities, and with national authorities, to establish a common vision of priorities for peace through strengthening dialogue platforms and building the capacity of change agents in local communities. This effort is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs.

On the practical level, I was greatly empowered in my social participation. There were some activities I stayed away from, thinking they belong to the specialists, and I never participated. I felt that it [the engagement in the initiative] gave me the courage to participate. I was staying away from those having opposing ideas and positions, but I began to intervene in positive ways. If a tough situation occurs, I try and find constructive solutions to it,” says a female change agent from Tobruk.

In the programme’s framework, Interpeace sets up various initiatives to bring together change agents based in different parts of Libya and support their efforts in building peaceful social environment. The most recent gathering took place in Tunis from 20 to 28 June 2021. It was organized to help these community leaders and influencers in identifying and addressing priority issues inside communities.

This experience can be characterized in two ways: we established relationships in all Libyan cities when maintaining direct communication. I mean, now I have friends in every Libyan city, and I can say that 60% of the advantage I gained is the fact that I personally know young people from all the cities and from different fields. […] Personally, I have met influential people in different communities, wise people and influencers in civil society. […] We know mistrust that can exist among individuals towards international organisations working in Libya, but Interpeace has a different approach – this is a special experience,” explains a male change agent from Tobruk.

Forty change agents divided into two groups participated in four-days sessions for each. The workshop aimed at providing the dialogue facilitators who are based in the eastern part of Libya with the required skills and tools to design and conduct community dialogue tailored to their local context.

I am shy – even when I have something to say, I prefer to stay in the background, keep quiet. I am not social by nature, I prefer staying at home. My participation in the workshops […] made me want to express my point of view whether or not it is accepted by the other party. Now, on the social level I have the power to participate in ongoing projects in Libya, such as enhancing the role of women in electoral processes, as voters or as candidates, as well as at the level of national reconciliation,” says a female change agent from Al-Baida.

This work is critical with the current changes taking place in the sensitive political context of Libya and ahead of elections in which communities will play a key role.

The role of the change agents will be critical in the eventual implementation of a political agreement in bringing public support, particularly among civil society, who are likely to be key champions of any peace outcomes negotiated. The sustainability of a political solution will be dependent on a shared societal agreement about what peace means and what it entails, but also community engagement –going beyond simple outreach - as an actual process of inclusion in the implementation to ensure sustainable peace,” concluded Renée Larivière, Senior Director for Programme Management at Interpeace.

Rwanda Genocide Remembrance Day 2020: Monica McWilliams’ message of remembrance and hope

In 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda claimed about 1million lives and left the country with the massive burden of overcoming this national trauma and building a fresh future.

The Chair of Interpeace’s Governing Board, Monica McWilliams, was in Rwanda recently and has spoken of her, ‘incredibly moving experience’ of visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

In this video recording, issued today in remembrance of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Ms McWilliams says Rwanda is doing better in rebuilding from a genocidal history and fostering social cohesion. She also talks about how Interpeace is supporting the Government’s efforts in trauma healing in the country. “Rwanda is holding out the potential that we can move on,” Ms McWilliams says.

Watch video below:

A conversation with Edelberto Torres Rivas on the 20th anniversary of Interpeace

Interpeace interviewed Edelberto Torres Rivas, a renowned sociologist. Rivas was also the Director of the Interpeace project in 1997 (at that time the War-torn Societies Project) in order to gauge the progress of social reconstruction. Rivas discusses how Interpeace has encouraged a dialogue aimed at bringing diverse Guatemalan political and social actors together. He also explains how both material reconstruction and national reconciliation are necessary for peace to be sustainable in Guatemala.

Selective memory of forgotten victims

Issues of transitional justice and how to deal with the past have been identified as major obstacles to peace in Burundi. This report aims to contribute to the reconstructions process and the truth about the painful past of Burundi. The report also identifies the divides that are still existing in Burundi and that are preventing the transitional justice process from making progress. The document also formulates concrete recommendations for possible solutions to issues of transitional justice.