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).

Côte d’Ivoire : la jeunesse mobilisée contre la violence politique

La Côte d’Ivoire est entrée en 2020 dans un nouveau cycle électoral marqué par des confrontations intra- et intercommunautaires. Alors que les trois quarts de la population ont moins de 35 ans, les jeunes sont souvent stigmatisés et perçus comme étant responsables ou associés à de la violence politique. Pour changer cette vision et contribuer à la mise en œuvre de l’agenda Jeunes, paix et sécurité, Interpeace et son partenaire Indigo Côte d’Ivoire ont lancé un projet visant à améliorer leur participation en tant qu’acteurs et leaders dans la consolidation de la paix et la prévention des violences politiques. Le Livre blanc rassemblant les résultats et bonnes pratiques tirées de cette action a été présenté le 7 septembre 2021 à Abidjan.

En période électorale, un marketing politique polarisant et manipulateur des identités est fréquemment employé par les acteurs politiques ivoiriens de tous bords pour mobiliser leurs électeurs. Cela génère des tensions entre groupes ethniques et religieux, et entretient un climat de défiance et de contestation des résultats électoraux qui peuvent dégénérer en violences intercommunautaires. En 2020, près de 80 personnes ont ainsi trouvé la mort à travers le pays dans des affrontements liés aux élections présidentielles. La participation des jeunes à ces conflits est souvent montrée du doigt par les acteurs locaux, nationaux et internationaux, qui les désignent comme des acteurs « à risque » vulnérables et facilement manipulables. Ces discours ont pour effet de stigmatiser et marginaliser la majorité silencieuse des jeunes hommes et femmes qui restent en dehors des processus de violence, et de déprécier les efforts de celles et ceux qui s’engagent activement au quotidien pour la paix et la cohésion sociale.

C’est également le constat fait par la résolution historique 2250 du Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies en 2015, qui appelait tous les acteurs concernés à augmenter la représentation et la participation inclusive, effective et réelle des jeunes dans les efforts de consolidation de la paix. C’est dans cet esprit qu’a été conçu le projet « YPS en pratique : auto-analyse et renforcement du leadership des jeunes dans la prévention de la violence politique en Côte d’Ivoire », une action de consolidation de la paix dont les jeunes n’étaient pas les bénéficiaires mais les protagonistes à part entière. En choisissant de sélectionner et d’accompagner des initiatives de jeunes agissant déjà pour la paix et la cohésion sociale, Interpeace et Indigo Côte d’Ivoire ont fait le pari de miser sur la résilience et l’engagement citoyen de ces personnes dans deux quartiers réputés sensibles d’Abidjan, Yopougon et Abobo.

« En Côte d’Ivoire, plusieurs associations de jeunes et de femmes œuvrent activement pour la promotion de la cohésion sociale à travers des initiatives. Cependant, l’implication de cette jeunesse dans les violences électorales et les conflits intercommunautaires, ainsi que la jeunesse radicalisée perpétue une image négative des jeunes », dit Bakary Sidibe, conseiller technique du ministre de la Promotion de la jeunesse, de l'insertion professionnelle et du service civique. « Pour changer ce paradigme et impliquer les jeunes dans les actions de paix et de sécurité, il apparaît nécessaire de guider cette jeunesse et renforcer ses capacités à la mise en œuvre de projets de consolidation de la paix ».

Dans le cadre du projet « YPS en pratique »,  une quarantaine de jeunes leaders œuvrant déjà pour la paix et la cohésion sociale dans leurs quartiers ont été sélectionnés. Après des séances de renforcement de capacités en analyse de conflit et gestion de projets, les jeunes hommes et femmes accompagnés par Indigo Côte d’Ivoire et Interpeace ont conçu et mis en œuvre leurs propres projets de consolidation de la paix et de prévention de la violence électorale à Abobo et Yopougon. Les résultats et bonnes pratiques à répliquer pour mettre les jeunes « au volant » des actions de paix et sécurité ont été rassemblés dans un Livre blanc. Celui-ci a été présenté le 7 septembre à Abidjan devant des représentants de ministères, municipalités, agences des Nations Unies, ambassades, ONG nationales et internationales et autres partenaires techniques et financiers.

En accompagnant ces jeunes, le projet a testé des moyens et outils pour améliorer leur esprit d’analyse, leur stratégie, leur impact et leur collaboration. Lors de l’événement, les participants ont partagé leurs impressions sur les résultats du projet.

"Avant l'arrivée d’Indigo, j’étais membre d'une ONG mais je ne me suis jamais dit que j’allais m’engager devant des gens ou être responsable d’un mouvement. Aujourd’hui, avec toutes les formations, je suis la coordonnatrice d’une plateforme de 40 initiatives au niveau de Yopougon", a dit Kiteni, de l’organisation de l’association des jeunes Tchêlê Woyê.

Ils ont également présenté le travail qu’ils menaient dans leurs communautés. Des jeunes femmes ont formé des ambassadeurs de paix, dont la mission était de sensibiliser leur entourage à la bonne entente entre communautés et d’alerter en cas d’incidents pour permettre la prévention des violences par le dialogue ou la mobilisation des autorités. Une autre initiative a formé des jeunes à la vérification des informations circulant sur les réseaux sociaux pour endiguer le phénomène des rumeurs et fausses nouvelles qui concourent à un climat de tensions et de violence. D’autres ont travaillé à rapprocher des personnes issues de secteurs, religions ou ethnies différents qui ne se fréquentaient pas ou étaient en conflit, à travers des dialogues et des activités d’intérêt général.

« Notre projet a associé toutes les parties prenantes [à un conflit opposant deux quartiers depuis la dernière crise socio-politique]. On a trouvé des solutions pour metre en place un climat paisible. Les populations ont donné elles-mêmes les solutions. Nous avons organsié un match de foot avec deux équipes mixtes des deux quartiers. Les équipes étaient mélangées et il n’y a pas eu de palabre [dispute] à la fin. » a dit Mariama, de l’initiative Jeunesse Unie pour le Développement.

Tous ont ouvert des espaces de discussion permettant aux personnes consultées de parler de leurs perceptions de la paix et de la sécurité dans le quartier, des traumatismes subis pendant les dernières crises, de l’état des relations avec les groupes opposés. Ces espaces de discussion ont souvent permis de réunir et créer un dialogue entre des groupes de personnes qui ne se parlaient jamais bien qu’habitant au même endroit. En adressant les divisions sociopolitiques, religieuses et ethniques dans leurs quartiers, les jeunes leaders ont également participé à la prévention des violence électorales qui pourraient survenir lors de prochaines échéances électorales.

"Lors du phénomènre de circulation des fausses nouvelles, au lieu de bruler les marchandises des Haoussas, [les participants de notre projet] les ont protégés des agressions dans le quartier. " raconte Kiteni, de l’organisation de l’association des jeunes Tchêlê Woyê, en référence à un épisode de violence intercommunautaire survenu le 5 mai à Abobo et Yopougon après la diffusion d’une fausse vidéo. Cette dernière prétendait montrer des Nigériens s’attaquant à leurs voisins Ivoiriens et incitait les habitants d’Abidjan à se venger.

Grâce au projet YPS, les initiatives ont pu prendre conscience du rôle qu’elles avaient à jouer pour la paix, renforcer leurs capacités pour concevoir et mettre en œuvres des actions stratégiques et inclusives, et les communiquer à des décideurs locaux, nationaux et internationaux. A travers toutes ces actions, ces jeunes leaders ont montré que la jeunesse a la capacité d’agir pour la paix et la sécurité.

Citant l’ancien président américain John F. Kennedy, Jean-Luc, membre de l’association Young Ivoirian Promoters of English a ainsi conclu la présentation des résultats du projet en disant : « Ne vous demandez pas ce que votre pays peut faire pour vous, mais demandez-vous ce que vous pouvez faire pour votre pays ».

En Côte d’Ivoire comme ailleurs, les jeunes ont  la volonté et le potentiel pour contribuer à la paix et stabilité dans leur pays. Il revient au grand public, aux acteurs nationaux et internationaux de reconnaître leur rôle important dans la construction de la paix durable et de leur donner des outils de participation dans la prise de décisions politiques et sécuritaires.

Together for Peace


"There is no peace without development and growth, and there is no economic growth when there is no peace." To unlock the potential for growth and development for nearly 1/3 of the population, investment in peacebuilding is crucial. Despite the need, there is limited investment in this area. This is a gap Mirabaud understood, and what has now become the heart of the relationship and the journey together with Interpeace for more than 10 years.

Peace processes fail because solutions are imported or imposed. Therefore building lasting sustainable peace means that communities develop resilience - their own capacity to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Shaping Future Peacebuilding

Entitled “Shaping Future Peacebuilding”, the annual report illustrates how the obstacles and challenges we faced in 2020, especially the multidimensional COVID-19 crisis, did not hinder our work worldwide, but instead strengthened our adaptability and resilience. It also strengthened our determination to learn and to build stronger and more effective peace solutions in the years ahead with the communities that we serve.

The report highlights some remarkable impacts both on the ground and at the policy level. From enhancing safety and security in Libya to fostering individual and community healing and social cohesion in Rwanda, we are very pleased with these achievements that have planted the seeds of sustainable peace and development, and that are made possible by the tireless efforts of our own teams and partners. Globally, we have continued creating incentives and shaping policies for peace processes to be more fit for purpose. We are particularly delighted to have launched the Principles for Peace as an innovative, collective and global effort to create norms and principles to guide future peace efforts.

The global pandemic highlighted, more than ever before, the link between health and peace. Yet, we have observed that the link has not been explored to its full operational and policy potentials. In 2020, we invested in a better understanding of the concept of Peace & Health and its implications, building on our institutional partnership with the World Health Organisation and the added value of our ‘peace responsiveness’ approach through which we are creating better quality peace-oriented policies and practices of the international system.

Creating pathways to sustainable peace in Burkina Faso: the nexus in action

Addressing the immediate needs of people affected by conflict as well as the underlying causes of prolonged crises, requires coherent synergy, effective coordination and a long-term commitment by humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors.

The recurring and multifaceted nature of conflicts around the world today - and particularly in Burkina Faso - underlines the need for a closer collaboration and deeper coordination by these actors in the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding sector.

Humanitarian and development actors are becoming aware of the need to invest more in interventions that contribute to ending need and enhancing peace at the same time. Recognizing this, the United Nations System in Burkina Faso mandated Interpeace, through UNDP, to conduct a study that maps the capacities of these actors for the operationalization of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach.

After conducting an analysis of the capacities of actors from these three sectors in Burkina Faso, Interpeace and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have gathered key actors to operationalize a platform for humanitarian-development-peace nexus in the country. The two-day workshop in the capital Ouagadougou, from 01 to 02 July 2021, was attended by nearly one hundred participants representing all relevant stakeholders.

“Despite the present security challenges making actions on the ground difficult, we must not abandon the vulnerable populations. This is the challenge for humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors, hence the importance of making the nexus operational in Burkina Faso,” explained Metsi Makhetha, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in Burkina Faso.

The study carried out by Interpeace for nearly one year focused on the mechanisms for coordinating actions, organisational adaptation, the inclusion of local actors in the project lifecycle, as well as the financing mechanisms of technical and financial partners.

“We must insist on the need for a multidimensional and holistic approach to respond to the multidimensional nature of the challenges facing Burkina Faso,” said Mathieu Ciowela, UNDP’s Resident Representative, who described the Nexus as an accelerator for the United Nation’s agenda 2030.

One of the key recommendations made by the populations themselves was the need to involve them more throughout the process from assessing their needs through implementation to monitoring and evaluation of projects.

“The nexus will be operationalized in the Centre-North [region] because the actors are now aware of the approach. There are organisations that have already integrated the approach into the planning of their activities. We will play our part to strengthen the synergy of actions among all stakeholders in the region,” explained Adama Sawago, the regional council president for Burkina Faso’s Centre-North region.

“The inclusion of all is needed to build the interventions around consensual tools that could enhance the synergy of action among actors and respond better to the needs of the populations,” said Charles Dalla, the Director General of Territorial Development who represented the minister delegate in charge of territorial planning.

Participants at the workshop expressed satisfaction with the quality of data from the Interpeace research and appreciated the rich discussions they had on the findings. Some recommendations were made at the end of the workshop, which if implemented, will facilitate the operationalization of the Nexus approach.

“Beyond the coordination and consistency of interventions for the benefit of the people, establishing a humanitarian-development-peace nexus is a real accelerator for development in Burkina Faso. It is therefore imperative to implement it urgently by putting in place a credible, inclusive and participatory structure, mobilise political actors and involve local actors,” said Cheick Faycal Traore, Interpeace Country Representative in Burkina Faso.

Some of the recommendations from the study include: a call for the process to be given political validation and anchored in national institutions in line with mechanisms of the national development repository; the creation of a technical committee to support, guide and develop the tools needed to implement the nexus; develop an interactive database that presents, in real time, an overview of the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding interventions carried out by both the government and technical and financial partners; pilot the new approach in the regions first, especially in those areas where the study was carried out and use the evidence and lessons learned to scale it up at national level; strengthen the coordination, flexibility and duration of funding in order to facilitate access by local actors and taking into account emergencies; strengthen the role of deconcentrated and decentralized  actors, civil society and the concerned populations in the project life cycle; and deepen the work of the Troïka – a framework for consulting technical and financial partners - on joint analysis and data sharing.

The inclusive study by Interpeace was carried out in three of the country’s administrative regions – the Sahel region, Boucle du Mouhoun region and the Centre-North region. Data was collected from individual interviews, focus group discussions and literature review.

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.