Dialogue clubs to support reconciliation and build social cohesion in Rwanda

Genocide represents one of the most devastating forms of human barbarism. How can people possibly heal from the deep wounds of such atrocity? On the occasion of the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda (7th April), we have the pleasure to discuss with M. Victor NTEZIREMBO, who works at the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace in Rwanda. Founded in 2001, IRDP manages one of the most transformative dialogue club of the country: the teams and local moderators get victims and perpetrators to engage in a mutual discussion, to pave the way for reconciliation as well as to support social cohesion. Whereas some parts of History remains painful, and sometimes even taboo, IRDP develops unique safe spaces in order to unlock the dialogue and to build social cohesion based on sincere reconciliation processes. Victor tells us more in this interview!

Dear Victor, thanks for your time! Can you please tell us a bit more about yourself?

My name is Victor NTEZIREMBO, the Project coordinator at the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP). I coordinate the project entitled 'Healing our Community - Promoting Social community'. I did my Master’s degree in Development studies at the University of Quebec in Canada, with a specialization in Regional Development. My areas of interest are community development, territoriality and governance. Before joining IRDP in 2016, I have worked for a while in governmental administration, in different leadership positions.

 

Which roads drove you to the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP)?

My motivation to join IRDP was first of all my passion to work for grassroots communities and to find peaceful solutions through dialogue. IRDP participatory action research attracted me for a future career, just after completing studies in community dialogue. In addition, IRDP’ legacy in term of research, policy change, governance, advocacy and socio-economic areas is among other sources of inspiration.

 

Please, tell us more about the work of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP)

The Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace was founded in 2001 to support efforts to build a lasting peace in Rwanda. Through its work, IRDP strives to encourage the participation and inclusion of all Rwandans in the quest for peace. IRDP places importance on the promotion of open dialogue in order to: create forums of exchange and debate, to generate consensus on key issues, and to create opportunities to share, and learn from, good practices coming from other peace initiatives. 

 

Can you give some details about the way you lead the dialogue clubs? Unlocking the dialogue is not easy I suppose.

For example, one activity we do in the framework of dialogue clubs is 'Bitter truth' sessions: this activity consists in organizing dialogue on self-introduction and bitter truth, which means being sincere about every single thing you tell others, without fear. One can say anything they want. This paved the way to Dialogue Club members to introduce themselves to each other and enhance their social cohesion based on mutual trust among themselves, and then, within the community in general. This exercise, which takes place in the timeframe of two sessions, helps different categories composing the club, to deeply knowing/understanding each other, and build a mutual trust within clubs. It revealed to be a thought-provoking dialogue for following discussions. IRDP community dialogue settings are led by the following principles: independence, diversity, neutrality and impact.

 

Leading dialogues for positive results

Dialogue clubs are IRDP 'permanent spaces' where community members sit together and discuss about a topic which deals with the challenge of lasting peace. Once it is created, it keeps on living, in the sense that people never stop meeting, and all these interactions nurture a lot our research. Some topics are very sensitive, such as discussion on unity and reconciliation after the genocide of Tutsi. To facilitate such topic, we use participatory action research approach; also, communication agreements are sealed between facilitator and dialogue club members, by this, we mean 'ground rules'. It is a long journey but the open debate space gives opportunity to mutual trust as that is the basic component for true and sincere forgiveness, that can support social cohesion.

When you started to implement this project, I imagine that it was a significant challenge, as the catastrophe that is the genocide ended about 25 years ago, which is still very recent. How did you introduce the project to the different audiences? What were the first reactions to such project?

It is obvious that confronting the victim to the perpetrator is a horrific situation. At the beginning, we explained the objective of dialogue for peace and let dialogue members’ some time to own the approach and finally to act according their genuine feeling. The first reactions are always strange but progressively change positively. For sure, trauma healing sessions help a lot. Our current project is implemented in partnership with Healing and Rebuild our Community (HROC), a sister organization dedicated to train in trauma healing. They train dialogue clubs with basic skills in trauma healing.

 

I read that already back in 2007, you had been reaching 10,000 Rwandans in and out of the country, of every social and political persuasion. More than 10 years have gone by. In the past ten years, how many people did you get to involve? What is the follow up?

Indeed, in 2007, IRDP had targeted around 10,000 people. The number kept on growing ever since. We don’t have the exact number but all 30 districts are covered and the real number could have reached the majority of the population, since radio programmes and TV shows have promoted the the dialogue clubs several times. Documentary films from research are also watched all over the country through different schools and forums.

 

In your opinion, what have been the most important results of this initiative so far? Whether it comes to inter-ethnic coexistence, national policies, etc. … I can imagine that the rest of the work of the Institute also enables to bring many transformative recommendations on the table.

Tremendous results are the testimonies we hear from the people. The significant number of people who have made peace, who have forgiven each other, these facts, I believe, can serve as a good example of the project's success. (Cfr testimonies of success stories compiled in documentary films)

In term of policy change, as IRDP's work is not limited strictly to peace, many advancements have been seen in policies related to governance and socio-economic development: many have been reviewed and reformulated based on our findings and recommendations. IRDP is constantly consulted in policy making, or by policy makers to share our contribution. As a recent example, IRDP has been consulted in reviewing social clusters classification "UBUDEHE".

 

What about the Rwandan diaspora: how do you work with the citizens who now live abroad? Do they help have an impact in their new countries, with their networks of Rwandan communities based in different places?

IRDP organizes, from time to time, dialogue sessions with Rwandan diaspora, in order to collect their opinions and views about internal policies and programs, which is truly insightful as those citizens have different perspectives, being based outside of the country. We contact them by the use of skype, email, social media, but most of time by visiting them in their respective countries.

 

Do you have new projects that will be launched this year?

We are about to launch very soon a new project for peace building, using arts as approach. It is called 'Mobile Art for Peace'. The main objective of the Mobile Arts for Peace project is to create and pilot a Teacher’s Guide so that they can manage dialogue activities with their pupils.  Classrooms / schools are mixed randomly, since in Rwanda we champion the NDUMUNYARWANDA program ( We are all Rwandan), in all the life of Rwandan; this also includes the fact that there is no differentiation in school. 

 

Thank you so much Victor, for these precious information about your work! Get to know more about the amazing work of the IRDP on their official website!

Peace / Africa