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Can We Stop Genocide and Other Violent Conflict?
Thoughts by David Zarembka

The African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams has received, from Rwandan participants in our workshops, many testimonials which indicated that if Alternatives to Violence (AVP) had come to Rwanda before the genocide in 1994, there would have been no genocide. This implies that AVP and Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) are tools that can prevent violent conflict. Therefore, rather than sending in armed UN peacekeepers or other military solutions—the knee-jerk reaction to conflict that is favored by so many—these non-violent methods could heal the wounds, bring opposing sides back together, and avoid the violence. If we believe in peaceful, non-military solutions to conflict, we have a gigantic task ahead of us. Our programs are a “bottom-up” method of preventing violent conflict—certainly there are other “top-down” political, economic, and international methods that are also needed.

AGLI’s first stage, begun in 1999, was to introduce AVP in the region. One trained in the concepts the new facilitators had to adapt the program to their culture and conditions and gain experience. Then we had to conduct a second set of trainings to develop lead facilitators. In 2003 AGLI’s Rwandan and Burundian partners began developing the HROC program which is just now in its final stages of development with the Healing Companion program.

Our second stage was to extensively expand use of the AVP and HROC programs to address societal problems in the region. Conducting 100 workshops for almost two thousand gacaca judges in Rwanda and the workshops with the young “Guardians of the Peace” in Burundi are examples. Later, we focused more narrowly and intensely holding 20 AVP workshops and 6 HROC workshops in the one community of Nyamata, Rwanda and a series of 24 HROC workshops, 12 one-day follow up sessions, and 4 community celebrations in four communities in Burundi. This is important work. In addition we began doing preventive work in the Rift Valley of Kenya which had had tribal clashes in the early 1990’s.

This work has begun to bring recognition to AVP and HROC programs and other organizations have begun to fund AVP workshops in the region. Two Rwandan women, Cecile Nyiramana and Solange Maniraguha, traveled to Thailand with Laura Shipler Chico to work with exiled and refugee democracy activists from Burma. Alba Luz Arrieta Cabrales from Colombia, South America has traveled to Rwanda and Burundi with Val Liveoak, Friends Peace Teams’ coordinator of the Latin America/Carribbean program, to observe the AVP and HROC programs.

Now we are beginning the most challenging venture—resolving violent conflicts as they are occurring. With support from AVP-New Zealand, we held six AVP workshops in Goma, North Kivu, Congo and the nearby Rwandan city of Gisenyi; each with half Congolese and half Rwandan participants. See page 7 for Anna Crumley-Effinger’s report on these workshops. David Bucura of Rwanda hopes to expand these workshops to include top government leaders from Rwanda and North Kivu province. We are just beginning AVP workshops in Turkana, Kenya where the traditional Turkana and Pokot pastoral warriors have acquired automatic weapons which have escalated this conflict into a destructive/deadly one. There is also interest in resolving deadly conflict in Molo, Kenya and, through the Rwandan peacekeeping mission in Darfur, between the conflicting sides there.

Are we up to these challenges? Can we stay focused and organized? Can we implement successful programs under very difficult circumstances? Can we acquire sufficient resources to make a significant difference? Can we prevent a violent conflict, a war, or genocide?