Conflicts in South Sudan, Burundi, and other countries around the continent are largely a result of a lack of political will and good leadership, unity and reconciliation activists have said.
They were speaking to the media during the first international conference on lessons learned from African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) that runs from August 28 to 31 in Kigali, Rwanda.
It brought together commissioners from African TRCs, as well as interested policymakers, analysts, and academicians in transitional justice from 13 African countries namely; Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mauritius.
It is being co-hosted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation based in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Shalom Educating for Peace Rwanda.
Speaking to the media on Monday, the legal representative of Shalom Educating for Peace Rwanda, Jean de Dieu Basabose, decried the fact that conflicts affect ordinary people.
He said the meeting would assess the performance of the various reconciliation commissions and present a platform to share experiences and challenges.
Specific challenges facing African TRCs, according to organisers, include lack of support and participation from various sectors, including government, civil society and citizens.
Another challenge is balancing between a victim-centred and perpetrator-focused approach.
Fidèle Ndayisaba, the executive secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliat ion Commission (NURC), said the conference presented an opportunity for experts to discuss and come up with recommendations that would help people in charge of reconciliation initiatives across Africa to prevent and manage conflicts, peacefully in case they emerge.
“For Rwanda, it underwent the Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed more than one million lives and resulted into 300,000 orphans and non-accompanied minors as well as 500,000 widows.
It devastated the social fabric in Rwanda, and this is among the challenges of peace-building in the country’s reconstruction,” Johnson Mugaga, division manager for unity, national identity and public awareness at NURC, said.
In fact, the Genocide resulted in a highly divided, suspicious and traumatised population made up of survivors and perpetrators, he said.
However, despite the odds, Rwanda has made strides in unity and reconciliation thanks to good political will and leadership, whereby Rwandans have embraced unity as their true identity, Ndayisaba added.
The unity and reconciliation barometer 2015 shows that Rwandans united at 92.5 per cent, which is a good step, but noted that there are still tasks to accomplish to reach 100 per cent.
“There is still hard task to eradicate genocide ideology that still exists among some Rwandans, mainly some parties and groups that chose to make it a political ideology like FDLR which is in various countries, including in some of our neighbours,” he said.
Call for selfless leadership
Stan Henkeman, executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa, said the vehicles of TRCs can take Africa forward.
“They should take this beautiful continent to its rightful place where we have peace, where we have harmony, where we understand each other, but more importantly, where we love one another as brothers and sisters,” he said.
“There is one big thing that Rwanda’s reconciliation project has shown us; that if there is political will to make a difference, it will happen,” Henkeman said.
He attributed conflicts in African countries to selfish leadership.
“I’m very impressed with the commitment of the Rwandan government to deal with the past in a way that doesn’t alienate people. The Rwandan example is one that we can take and share with people not only in Africa, but also all over the world,” Henkeman said.
Sylvère Ntakarutimana, Senior Advisor for truth and reconciliation commission in Burundi, said the ongoing killings and displacements in the Central African country are not a result of ethnic rivalry, rather bad leadership that promotes ‘selfish interests.’
“We all realise that the problem is not ethnicity, rather bad leadership that uses ‘shortcuts’ so that the incumbent leaders maintain power. You realise in fact that race is a scapegoat,” he said.