EDITORIAL: Abunzi must jealously guard their reputation

Rwandans yesterday concluded weeklong celebrations of ten years of outstanding contribution of community-based mediation committees, otherwise known as Abunzi.

Rwandans yesterday concluded weeklong celebrations of ten years of outstanding contribution of community-based mediation committees, otherwise known as Abunzi.

Speaking at the main anniversary event yesterday, President Paul Kagame congratulated the Abunzi for the high level of public trust they continue to command, urging them to keep up the good work.

The story of Abunzi is extraordinary, not least in the Rwandan context. It’s an example of the extent to which homegrown solutions have contributed to building justice and reconciliation in the country.

A 2012 survey by Transparency International Rwanda put the level of public trust in Abunzi at 81.4 per cent.

Figures also show that of the 57,473 cases that were referred to Abunzi in the Financial Year 2012/13, only 8,231 ended up in conventional courts, representing 14 per cent, while in 2013/14, they have so far handled 45,285 cases with just 4,591, or about 10 per cent, going to the ordinary courts in appeals.

Across Rwanda, citizens hail Abunzi for their role in helping settle community disputes amicably. This has given the mediators a great deal of public respect at the grassroots. Now many ordinary people at the grassroots say they prefer the mediators model to the mainstream justice system which is usually associated with delays and legal fees.

Stories of peaceful conflict resolution dominate the narrative of Rwandans when referring to mediation committees. They have endeared themselves to the local population and the fact that the concept was drawn from the Rwandan tradition of solving problems through community dialogue, the concept has been easy for communities to embrace it.

The Abunzi model has significantly helped cut the number of cases filed in classic courts and ultimately helped reduce backlogs.

Abunzi can reflect on their performance over the last decade with a sense of pride.

This should give them the reason to carry on doing what they do best to help build a peaceful, cohesive nation.

But they will need goodwill from all of us – the government, local leaders, civil society and the general public.

Today, they deserve a pat on the back for a job well done.

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