Rwandans will on Saturday pick candidates for community mediators’ elections at both the cell and sector levels, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has said.
Community mediators, locally known as Abunzi, are elected members of communities who are responsible for amicably settling local disputes through finding common grounds for citizens who are in conflicts with each other.
The practice resolves many cases without recourse to conventional courts of law, hence enabling amicable resolution of conflicts and impacting the socio-economic lives of the population.
After the upcoming monthly community work, Umuganda, on Saturday, Rwandans at every village of the country will pick candidates, who will be sent to the cell level to contest as members of Abunzi committees at the cell level.
Then, come July 29 next week, out of at least 14 candidates who will be picked from villages of every cell on Saturday, seven-member at every cell in the country will be elected by the cell’s consultative council to form Abunzi’s committees at the cell.
The winners at the cell level will compete to be members of the seven-people Abunzi committee at the sector level, where a consultative meeting of the sector will vote for them.
Across the country, some 17,948 members of Abunzi committees are needed, including 15,036 members in 2,148 cells in the country and 2,912 members in 416 sectors.
Given that members of Abunzi committees have to be people of integrity, the Director of Communications at NEC, Moses Bukasa, says citizens need to vote for the best people on Saturday, having in mind that they will execute an integral duty for their communities.
“We would like to encourage people in every village not to miss going to Umuganda because they need to elect qualified Abunzi committees. We encourage them to pick the best people because the work of Abunzi is critical in delivering justice,” Bukasa said.
Members of Abunzi committees will be elected for a five-year term and a new law regulating the committees, which has been enacted this year, has provided the mediators with the power to deal with cases of up to Rwf5 million, up from the maximum of Rwf3 million previously.
Other new powers extended to Abunzi committees under the new law include dealing with cases involving issues such as defamation, noise pollution at night, deceit through conning, and failure to pay for goods after consumption.
Regardless of the monetary value of the cases, the new law has also given Abunzi the power to deal with issues related to land and livestock conflicts, as well as recovering property looted or destroyed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi on which verdicts were passed by Gacaca courts.
Introduced more than 10 years ago, the concept of community mediators has proved useful in reducing conflicts that make it to courts, with 80.5 per cent of cases referred to the mediation committees getting solved while the remaining 19.5 per cent of the cases to courts.
A 2012 study by the Rwanda Governance Board showed that some 77.2 per cent of Rwandans were satisfied with the services offered by Abunzi committees, while 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, 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 on appeal.
The mandate for previous members of Abunzi committees expired on June 30, 2015.