Preventing Renewed Violence in Rwanda: A Program for Leaders


Ervin Staub

Laurie Anne Pearlman




The purpose of this project is to reduce the likelihood of renewed violence and to improve relations between ethnic groups in Rwanda. The work consists of individual interviews and seminars with groups of leaders in Rwanda.


In August 2001, we met with a group of high-level leaders  for a four-day seminar. Their numbers varied from 25-35 during the four days, since they had varied obligations that they had to attend, for example, meetings of the Parliament. Before the seminar, we met individually with several leaders (e.g., the director of a Rwandese human rights umbrella organization, the director of the Rwanda prison system, the executive secretary of the Rwandese Unity and Reconciliation Commission) to learn their views on the current situation and their perspectives on how the seminar might be most useful.


The seminar attendees included both Hutu and Tutsi leaders; members of parliament, religious leaders, the president of the national human rights commission, commissioners of the Unity and Reconciliation Commission, the director of the electoral commission, leaders of local NGOs, the vice president of the supreme court, the secretary general of the ruling party, etc. Seminar topics discussed in the first three days included the origins and prevention of genocide and mass violence and psychological trauma and healing. In addition to lectures and extensive discussions, participants had the opportunity, for shorter periods during days two and three, and for a longer period on day 4, to work in small groups to explore particular issues in greater depth and consider relevant current practices in Rwanda. The small groups summarized their discussions in a brief report to the large group, which then discussed the report.


The attached summary of the seminar shows the rich dialogue that ensued when we addressed the above topics. Participants actively engaged with the ideas concerning the origins and prevention of group violence. The most striking conversations were those related to three issues: (1) the meaning of "group" (see attached leaders seminar summary); (2) the importance of a shared collective memory, a history of the Rwandese people acceptable to both groups; and (3) the upcoming gacaca, or community justice, process.


Participants were positive about the seminar after its completion. They encouraged us to collaborate with them in sharing the information from the seminar with the larger population in the hope and belief that it might help prevent renewed violence and retraumatization of the population during the gacaca process. Working in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Center for International Education, as well as with a Dutch TV/radio producer (since part of the vision is to create radio programs that help the Rwandese people to understand and deal with trauma and to help them understand the roots of violence and thereby mitigate renewed hostility that may arise from hearing testimonies of great violence in the course of the gacaca process), we have been exploring possible avenues for assisting in the gacaca process.


At this time, Rwandese leaders are deeply engaged in the gacaca process, in developing a new constitution and in moving toward national elections. We plan in our continuing work with leaders to focus on several aspects of the prevention of new violence. At this time, these include ways to create a shared history acceptable to both groups, and what the leaders might do in the course of the gacaca process, which will extend for several years, to make it into an avenue for reconciliation. Our tentative date for our next visit to Rwanda is June 2002.




leadership project, January 2002 interim report to USIP.doc

January 10, 2002