Project Muinda, in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a peace project founded in 1993 by Congolese Quakers, and supported by Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC) and by the Mennonites. ‘Muinda’ comes from the word for light in three of the four national languages of the DRC.
“In a place where local and international political and commercial interests have acted to aggravate conflict and increase poverty for three generations, they have taken every opportunity to learn how to build peace and to teach their neighbours.”
The involvement of CFSC in Project Muinda came about through Friends from Ottawa, who discovered Project Muinda in 1996 and recommended that CSFC should give some financial support. Since then CFSC has supported peace education, economic development projects and election monitoring.
The founder members of Project Muinda met at a peace education seminar in the 1980s. Having been introduced there to unprogrammed Quaker worship, they established Kinshasa Monthly Meeting, which is now recognised by Friends World Committee for Consultation (the worldwide Quaker organisation).
The group has conducted peace skills workshops and set up so-called Peace Cells in every neighbourhood in Kinshasa. A Peace Cell is a small group of volunteers drawn from all different parts of the community and trained in peacebuilding skills. The ability to maintain a balanced impartiality is a key element of peacebuilding. The organisers of Project Muinda were aware that this is a skill that has to be learned. They provide training in facilitation, non-violent communication, conflict mediation and resolution, community building, policy dialogue and election observation.
These core skills are used within the communities to help resolve conflict situations. Members of the community are also encouraged to find collective solutions to problems. The Peace Cells also provide community education and carry out elections observation.
For example, in 2003, in a neighbourhood of Kinshasa called Lemba, conflict was developing between teenagers who lived either side of a main road. Fearing this could degenerate into armed banditry, members of the Peace Cell talked to both teenagers and their parents. They set up a friendly dialogue and then, once the initial trust was there, invited both sides to a party, to be attended by all age groups. The hostility was diffused and people began to join together for activities such as cleaning up litter.
In Ngaliema neighbourhood, rivalry between informally organised football teams was degenerating into violence. A member of the Peace Cell who was also a keen soccer player brought together the team leaders and helped them to organise a well-regulated tournament. The teams were so pleased with the outcome that they themselves organised a local league and began to hold annual tournaments.
In 2010, Project Muinda began preparing for presidential and other elections in DRC in 2011. They organised a seminar for Peace Cell members and Quaker peace workers from neighbouring countries, and formed a group of one hundred local election observers who would make regular reports. Peace Cells would also be able to provide mediation to de-escalate any minor conflicts that arose during the elections. Project Muinda believed that participation of local people in these activities encourages a sense of responsibility for good governance and holds candidates and officials to account for their behaviour. During the elections, five observers from Canada, organised by CFSC, joined the local group. There were many challenges but the elections were held. You can read more about it in the CFSC report below.
Project Muinda does not rely wholly on external funding. One local scheme in 2011 for funding involved the purchase of on 18-seater minibus which could provide a daily public transport service between Kinshasa and Matadi on the Atlantic coast. This service raised sufficient revenue to fund monthly training for Peace Cells and election observers.