Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Transformative Mediation in East and Central Africa

Shortly after Alternatives to Violence (AVP) was introduced in East and Central Africa, people began asking the AVP facilitators to mediate. This was because, once the AVP workshops were finished, many participants still had festering conflicts that needed resolution. The AVP facilitators declined because they felt that they did not have the skills to handle this.

Then in 2006 Judy Friesem, a mediation trainer, and Kim Bush, her husband, spent a month in each of four countries - Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo, and Kenya, introducing mediation approaches. Bridget Butt from Change Agents for Peace International followed this up with training in transformative mediation.

In transformative mediation it is the interaction between the disputants that matters. The mediator’s job is to first pull out the many layers of conflict and dispute that may underpin the current conflict and then have the participants themselves work out and agree upon a solution. Just as in AVP and HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Community) work, participants’ own input is vital.

Traditionally, in this region, disputes were decided by a group of “wise men,” who would listen to both sides and then arbitrate. Unfortunately this method has gone into decline because of the prevalence of bribery as can be seen by this quote from Burundi:
I am a “wise man” who helps adjudicate local cases. I used to ask for bribe to one of the two parties in conflict so that I may give him or her favour. Just after the last day of the [HROC] workshop I attended, one woman came to me with money in hands. Trying to hand it to me, she said that she wants me to help her to win the case opposing her to her neighbours. I listened to her and when she was done, I quietly told her that I could not touch her money. Instead, I suggested that she could go and meet the one with whom she in conflict and try to talk about the issue. Two days later, she came back happy for they were able to resolve the issue by themselves. Another man came with the same intention but still I refused the bribe. I told him that I am no longer the same person they used to see. HROC has changed me! I am happy that people in my community know that I have abandoned that worthless habit and that they can unify by themselves.

Transformative mediation takes a considerable amount of time – hours if not sometimes days – to uncover the many layers of “the broken relationship” which might go back years or even to previous generations. Since a dispute affects everyone in a small community, many bystanders – both family and neighbours – observe the proceedings. Since the disputants themselves have to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution, it is more likely that they will abide by the agreement with the many witnesses observing the agreement.

Here is the story of a mediation in Rwanda:
A mediator called Edith mediated between two neighbours who were fighting for a path to their houses. They have spent long time in different courts in Rwanda. The wife of one man in conflict took the case to Edith, and Edith asked her if was possible to ask the men in conflict for mediation. She went and convinced her husband to try mediation and she asked as well the other man. Both agreed for mediation and Edith started mediating with them. She spent five sessions listening and doing mediation. By the end, they agreed on what to do and not to continue go to the courts. They regretted that a lot of money was spent in the courts with lawyers and travel. They asked forgiveness of each other and went to testify in their families with Edith. Now they are good neighbours but before mediation, they were enemies with no greetings from one another. Their children and their wives were in conflict. Now Edith says that their wives talk and the children play together.

Recently a new version called “Transformative Dialogue” is being developed. This brings opinion makers from communities in conflict together in order to listen to each other and to come to a mutual understanding of the causes and consequences of their conflict.

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Further Reading and Credits

AGLI PeaceWays articles about transformative mediation

Photograph reproduced by kind permission from the copyright holder Ann Floyd