|The Jesuit Refugee Service teacher training workshop proved to be an instrument of intercommunity reconciliation, after months of conflict, Masisi, Democratic Republic of Congo (JRS Masisi)|
|"During the conflict, a Hunde would have been too afraid to go to a Hutu village and vice-versa. In the last few weeks we have witnessed signs that tensions are falling as people move freely between villages of the other community. The civilian population is tired of conflict and only wants to live in peace," said JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer Danilo Giannese.|
(Bujumbura, Burundi) February 5, 2013 – After months of bitter conflict, intercommunity tensions and dozens of dead in Masisi in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is an atmosphere of relative calm and a renewed sense of hope between local communities. The mass participation of teachers and students in a workshop on teaching methods is a concrete sign of this desire to start over.
Only a month and a half ago, the focus was on the ongoing body count as a result of conflict between rebel groups linked to the two largest communities in the area, the Hunde and the Hutus.
In a press statement published on 5 December last year, Jesuit Refugee Service condemned the killing of some 28 people in one week. The conflict, linked to abundant mineral deposits found in the region, intensified last August, instilling fear and hatred between the two communities.
In order to promote reconciliation and prevent future conflict, community leaders, including rebel leaders, took part in an intercommunity meeting last month in Lushebere, not far from Masisi.
During the meeting, an immediate end to the armed hostilities was agreed upon by Hunde and Hutu armed groups. They also accepted that the Congolese army should intervene to restore peace and security if any group breaks the agreement. Moreover, it was agreed that displaced communities could return to their home villages and that peace-building education activities would be organized.
"During the conflict, a Hunde would have been too afraid to go to a Hutu village and vice-versa. In the last few weeks we have witnessed signs that tensions are falling as people move freely between villages of the other community. The civilian population is tired of conflict and only wants to live in peace," said JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer Danilo Giannese.
Confirming the reconciliation between the communities in Masisi and the sense of newly found security, JRS organized a three-day workshop on 20 December last year for 70 teachers and final-year secondary school students. The workshop, part of the JRS formal education program in Masisi, was originally planned for November, but had to be postponed due to the outbreak of conflict.
The participants came from both communities in Masisi and many of them had to travel many miles on foot to get to the JRS center. The full turnout was a demonstration of the renewed belief in the climate of reconciliation instilled after the intercommunity meeting and a desire to get back to a sense of normality.
"I wanted to participate in the workshop, yet I was afraid that the Hunde in Masisi would have killed me. Nevertheless I wanted to believe in the spirit of reconciliation so I found the courage and decided to come," said Pierre*, one of the participant teachers.
"On the road from home to Masisi I stopped in other villages where I collected information on security. Everyone told me that they hadn't heard gunshots for a while. Now I can say not only did no one lay a hand on me, but I was welcomed. During the workshop I shared the room with many Hunde colleagues and felt perfectly relaxed," said Pierre.
"The JRS workshop represented a sign of peace in order to put the reconciliation that the local rebel leaders agreed into practice," said local Masisi priest Théodore Mbuleki.
Due to the remaining presence of armed groups, the security situation in the Masisi area remains precarious. JRS hopes reconciliation in Masisi will be sustainable and contribute to the stabilization of the area by taking place in other villages.
by Danilo Giannese
Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer
*This name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.