Abunzi: The Legacy of Mediation Justice Made-in-Rwanda

Jacques Rwisebura Hakizimana, 57 years, has been a community mediator for 15 years in Kigombe cell of Muhoza sector, Musanze district.

He also has his full time job as a Coordinator of a local community development NGO, Developpement Rural Durable (DRD).

However, in  2004 when the community elected him as the chairman of the mediation court in Kigombe which is voluntarily but sensitive duty, he never turned his back on the calling.

He served as chairman until 2010 when he went for a Masters in development studies and on his return in 2015 he was once again reelected to the same post.

Jacques Rwisebura Hakizimana, mediator for the last 15 years

 Hakizimana says that to manage this job, he asked his employer for one day off, every Thursday of the week to attend the mediation court and resolve community conflicts.

“The community must have trusted me for my integrity to elect me all these years,” Hakizimana said.

Hakizimana would handle an average of three cases per week, which means 156 cases in a year, making over 2,300 cases in his time as a mediator, with over 90% of the cases solved without going at the appeal level.

Hakizimana says, most of the cases that they handled were land ownership (land succession) issues, child care compensation for abandoned children, and breach of mutual agreements among others.

“My secret was simple: to judge a case using the cultural morality, personal conviction and referring to the common law of the country, and I made sure I delivered justice,” Hakizimana says.

Hakizimana and his team of other four mediators managed to solve all conflicts but some cases of appeal were also registered, yet their decisions were upheld at 98% rate.

Hakizimana is among the over 17,000 mediators who will soon end their five-year term, and replaced in subsequent elections this July but he has many good memories of cases that left him a changed man.

As he walks away, Hakizimana says he cannot forget a case where a young man sold all his family belongings and used the money to buy houses for himself.

When the case was tabled in a Muhoza mediation court, they investigated and found the accused had acquired the property in a crooked manner, leaving his mother and sister homeless and landless. 

“We ruled in favor of the family and he appealed the case, but I am proud that a primary court upheld our decision because it was naturally fair,” Hakizimana reflects.   

That case and many others, he said, has changed me for the better. I now have a greater understanding of human beings and I have a sense of how far a human being can go when it comes to earning money.  

The Senate Committee on Politics and Governance says the legacy of these men and women (Abunzi) has been of doing a better job in resolving conflicts solving 70% of the cases that would end up in court files and possibly delayed with expenses on top.

Senate Committee Chairperson, Lambert Dushimimana says that in their oversight, the Abanzi fairly reconciled and resolved problems without corruption, which should be a legacy to carry on with emphasis to traditional justice.

“We recommend the need to conduct a research to quantify the impact of the Abunzi in the justice system and emphasize on training them in using cultural dynamics in solving cases since it’s evident that it works,” Dushimimana said 

Senator Dushimimana was last week presenting a Senate oversight report conducted to control the function of an Abunzi Committee over the rightful use of law and on the recommended time.

Bidding farewell to all current Abunzi committee at an event in Musanze district early June, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, said Abunzi mediation reduced court cases by 85%, with a 78% positive citizen perception, and a 77% integrity level.

“This is a significantly good effort in delivering justice, even though there were a few cases of mediators involved in corruption and were eventually replaced and there is a possibility that some of this kind are still hiding within,” Busingye said.   

According to the National Electoral Commission(NEC), the Abunzi 2020 elections exercise worth Rwf200.3million, could be extended, this year as a result of coronavirus through the draft election calendar is awaiting approval by the cabinet.

“We are waiting for the approval of the election calendar. Abunzi elections will depend on the evolution of Covid-19 but initially they were supposed to take place in July- August 2020,” NEC said in a statement.




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