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Research Looks to Improve Social Cohesion in Rwanda

by Daniel Sabiiti
8:57 pm

Genocide survivor and a genocide perpetrators in a gesture on unitty and reconciliation

Rwanda has released a baseline research which shows that social cohesion and community-based initiatives can be used to promote unity and reconciliation but also address genocide related mental health issues.

The baseline research findings and newly developed protocols for societal healing and livelihood initiatives conducted in Bugesera district was presented at a hybrid conference in Kigali this September 2, 2021.

The research was commissioned by Interpeace, in partnership with Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR) and funded by the European Union (EU) Rwanda and government.

Research findings show the level of co-existence at district level was at an average of 97% but social cohesion was still challenged by fear and mistrust, grievances and discrimination, remorse and forgiveness

For instance, some qualitative insights recorded stated as follows;

On co-existence one said: “We live and converse with them but do not share genocide stories. We talk about other issues. Turenzaho (we pretend), ngo iyagukanze ntiba inturo (the animal that threatened to kill you cannot be mistaken for a mere wild cat). We meet because of the interests of our savings and credit scheme.”

In fear and mistrust another person said: “If married to those people with whom you do not share the same background, you are always afraid that if any conflict arises, he can kill you. I am still having reservations when it comes to trusting them.”

The research shows some of these aspects come with intergenerational gaps caused by the genocide and end up resulting into mental health issues recorded in the post genocide community.

For example, the research shows children of survivors are at greater risk of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, often compounded due to the stories about the genocide they hear from their traumatized parents.

While children of perpetrators are often challenged by the experience of having an incarcerated parent, which affects their developmental trajectory, reduces their educational opportunities, and places them at greater risk for substance abuse or delinquency.

This is proven by findings which indicate that prevalence of mental health profiles in the population are visible with youth survivors having 41% invisible wounds, 11% youth on substance abuse while 3% suffer anxiety and emptiness.

According to Professor Eugene Rutembesa the research recommended reinforcing societal healing and reconciliation through addressing each of the specific categories engaging the community in improving already existing mechanisms.

For example, socio-therapy, resilience-oriented therapy, socio-emotional skills curriculum, multi-family healing spaces, manual for collaborative livelihood initiatives and comprehensive prisoner reintegration roadmap.

“All of these should be implemented in a conflict-sensitive, trauma-informed, gender-specific, and interlinked manner, to increase their overall impact and prepare the ground for replication,” Rutembesa said.

To implement social change in a community affected by genocide (such as Bugesera district), the research crafted some protocols (with help of Universities (Cyprus, Liverpool and Harvard) to guide the community towards addressing social cohesion, mental health and sustainable.

The research suggests this can be done with help mitigate symptoms of psychological distress and cultivate socio-emotional skills to build individual resilience, strengthen social cohesion by facilitating interventions that nurture tolerance and trust within families and communities, sustainable livelihood interventions (Collaborative Livelihood Initiatives) focusing on cultivating vocation skills and incubating, developing and launching sustainable community-based enterprises.

“As communities build economic resilience, lift themselves out of poverty, take care of their community and ecology in a way that generates healthy livelihoods, social cohesion grows because economic distress undermines social cohesion as much as psychological distress,” the research said.

Prof. Rutembesa suggested that community-based enterprises will be the best way of implementing this change to encourage social cohesion.

“The community can choose the best way to address any of these aspects and since it’s their initiative they will be able to evaluate the progress, benefits and challenges going forward,” Rutembesa said.

Dr. Jean Paul Ntwali, the Rwanda Prison Fellowship Country director said that the Rwandan developed protocols will be submitted for validation at the international level as one of the processes of implementing holistic community-based psychosocial care intervention systems.

EU Rwanda Ambassador Nicola Bellomo commended the research and it will be funded to reach more communities since it’s in line with their support program to the government of Rwanda in building sustainable peace.

“We recognise the holistic and participatory approach to promote mental health service provision, social cohesion and support sustainable livelihoods, which is both designed and led by all partners,” Bellomo said.

Interpeace Country Representative, Frank Kayitare said that lessons learnt from Bugesera will be replicated in other areas of the country so as to promote existing government interventions in social cohesion and community initiatives towards unity and reconciliation.

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