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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 129-138

Ubwiyunge Mubikorwa (reconciliation in action): Development and Field Piloting of Action-Based Psychosocial Reconciliation Approach in post-Gacaca Rwanda

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Date of Submission16-Mar-2020
Date of Decision08-Sep-2020
Date of Acceptance05-Oct-2020
Date of Web Publication30-Nov-2020

Correspondence Address:
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_5_20

Rights and Permissions

Reconciliation is a “hazy” construct that calls for further systematic understanding efforts. The purpose of the present study was to illuminate and understand authentic and idiographic processes of interpersonal reconciliation between survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. An original interpersonal reconciliation approach termed action-based psychosocial reconciliation approach (ABPRA) was developed and implemented in two remote villages of Rwanda. Lived experiences of reconciliation dyads (consisting of survivors and their direct perpetrators) who participated in ABPRA were collected employing a postsession, semistructured interview. Thematic content analysis of the data revealed five major themes representing the beneficial impacts of ABPRA. This paper introduces an overview of ABPRA and reports the results from the field pilot study. The reporting features a collection of participant reported narratives highlighting the beneficial effects of ABPRA on their healing and reconciliation process. The paper concludes with the implications of the study to enhance further efforts to support the interpersonal reconciliation process in Rwanda.

Key implications for practice

  • The study explored the beneficial impact of a novel interpersonal approach to post-Genocide community reconciliation in Rwanda.
  • The study illuminated the lived experiences of Genocide survivors and perpetrators engaged in the process of interpersonal reconciliation.
  • The study developed a piece of research evidence for a practical, economical and sustainable interpersonal reconciliation programme.

Keywords: genocide, intergroup contact theory, interpersonal reconciliation, Morita therapy, psychosocial reconciliation

How to cite this article:
Minami M. Ubwiyunge Mubikorwa (reconciliation in action): Development and Field Piloting of Action-Based Psychosocial Reconciliation Approach in post-Gacaca Rwanda. Intervention 2020;18:129-38

How to cite this URL:
Minami M. Ubwiyunge Mubikorwa (reconciliation in action): Development and Field Piloting of Action-Based Psychosocial Reconciliation Approach in post-Gacaca Rwanda. Intervention [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 7];18:129-38. Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org//text.asp?2020/18/2/129/301859

  Introduction Top

Reconciliation is a process − as the vast majority testify in Rwanda to articulate the experience of this never-ending journey. It also alludes to its idiographic nature, depending on who, with whom, when, where and how this process unfolds. Some believe that if there are 100 people, there are 100 different stories of reconciliation. This paper reports the result of a study to illuminate such idiographic and authentic processes of reconciliation. The study entailed development and field piloting of a research-informed approach termed the ‘action-based psychosocial reconciliation approach’ (ABPRA; Minami, 2014) to support interpersonal reconciliation between survivors and their direct perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi living in the same rural communities of Rwanda.

  Reconciliation as a Hazy Construct Top

Reconciliation is one of the top priorities of Rwanda (National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, 2007). Nevertheless, many have pointed out that the precise definition of reconciliation in the literature is hazy (Brouneús, 2003, (2008); Zorbas, 2004). One of the reasons seems to stem from particular characteristics of the nature of the reconciliation process that touches on multiple levels or aspects of lives (e.g. religious, socio-cultural, economic, political, judicial and psychological − see Bar-On, 2005; Brouneús, 2003). In parallel in Rwanda, many have approached supporting the journey to reconciliation on multiple levels, including judicial (see Byrne, 2006; Humphrey, 2003; Mukherjee, 2011, and for reviews of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, see Kanyangara et al., 2007, (2014); and Sosnov, 2008 for reviews of the Gacaca courts), economic (Boudreaux, 2007), socio-communal (Richters et al., 2005, (2008); Thurman et al., 2006) and psychosocial (King, 2014; King & Sakamoto, 2015; Staub, 2008; Staub & Pearlman, 2006; Staub et al., 2005, (2007)). Undoubtedly, an ongoing quest for a clear, valid and useful definition of reconciliation at multiple levels is due. Such definitions and understandings promote meaningful knowledge translation to support people in the field effectively. It is equally important, however, to explore and examine possible implications of variations in the term ‘reconciliation’, as it implies that there seem to exist diverse idiographic experiences (or stories) of authentic reconciliation processes. This matters especially at the level of psychological and interpersonal reconciliation, as the very processes of reconciliation are indeed taking place in each Rwandan person today.

  Lack of Understanding of the Interpersonal Process of Reconciliation Top

Psychological contributions to Rwanda’s journey to reconciliation have been minimal. The seminal works of Ervin Staub (Staub, 2008; Staub & Pearlman, 2006; Staub et al., 2005, (2007)) and Annemiek Richters (Richters et al., 2005, (2008)) are among the few notable examples of such invaluable endeavours in this domain. According to Staub (2008), the essence of psychological reconciliation is “a change in attitudes and behaviours toward the other group” (p. 396). The essence of reconciliation as attitude and behavioural change (or changes in one’s orientation and behaviour towards the other in a reconciliation dyad) is commonly integrated as part of the definition of reconciliation among various other researchers in this area (Bar-Tal, 2000; Staub, 2005, (2008)). In essence, therefore, one of the expected outcomes of interpersonal reconciliation must be some form of intrapersonal attitude change as suggested by the seminal.

However, even the seminal definition seems too vague or general, falling short of the richness required in understanding complex idiographic processes and outcomes of interpersonal reconciliation. We indeed need richer, more complex and nuanced understanding in order to enhance the effectiveness of our support endeavour. Therefore, the rationale of the present study was to explore and illuminate the idiographic and authentic processes (mechanisms) and to understand complex lived experiences (psychological/psychosocial outcomes) of interpersonal reconciliation. The specific research questions of the study were:
  1. What is the nature of the lived experiences of survivors and their direct perpetrators (of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi) who are engaged in the process of interpersonal reconciliation? (Understanding lived experiences of interpersonal reconciliation)
  2. What facilitates and hinders the interpersonal process of reconciliation? (Understanding mechanisms of interpersonal reconciliation)

I recognised that the interpersonal reconciliation is a relational matter concerning reparation and rebuilding of a relationship between the agents (survivors and perpetrators) in reconciling. Therefore, I needed a form of reconciling dynamics that I could then investigate the lived experiences of survivors and perpetrators through. To achieve this objective, I developed and piloted an original interpersonal reconciliation approach (programme) termed the ‘action-based psychosocial reconciliation approach’ (ABPRA; Minami, 2014). Before moving onto introducing an overview of ABPRA, I turn to a discussion of the psychological consequences and ethical implications of yet another approach to interpersonal reconciliation that has occupied the literature on reconciliation: the issue of forgiveness-seeking.

  Inherent Risks in Forgiveness-Seeking Top

The role of forgiveness in reconciliation has been the focal point of discussion in the existing literature (Brounéus, 2003; Hamber, 2007). Many, particularly in nonsecular approaches, have included the key role of forgiveness in promoting reconciliation (see Worthington, 2006). The role of forgiveness in moderating the impact of a traumatic event has been documented in some studies (Orcutt, 2006; Orcutt et al., 2005, (2008)). However, I argue that its careless translation and decontextualised application to resolve complex field problems, such as the very one of reconciliation in Rwanda, could lead to potentially harmful consequences despite the original, benevolent intent. Unfortunately, there were some cases in Rwanda in which this unintended consequence was brought to survivors.

An example can be observed in the forgiveness-based reconciliation counselling depicted in As We Forgive by Hinson (2009). In the film, a trained counsellor first worked with a survivor and a perpetrator separately to prepare them to meet together for a forgiveness-seeking session. During the session, the survivor was asked to listen to the perpetrator speaking “truthfully” of the crimes he committed. Then the perpetrator apologised and asked for the survivor’s forgiveness. Perhaps understandably, the survivor could not forgive her perpetrator.

The inherent risk of forgiveness-seeking lies in this case of the inability to forgive and the burden of forgiveness. What if one cannot forgive? The consequence of not being able to forgive is burdensome, causing grave distress in survivors. Parallels are often drawn between this approach and religious virtues and teachings from the Bible, which speaks of the importance of forgiving enemies. According to statistics, 56.5% of Rwandans are Roman Catholic, while 26% are Protestant (United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2007). The majority of survivors are aware that it is virtuous to forgive perpetrators. They may wish as a “good” Christian to forgive, but their heart may not allow them. In challenging cases, survivors are mortified by the very fact that they cannot forgive, suffering further from the moral paradox of being a good Christian who cannot forgive. The burden of forgiveness is a heavy weight for some survivors to carry alone. Forgiveness-seeking is fraught with this inherent risk of secondary moral and dignity injury.

Another major limitation of forgiveness-seeking concerns its medium − a verbal exchange. Conversations typically follow survivors asking if the perpetrators feel remorse and are serious about their apology. Survivors often testify that they do not feel there is any sincerity or remorse in perpetrators’ words. They say, “It is easy for you to say sorry. But do you really mean it? If you are sorry, why did you kill my family?” The words of the perpetrators do not sound convincing to survivors of their remorse. The words fail to carry their sincerity.

In facing the inability to forgive, I questioned and challenged the unchallenged assumption that forgiveness is the prerequisite to reconciliation. Brounéus (2003) posed a critical concern regarding the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation; when forgiveness is construed as a prerequisite to reconciliation, then harm can result. Brounéus further cautioned us that the issue of individual forgiveness must not be imposed. In the case of Rwanda, the imposed burden of forgiveness and the consequences of the inability to forgive took the form of moral and dignity injury to the survivor.

Furthermore, I questioned the practicality of forgiveness-seeking. What if one cannot forgive just yet? What now? Do they continue insisting on forgiveness-seeking? But then, the insistence on forgiveness-seeking with someone who cannot wholeheartedly forgive could also lead to a wide range of unwanted consequences (e.g. reactivating traumatic memory, deepening of emotional scars, renewed anger and hurt, escalation of the conflict, further resistance to forgive). They can ultimately result in stagnation in the reconciliation process. I argue that the inherent risk and the iatrogenic effects of insistence on forgiveness-seeking are highly problematic. It is, therefore, unethical as a means to an interpersonal reconciliation.

  Action and Interaction as Alternative Pathways to Reconciliation Top

ABPRA (Minami, 2014) was developed as an alternative to the forgiveness-seeking approach, offering a way of moving forward at the same time as overcoming the aforementioned challenges of (a) the inability to forgive and (b) the limitations of verbal exchange as a medium of reconciliation. [Figure 1] contrasts two differing assumptions underlying the two reconciliation approaches.
Figure 1 Assumptions Underlying Forgiveness- and Action-Based Approaches

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According to the forgiveness-seeking approach, there is an assumption that not forgiving is undesirable. Therefore, all subsequent efforts are made to try and encourage survivors to forgive. Conceptually, as well as in reality, this could potentially lead to an insistence on forgiveness, further perpetuating the burden of forgiveness. As a consequence, the process of reconciliation not only stagnates until the survivor forgives, but also results in moral and dignity injury of the survivor. ABPRA, in contrast, takes another stance towards one’s inability to forgive and respect it as it is; an approach termed arugamama in Japanese Morita therapy (Morita, 1974). ABPRA assumes that there are understandable, legitimate and valid reasons for the inability to forgive. Therefore, it is natural to feel unforgiving, and it shall be respected as it is.

It should be noted here that I am neither rejecting the possibility of nurturing forgiveness, nor its occurrence in the process of interpersonal reconciliation. I am merely advocating against the very insistence (perhaps from reconcilers) on forgiveness-seeking and the imposition of feeling forgiving in cases where it is not yet possible or is inauthentic. ABPRA reassures that individuals should not be pressured or forced into any emotions, including forgiveness, under any circumstance or intervention approach. Therefore, ABPRA respects the inability to forgive as it is and refrains from strenuous insistence on forgiveness-seeking. Instead, it offers a space for the inability to forgive, and welcomes survivors and perpetrators to explore ways of engaging in purposeful and meaningful actions (and interactions) in service of survivors. Then, the process of reconciliation continues in action and interaction to bring about new dyadic and relational experiences between the dyad. Then the new experiences might hold the potential to change the heart of survivors and perpetrators.

[Figure 2] contrasts the two different media and corresponding expected outcomes of forgiveness-seeking and ABPRA as an interpersonal reconciliation approach. In the forgiveness-seeking approach, perpetrators ask survivors to forGIVE. In ABPRA (Minami, 2014), perpetrators ask if survivors would RECEIVE services from perpetrators as concrete acts (behavioural expressions) of their apology. Survivors are then afforded ample time to consider whether they choose to do so. If survivors agree, perpetrators and survivors engage in collaborative labour in the service of survivors.
Figure 2 Two Different Media and Expected Outcomes of Forgiveness- and Action-Based Approaches

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Another distinct feature of ABPRA is its medium of (means to) reconciliation. ABPRA replaces verbal forgiveness-seeking with action and interaction (collaborative labour) in the service of survivors. ABPRA provides an impetus to invite survivors to receive much desired compensations and to have new experiences (of receiving help and support) with their perpetrators. ABPRA also provides perpetrators with an opportunity to express their remorse, apology and sincerity in action. New experiences with each other emerge as the result of their engagements in collaborative labour. ABPRA situates forgiveness and reconciliation as possible products that emerge from, but not as the means to, the new interactive experiences with each other.

  Empirical Foundations of ABPRA − Modelling Mechanisms of Healing and Interpersonal Reconciliation Top

ABPRA (Minami, 2014) is a practical and research-informed approach developed by conducting a series of narrative literature reviews to model and empirically support micro-mechanisms facilitative of healing and reconciliation among conflicting parties. Healing mechanisms are grounded on therapeutic principles of Japanese Morita therapy (Morita, 1974). Seminal works in this area suggested that the essence of reconciliation is a mutual attitude change (Bar-Tal, 2000; Staub, 2008; Staub et al., 2005). Therefore, mechanisms facilitative of positive attitude change between conflicting parties are also architected in the ABPRA and founded on principles of intergroup contact theory (Allport, 1954; Amir, 1969; Brewer & Kramer, 1985; Pettigrew, 1997, (1998); Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Harmonised together, ABPRA is a practical synthesis and translations of Japanese Morita therapy and intergroup contact theory into an interpersonal reconciliation approach. [Table 1] outlines the concrete steps involved in a typical ABPRA day schedule that reconciliation dyads engage in. Previous participants of ABPRA affectionately nicknamed it “ubwiyunge mubikorwa” (reconciliation in action).
Table 1 ABPRA Day Schedule

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  The Field Piloting and Five Beneficial Properties of ABPRA Top

Between 2011 and 2013, ABPRA was implemented in two rural villages of Rwanda in partnerships with Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR) and the Rwanda National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. Ethics approval was granted by both the University of British Columbia and the Rwanda National Ethics Committee. A research permit was granted by the Ministry of Education of Rwanda.

In close collaboration with PFR, two remote villages of Rwanda were selected as the research sites. Prior to recruiting, I visited and met with key leaders of the villages and introduced an overview of the project. Upon obtaining their support and endorsement, I held a village-wide orientation session in each of the villages. At the orientation, I had a chance to introduce myself, my role as a researcher and a learner, and an overview and purpose of the study, including what the study entails for the participants. A total of eight dyads consisting of survivors and their direct perpetrators living in the same community volunteered to participate in ABPRA.

Upon obtaining a prescreening consent, all volunteered participants were carefully screened by employing stringent inclusion and exclusion criteria to ensure safety in engagement in consultations with PFR. All met the eligibility criteria and therefore were invited to participate in the study. All the dyads consisted of female survivors and male perpetrators, except one pair that consisted of both males. Ages of the participants ranged from the youngest (39 years) to the eldest (63 years) at the time of recruitment. The participants were further given an individual orientation to ensure their understanding of the rationale, purpose, procedures and other essential information regarding the study. After the orientation, participants were given 24 hours to decide whether or not to participate in the study. All those invited chose to continue with the study.

Upon obtaining formal consent, each dyad engaged in a weekly ABPRA session (see [Table 1]) for 2 hours per day for eight weeks. The collaborative labour survivors chose include, (a) harvesting corn, (b) harvesting ground nuts, (c) harvesting sorghum, (d) making clay bricks for house renovation, (e) processing corn, (f) processing ground nuts, (g) seeding tomatoes and (h) weeding a cassava plantation. In the distance, I carefully observed all sessions with an interpreter ensuring withdrawal criteria. At the end of each ABPRA session, I conducted a postsession, semistructured interview with each of the dyads individually to explore their lived experience of engaging in ABPRA. In addition, all sessions were video recorded and a session per dyad of interpersonal process recall (Kagan & Kagan, 1997) was conducted to enhance the interview with the visual aid of their session.

Throughout the study, over 7,200 minutes of qualitative interview data were collected. The interview data were then transcribed in Kinyarwanda, translated to English and backtranslated to check translation accuracy and analysed by employing thematic content analysis (Krippendorff, 2014). Five major themes emerged as a result. [Figure 3] summarises the corresponding five major beneficial effects (referred to as properties) of ABPRA: (a) healing, (b) attitude change, (c) reconciling, (d) relationship building and (e) psychosocial development (Minami, 2014).
Figure 3 Five Major Properties of ABPRA

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Each of the major properties consists of a set of micro-mechanisms (which were supported by a collection of subthemes). All major themes and sub-themes were later verified by conducting member checks with all the participants. Full descriptions of the themes are beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, the next section introduces select themes with participant narratives.

  Lived Experiences of Ubwiyunge Mubikorwa Top

Normal Conversation=Peaceful Conversation

What happens when survivors choose to engage in collaborative labour with their perpetrators? As a researcher, I longed for the answer to this question. What I discovered immediately was an abundance of conversations that occurred between the dyads. “How is your family?” “I heard you went to a wedding last weekend. How was it?” “Your kitchen is wearing out. Maybe we should build a new one”. “I noticed your house has some holes. Maybe we should build bricks to mend it”. Literally hundreds of conversations flourished between the dyads. Simple, yet profound engagements in ABPRA created an ideal circumstance and climate for the natural abundance of conversations to flourish. Often the dyads paused their labour to enjoy chatting with each other on topics that were mundane, yet peaceful. I learned that the ordinary (normal conversations) in an extraordinary relationship (as a survivor and a perpetrator) makes the ordinary extraordinary. Because they shared the extraordinary relationship where the normal conversation was unimaginable before, the occurrence of mundane and normal conversation (termed by the dyads) was an extraordinary miracle for them. All participants reported that they found them healing and helpful in strengthening their relationships.

Springing Joy and Appreciation

All survivors reported that they experienced springing joy and appreciation for perpetrators by witnessing how hard and tirelessly they worked for them. I asked the survivors what signs they noticed that signalled to them that their perpetrator was working very hard. Many survivors reported the signs through their five senses. A survivor reported that she heard how hard her perpetrator was working. I probed her further. “What do you mean, you heard him?” She replied, “Like this … (imitating his heavy breathing). I could also see he was using much energy. He was tired by the end”. Another survivor reported that the fast pace in which her perpetrator worked in the field brought her a pleasant surprise of experiencing his devotion and hard work. “He was much faster than I worked. That’s how I knew he was working hard”. The survivor reported feeling very happy and joy at the sight of his dedicated attitude. Another survivor reported that when she paused her work and looked up to her perpetrator, she noticed there were large beads of sweat on his forehead. The sight also communicated to her how hard he was working for her. Every survivor reported such experience of springing joy as a result of witnessing concrete evidence of sincerity, devotion and hard work of the perpetrator through their five senses.

The Worst Poison and the Best Antidote

Survivors reported the phenomenon they called “the worst poison and the best antidote”. They were referring to the role their perpetrators played in taking away their fear and flashback memory of the unpleasant past. A survivor reported her lingering fear of her perpetrator at the beginning of the sessions. However, as soon as they started the collaborative labour, her fear started dissipating. Her fear returned when a session finished, and the perpetrator returned home. To her surprise, however, her fear started dissipating again when he returned to work for her in the next session. After the second session, she reported the return of fear, but not to the extent as she experienced it in the first week. Over the course of the sessions, her fear stopped coming back and completely dissipated even after the perpetrator had gone home. The survivor reported that whenever she noticed her bad memory was about to come back, she looked up to see her perpetrator being devoted to helping her tirelessly right in front of her. The very sight, she reported, was the best cure at that moment to combat her flashbacks and images of him, fear and horror of the past. She metaphorically expressed that he was her worst poison but is now her best antidote available in front of her.

Cleansing Experience

Throughout the sessions, it was always my impression that perpetrators were the ones working harder in the field. During the dry season in Rwanda, the average temperature can reach over 30°C. The dyads were asked to work together for two hours under direct sunlight. It is very exhausting. However, I noticed in session after session that perpetrators were working hard, even with smiles on their faces. I discovered that all perpetrators truly appreciated the mere opportunity to serve the survivors they have caused harm to, as if to atone for their previous “evil” deeds. In fact, all perpetrators reported that working for survivors was cleansing for their hearts; they felt like their hearts were being washed. Hearing their words, it occurred to me that perpetrators had been carrying their guilt, sense of sin, shame, torment by conscience and self-hatred throughout their lives since the Genocide. All of them shared with me that it had been enormously painful and “acidic” for them to have had to carry their unpleasant emotions. The invitation to engage in ABPRA brought them a long-desired opportunity to atone and unload their emotional burdens. They further reported that it was only while servicing survivors that they could feel their hearts were being cleansed. This observation and realisation helped me understand why it had always been the case that perpetrators were so motivated and smiled throughout their work.


Perpetrators reported the experience of rehumanisation from inyamaswa (meaning animal in Kinyarwanda). In Rwanda, the term inyamaswa refers to those who are not considered to possess the quality of “ubuntu”, the essence it takes to be humane (Urujeni, 2011), hence colloquially used to refer to those who participated in the acts of the Genocide. It is noteworthy that the concept of inyamaswa repeatedly appeared in narratives of perpetrators reporting on how they had felt before engaging in the process of interpersonal reconciliation. In his own words, a perpetrator reported:

[An inyamaswa] is a creature that walks at night so that the people don’t see it. The animal walks at night because he fears people and so that they don’t harm him during the day. Me too, that is how I was during that time [before engaging in ABPRA].

The perpetrator continued expressing that his experience of working for and with the survivor in ABPRA has been like a process of being reborn as a human being again. All perpetrators reported that the process of servicing survivors, with the hands used once to harm them, paralleled the process of regaining “ubuntu”, the essence of what it takes to be a human being, by being kind, sincere and devoted to survivors with the very same hands.

Transformation of Forgiveness to Love

Under the ABPRA model, forgiveness was situated as a possible product of the new dyadic interaction experience engaging in purposeful actions and interactions. The data revealed not only instances of both decisional and emotional forgiveness (Worthington et al., 2006, (2007)) but also temporal transformation of forgiveness from consolidating the decisional to the experience of the emotional to love by the end. Consistent engagements in ABPRA created the opportunities for survivors to receive services from perpetrators. The experience of witnessing perpetrators’ sincere devotion in labour accumulated over the course of sessions paralleled the temporal transformation of forgiveness from decisional to love. The hard work of a perpetrator had finally touched a survivor’s heart:

Survivor: I have forgiven him already. I don’t have a problem with him anymore. He is always committed while working for me without any problem. … What increases (in me) is a love, not forgiveness. Forgiveness has been granted. Now it is the love that increases.

Community Witnessing and Village Movement

Over the course of the pilot, eight dyads consistently engaged in weekly ABPRA sessions. I underestimated the impact of this reconciliation “in action/interaction” on the broader community. While dyads engaged in collaborative labour, many villagers walked by and spotted the dyads working together. It was often the case that the dyad seemed so enjoyably immersed in their engagement in normal conversations. In a small village, everyone knew who the survivor was, who the perpetrator was and their relationships. Many villagers questioned why they were working together, and the dyad always explained that they were engaged in reconciliation in action (ubwiyunge mubikorwa). Many celebrated their courage and commitment, but some questioned their intent; whether they are paid to engage in this activity. The dyads, again, proudly and consistently replied:

We are not doing this for money. We are doing this because we are committed to this reconciliation in action [ubwiyunge mubikorwa] and because we wish the world to know that Rwandese are reconciling. We are proof that Rwandese are reconciling.

“Actions speak louder than words” is the motto of ABPRA, and the dyads’ actions did speak louder than words. Their dedication beyond words touched and moved many villagers. The village leader informed me that many in the village had visited the leader to inquire about the dyads’ engagements in activities, and they themselves desired to participate in the sessions. Some even visited as a dyad together to inquire how to do ubwiyunge mubikorwa. Subsequently, I have trained the leader to be able to guide the rest of the villagers to engage in their ubwiyunge mubikorwa. The silent effort of the dyads spoke loudly and vibrantly fostered a grass-roots movement to nurture psychosocial reconciliation in a rural community by their own actions and interactions.

  Discussion Top

The purpose of the study was to (a) understand lived experiences of, and (b) illuminate mechanisms facilitative of (or hindering) the interpersonal process of reconciliation in survivors and perpetrators in Rwanda. An exploratory qualitative approach employed by the present study was particularly instrumental in addressing the specific research questions and serving the purpose. The analysis of interview data revealed both expected (healing, attitude change and reconciling) and unexpected (relationship building and psychosocial development) themes, representing a broad range of beneficial effects of ABPRA. Furthermore, rich qualitative data illuminated the complex and nuanced experiences of interpersonal reconciliation lived by the survivors and perpetrators. These findings are essential in enriching, deepening and enhancing our understanding of the idiographic and authentic processes and outcomes of interpersonal reconciliation, and therefore advancing of our further intervention effort to support the endeavour in Rwanda.

This pilot study has also taught me invaluable personal lessons on how to effectively, ethically and sustainably support interpersonal reconciliation process in Rwanda, which I wish to share. First, we as applied researchers must question the ethicality of our intervention approach at all times in servicing the most vulnerable populations. ABPRA was developed in order to respectfully acknowledge and honour authentic meaning behind the inability to forgive. I understood that the problem of the burden of forgiveness is in fact just the tip of the iceberg. Survivors AND perpetrators indeed carry a mosaic of emotional scars from the Genocide and their lives thereafter. This not only alerts us to the delicate nature of their suffering and challenges but also cautions us to re-examine our own assumptions underlying our intervention approaches to support them. Although well intended, the iatrogenic effects of forgiveness-seeking were ethically inexcusable. Further efforts must seriously consider the possible consequences of unintentional harm in supporting vulnerable populations.

Secondly, we must go beyond the conventional to envision innovative and authentic solutions to challenges. ABPRA employs reconciliation media that are nonverbal and non-conventional comprising action and interaction. While it was in response to the limitations of verbal forgiveness-seeking, the work of reconciliation or conflict mediation, in general, requires imagination, innovation or thinking outside the box. It allows us to not only move beyond roadblocks in the process but also to transform challenges into opportunities. Dyads’ engagement in ABPRA did not just bring a solution to the stagnation of forgiveness-seeking; their courageous engagements opened the door to their new relationships through which they healed, forgave, reconciled, nurtured and transformed their relationships with each other, grew together and began to share lives together again in peace and harmony. Further effort must be imaginative and innovative in bringing resolutions to the most challenging circumstances.

Thirdly, we must always question our own current level of understanding of the lived experiences behind an issue in question. In approaching the issue of interpersonal reconciliation, I encountered a lack of understanding of idiographic and authentic processes and the challenges in interpersonal reconciliation. Without a deep appreciation of these aspects, attempts to design an effective intervention that would make a difference in the lives of people would be highly questionable, if not harmful. It is therefore vital to begin intervening efforts by gathering a rich understanding of the lived experiences of those challenged by the very process of reconciliation. Otherwise, we pose the risk of imposing our own ideas of how one should and should not reconcile. While the idea emerged from the ground up, my ABPRA is no exception to this point. I am thankful for my participants for their courageous engagements in the novel ABPRA and their generous teaching. Further efforts must begin from the ground up, based on the gained understanding of and a deep appreciation for lived experiences.

Fourthly, our intervention must not hinder the dyads’ productivity and generativity in life. One notable feature of ABPRA is its capacity for generativity. The dyads engaged in ABPRA have the capacity to produce through collaborative labour (e.g. income generation activity), which makes it a productive and economical reconciliation strategy. We must be mindful that the process of reconciliation itself can take time, effort and resources. Therefore, continuous effort is due to make it most practical in order for it to be feasible and acceptable or at minimum, not hindering their daily living for participating dyads. This is especially critical in order to reach out to dyads living in remote communities in Rwanda. If the process of intervention neglects their daily needs and demands (e.g. milk and bread), it damages its feasibility and engagement. This element of practicality should always be borne in mind when designing future field interventions.

Finally, a reconciliation approach must be enabling, empowering and sustainable. ABPRA does not require any costly training or professionals for its delivery. It does not require elaborate intervention techniques or costly reconcilers possessing specialised knowledge or skills. Anyone who is willing to and committed to respecting and adhering to simple norms, rules and parameters of engagement can engage themselves. Everything healing, attitude changing, reconciling, relationship building and psychosocially developing about ABPRA was architected in the design and process of ABPRA and was therefore ‘nurturable’ by the dyads themselves. We, the reconcilers, simply provide the initial invitation and the minimum amount of safety guidance. The intervention is intentionally designed for cost effectiveness and sustainability, based on my firm belief that the issue of reconciliation in Rwanda is and should be owned by the very people of Rwanda. I believe individuals ultimately responsible for taking on and resolving this challenge of reconciliation in Rwanda are the very people of Rwanda themselves. My effort and commitment will never be to reconcile survivors and perpetrators, but to support them in developing their own capacity to reconcile with each other by themselves. Interventions disappear when interventionists leave, yet the nurtured capacity to reconcile them by themselves and build peace and harmony will always stay within the dyads. My faith in the people of Rwanda has never been challenged. Further endeavours must first recognise that the ownership of reconciliation in Rwanda belongs to the people of Rwanda.

  Conclusion Top

The present study endeavoured to illuminate authentic lived experiences of interpersonal reconciliation in Rwanda, along with mechanisms facilitative of the process. An explorative and qualitative approach revealed rich, complex and nuanced stories of interpersonal reconciliation through ABPRA as a possible way of facilitating the process. The findings were not only encouraging but also enriching of our understanding of the process and enhancing of our further effort to support the process in Rwanda. While the pilot study and the paper have concluded, the lives of survivors and perpetrators continue today in Rwanda, and so does their shared journey of reconciliation. The next phase of the project has already begun, helping people in other remote communities of Rwanda access ABPRA. The gift of rich pilot data would help us support more effectively, survivors and perpetrators who have never received any form of interpersonal reconciliation support. They are still living their lives in suffering today, carrying with them the scars of the Genocide that ache every day. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi swept the entire country and reached every corner of the land to inflict tragedy. No one could escape. Correspondingly, its intervention and support must also reach every corner and person of this inspiringly beautiful and resilient land of a thousand hills.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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