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Winning the Peace in Burundi and DR Congo

After more than six years of experience on the ground in Burundi, and almost three years working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two of the lead trainers from the Africa Program's capacity building initiative came to the Wilson Center to present an in-depth analysis of conflict transformation and leadership training.

Date & Time

Mar. 4, 2009
9:00am – 10:30am ET


After more than six years of experience on the ground in Burundi, and almost three years working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two of the lead trainers from the Africa Program's capacity building initiative came to the Wilson Center to present an in-depth analysis of conflict transformation and leadership training. Moderated by Africa Program Consulting Program Director Steve McDonald, the event featured the two facilitators that have been with the project since it's inception in Burundi in 2002: Elizabeth McClintock, managing partner with CMPartners, and Alain Lempereur, Professor at ESSEC Business School in Paris and Singapore.

McDonald, who has more than thirty-eight years of experience working in and on Africa, opened the discussion by describing his initial collaboration with current Africa Program Director and former special envoy to the Great Lakes region Howard Wolpe in creating a capacity-building training program in post-conflict countries. During the U.S. civil rights era, Wolpe had worked with communities struggling with race issues and had seen the impact of conflict transformation in racially divided societies. In 2001, the World Bank accepted and approved Wolpe and McDonald's proposal for a two-year conflict transformation pilot training program in Burundi.

The leadership training program seeks to mitigate four systemic impediments to a democratic transition: broken trust between leaders, an absence of constructive communications and negotiations skills, divisions and antagonisms among leaders which prevents collaboration, and a lack of consensus on how to share power and make decisions in political processes. Until all parties are able to work together and to do away with a zero-sum, winner-take-all mentality, there is little possibility for a sustainable peace agreement or for progress in development and good governance, contends McDonald.

In late 2002 and early 2003, McDonald and Wolpe spent three months meeting with more than one hundred Burundian leaders, including representatives from armed factions, the president and the army chief of staff. They surveyed the leaders to identify those Burundians who would promote democracy and those who would hinder the process of democracy – so-called spoilers – as individuals on both sides of the spectrum play an important role in deciding the future of the country. As they discussed the program with Burundian leaders, McDonald and Wolpe set the stage for the leadership program by securing a total "buy-in" of influential leaders in all sectors of society.

Lempereur stressed the importance of this sense of ownership in the training program - of securing a ‘buy-in' from external donors, Burundian leaders, and the international community. To crystallize the 'buy-in' of key players and achieve a comprehensive representative from the Burundian or Congolese populations, the facilitators attempted to bring together participants from various groups in society by building gender, professional, ethnic, geographical, historical, and partisan diversity. Unfortunately, conceded Lempereur, women participants were difficult to find, especially in the security sector. The facilitators also sought to build geographical diversity by reaching out to people in provinces outside Kinshasa and fostered partisan diversity by including representatives from a wide partisan spectrum, including party hardliners as well as moderates. Finally, the facilitators brought in leaders from different historical eras or regimes: for example, in the DRC Leadership Initiative, the workshops have included participants who played a role in the governments of Mobutu, Lumumba, and Laurent and Joseph Kabila. Lempereur added that a heterogeneous mix of representatives is often demonstrated by the palpable tension among participants. To alleviate this tension, the facilitators also identified a leader regarded as fair and honest who would encourage trust on all sides: in the DRC, they invited Michelle Kassa, former coordinator for OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and in Burundi they invited former Minister of Human Rights Eugene Nidorera and Fabien Nsengimana, who still works with the BLTP NGO in Bujumbura.

The Training Workshop: Building Trust and Understanding
After bringing participants together at a training session, the facilitators employ different methods and techniques to develop positive relationships among participants and to build an atmosphere of trust and understanding. For example, the facilitators encourage participants to use first names without official titles so that participants' roles in society, particularly those in the higher echelons of government, do not impede free and open communication among them. This technique has proven quite effective in breaking down the many barriers created by social and political hierarchies. Facilitators also ask participants to address each other informally (using the French pronoun tu instead of vous) and to socialize informally. Informal activities include eating lunch together regularly and dancing as a group on the final day of the training session.

Lempereur emphasized that rather than solving the participants' problems, the facilitators provide participants with the techniques to discuss and address their own issues. "Our work is to make sure that they are better equipped," said Lempereur. "They know what their problems are, but don't know how to get to decisions." The workshop teaches participants to become active listeners, especially when they are verbally attacked. By acquainting participants with a better understanding of diversity and divisions within their own society, the workshops also address the sociological roots of communication problems among leaders. As a result, leaders with different socioeconomic and regional backgrounds become more aware of the problems faced by other individuals, and understand how creating an unfair distribution of resources can increase the risk of violent conflict. Lempereur pointed out that the workshops depart from other training models, including those espoused by Robert Fisher, in which psychological concerns supersede sociological issues. He did stress, nonetheless, the impact of sociological divisions, which result from inequalities and tensions in societies that occur not only in post-conflict African nations, but in many societies all over the world.

After the participants have practiced techniques to improve communication and active listening skills, they identify and discuss key issues particular to their country on the final day of the workshop. Unlike other workshops, this workshop does not end with recommendations, said Lempereur. Instead, participants are encouraged to make commitments to collaboratively rectify the situation in the country and to work toward real solutions to their problems.

Long-term Goals: Reaching Out to Communities
Lempereur underscored the importance of transforming a one-workshop project into a long-term and sustainable program. To extend the process to a larger portion of the population and to create a network of trainers and trainings, the facilitators created the Training of Trainers program, teaching local Burundians how to run similar workshops in various communities. Lempereur noted that in addition to reaching out to more people, the Training for Trainers program, by using trainers from various sectors of society, can better adapt to the needs of people in different communities. For example, some trainers have adopted methods to better teach techniques to semi-literate or illiterate populations. Other trainers use examples in their teaching with which different groups would best identify, such as a trainer using specific examples for army officials. The flexibility of the additional programs allows for better communication to peoples with different values and experiences. The Burundi Leadership Program has so far trained one in every 1,000 Burundians, which has made a significant impact on the population, said Lempereur.

During initial meetings, key Burundian stakeholders identified security sector reform as a crucial issue which could be addressed through the leadership training program. At that point, the Commission for Integration of Armed Forces had achieved very little in defining a ‘combatant', determining military ranking, and allocating former combatants' posts in the newly integrated army. Stakeholders also expressed concern about the high risk of violence in the upcoming elections, and suggested that the training program include campaign chiefs to facilitate building the electoral code.

In the DRC, a leadership training initiative was established in preparation for the country's first multi-party elections in 2006. The facilitators hoped that by including several heads of the National Assembly, the participants could work together to mitigate the conflict over choosing the new head of the National Assembly. During the violence which erupted between opposing factions supporting President Joseph Kabila and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa in August 2006, Lempereur recalls wondering, "How can these two [leaders] who have worked together for so long try to kill each other? Have they never had dinner together?" In fact, the President Kabila and Vice President Bemba had never socialized in an unofficial capacity. According to Lempereur, this very lack of relationship-building has contributed significantly to violence and conflict in government. McDonald added that although donors and diplomats often assume that leaders who work together know each other personally, they rarely have this type of relationship. The absence of a personal relationship is illustrated by the participants' reactions to each other in the introductory session of the workshop, said McDonald. He gave an example of a Tutsi colonel purported to have "done very bad things" who talked about his father raising his Hutu brothers after the genocide. "When the [participants] hear these things, it is no longer the sort of dialogue interaction that happens on a professional basis… [but] a personal transformation that really builds towards understanding of each other," explained McDonald.

The participants of the workshop expressed hope that leaders would take what they had learned in the workshop to make an impact on the entire populace. A dissemination of information has occurred in Burundi, but in the DRC, society still lacks the cohesion necessary for information to trickle down to the population, explained Lempereur. Despite the difficulty of transferring conflict transformation skills to the population, making a broader social impact at the local level in the DRC and Burundi is one of the primary long-term goals of the Africa Program, said McClintock.

Long-term Goals and Strategies in Burundi and the DRC
In discussing the achievements of the training initiatives, McClintock said that although the facilitators are pleased and optimistic about the progress of the BTLP, the programs in Burundi have not run long enough to measure their success.. She noted that as more and more people in rural areas become accustomed to peace as a norm in their lives, they become less inclined to return to war and prefer to continue the peace building process. Additionally, shifting of the program's goals and objectives to meet the country's changing needs has made the development of programs less predictable. For example, the DRC Leadership Training Initiative began as a program on a national scale, but shifted focus to the east when conflict increased in the region. However, shifting the program's efforts to the Kivus requires involving all the players in the conflict, including Rwandans and Ugandans. Lempereur described this process as a simultaneous downscaling of the program (from the national to the regional level) and expansion of the program to include outsiders, especially senior-level security officials from neighboring countries.

McClintock pointed out that implementing a program in the DRC has proven much more difficult because of the complexity of the conflict, in large part derived from a war over mineral resources. In contrast, the less convoluted nature of the Burundi conflict and Director Howard Wolpe's connections with Burundian key players have allowed the Africa Program to more easily construct a a framework for a sustainable training program in Burundi that reaches out to all levels of society.

The Role of the Media
Although the media can undermine peace by inciting violence, it can also involve the population in a process of peace building. The workshops tend to exclude media participation to ensure the privacy of the participants; however, the media has been used in several instances so that participants could communicate their efforts to the public. In a 2006 workshop in Kinshasa, participants decided to call in the press - including both TV and radio stations - to make a public statement about their efforts in the workshop and to broadcast a call for peace in all regions of the country. This gesture was important not only in reaching out to the population, but to demonstrate the leaders' willingness to work together towards national cohesion.

Defining and Transforming Democracy
Importing democracy or establishing democratic structures in a post-conflict society may prove problematic and challenging. McClintock remarked that the Africa Program must further consider economic development as a source of empowerment for citizens, so they can constructively participate in peaceful elections rather than focusing solely on day-to-day subsistence. Also, in post-conflict societies, certain aspects of democracy such as electoral competition and rivalries between political parties may deepen existing divisions, increasing the need to establish the ‘rules of the game' as a common platform recognized by all parties in the electoral process. The training program aims to build consensus among parties to address the problems caused by transposing democracy into a nation rife with conflict. McDonald added that effective democracy building programs must adjust their institutional models on a country-by-country basis.

Please find below a paper published by Mr. Alain Lempereur on post-conflict facilitation in both English and French, as well as a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation given during the event.


Hosted By

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more

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