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"Imbedding Non-Violence in The Ethos of a Conflicted Society: Training Burundi’s Youth in Conflict Resolution"

Tina Robiolle and Steve McDonald 

“This conflict resolution curriculum really comes at the right time and is necessary in times of war experienced by African countries, particularly Burundi. It is very important we work with schools as the students of today are the leaders of tomorrow.”
– A teacher trained by the BLTP

Executive Summary
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and its local partner, the Burundi Leadership Training Program, worked from 2002-2008 in helping to manage the Burundi transition from post-conflict to sustainable democratic governance through a project that brought together diverse leaders from across the political and socio-economic spectrum to build their collaborative capacities to implement the recovery agenda. Through workshops that imparted skills and tools in communications, problem solving and negotiations, and built trust and relationships that recognized the interdependence of the former antagonists, the program has had a major impact on stabilizing this former war-torn country. In 2009, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, and with funding from USAID, the Wilson Center and BLTP undertook a remarkable and innovative program to imbed this new “culture” of non-violent problem solving in the youth of Burundi by developing, testing, and producing a curriculum in conflict resolution for teaching in the secondary school system. As that project wraps up in late 2010, its impact on the almost 1,100 students who have undertaken it in the pilot school phase of the project, has proved to be very positive and there is a strong push by the Ministry of Education to integrate the curriculum into the national Civic Education Curriculum for the entire secondary school system. The Wilson Center and its partners are in negotiations with possible funding sources to make this possible.

When a country emerges from civil war and a long-running internecine conflict, there are many challenges to the creation of a lasting peace. Burundi presented a perfect case study of this assertion in 2000. After almost 30 years of genocide, inter-communal massacres, and civil war, the Arusha Peace Accords were signed that year between the opposition political parties, some of the combatant groups and the national government. Despite a number of deficiencies, including the fact that several significant rebel groups were not signatories, the Accords succeeded in halting the civil war, putting in place transitional institutions of governance (Presidency, National Assembly, and Senate) and setting in motion a process and guidelines for a democratic transition. By November 2003, except for the FNL of Agathon Rwasa, the other armed movements who were not signatories of Arusha had signed a cease fire and were participating to varying degrees in these transitional institutions. In 2005, democratic elections were held and a majority Hutu president elected, who served a full term (the first to do so), and was reelected in 2010. So, institutionally, Burundi seems to have progressed well. 

But, from the very beginning, the challenge has been how to make these Institutions work effectively. If the individuals who lead the government are not able to cooperate and collaborate, the objectives of those institutions cannot be met. Coming out of any conflict, there are four imperatives that are common to any society in that position. Leaders are unable to pursue democracy, development and economic recovery because:

• They have formed a “winner take all” mentality and do not recognize their interdependence with and, therefore, the need to include opposition leaders;
• Trust has been shattered and relationships torn apart by the conflict; 
• Communication and negotiation skills have broken down and there is no constructive mode of discourse; and,
• There is no consensus on the way in which power will be shared and decisions made. 

To address this challenge, in 2002, Howard Wolpe, former U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and Steve McDonald, both consultants to the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS), and later to lead that Program, launched the Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP). Wolpe and McDonald, both had lengthy experience in peace processes around Africa, Northern Ireland, and Brazil. Wolpe, specifically, had been deeply involved in the negotiation of the Arusha Accords, and McDonald had worked in Burundi in 1994 to support the election process.

The BLTP, funded from the outset by the World Bank's Post Conflict Fund and the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) / US Agency for International Development (USAID), was created by Wolpe and McDonald as a local NGO to manage and implement the work they proposed on rebuilding trust, relationships, negotiation and communication skills, consensus on governance, and a sense of collaboration, cohesion and interdependence among key leaders in Burundi. The immediate goal was to build a network of key leaders to manage Burundi’s reconstruction. To do this, the organizers needed to identify a group of no more that 100 key Burundian leaders, drawn from across the political spectrum and fully representative of the ethnic, regional, gender, religious, and socio-economic diversity of the country. Wolpe and McDonald spent three months preparing the project by meeting with Burundians from this target group to ask them to nominate their fellow country men and women who they felt were essential for shaping Burundi’s future, for better or worse.

Once selected, this target group was invited to take part in a series of workshops focused on imparting a broad range of leadership skills: conflict analysis, communications, negotiations, visioning, group problem-solving, team-building, strategic planning, and the management of organizational change. The process was structured to sensitize all participants to the need to redress the structural imbalances that give rise to a sense of grievance and conflict that impede sustainable progress. The training process, based loosely on the Harvard Negotiations Project’s Interest-Based Negotiations, helps rebuild trust, collaboration, and communication through hands-on learning. It is not a didactic or lecture process, but uses interactive exercises, simulations, and role-playing—all designed to enable the participants to learn and build upon their existing skills. Partnering in this initiative with the WWICS were ESSEC Institute of Research and Education on Negotiation in Europe (IRENE) and CMPartners of Boston.

The success of the BLTP in building cohesion, confidence and collaborative capacity within these mixed leadership groups operating in diverse institutional settings led to several requests to expand the work. In response, a number of spin-off activities that were not part of the original World Bank-funded proposal were implemented, funded by the European Community and the UK Department for International Development. These activities included workshops in 2004 with the Ceasefire Commission, the Commission to create the new integrated Burundian army command, and the UN Joint Liaison Teams (comprised of mixed groups of ex-combatants and UN Observers) which managed the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration process; workshops with the heads of Burundi’s multiple political parties in the lead-up to the Constitutional Referendum and elections of 2005; a workshop organized after those elections with the newly elected government at the request of President Pierre Nkurunziza, to include him, his new Cabinet, key presidential aides, and top parliamentary leaders; a workshop in 2006 for the parliamentary leaders; from 2005 until March 2008, a series of focused workshops on the integration and leadership development of the high commands of both the new national army and police; and, finally, a key leaders workshop in September 2007, when the executive and legislative branches had reached an impasse, to bring together all four living former presidents, and opposition party and parliamentary leaders.

Wolpe and McDonald had purposefully focused this project and the work of the BLTP on national level leaders because they felt that peace processes go awry because the individual leaders tasked with their implementation do not know how to work together, nor do they have the skills, tools and experience to do so. Also, these leaders are capable of returning a country to violence should they become disgruntled with the process or feel excluded from it. At the same time, Wolpe and McDonald realized that there were other sectors of society that had to buy into a non-violent approach to conflict resolution if sustainable peace were to be obtained. These sectors include grassroots level leaders, and, with the help of USAID’s OTI, they were able to launch a community based leadership training program in two key provinces from 2004-2006. They also realized that until the youth were engaged and had imbedded in their consciousness the practice of seeking non-violent solutions to problems, then none of these efforts would result in permanent peace. The way people think about and interact with each other, the very essence of a country’s social health, had to be transformed. The culture has to change. That can only happen if you begin with the youngest members of that society.

Wolpe and McDonald had included youth leaders in their first groups of “key leaders” that took part in the first trainings in 2003-04. In fact, they had consulted with their original funders at the World Bank to extend this training to the education sector, but this had not come to fruition in the first years. But, they realized that this dream of changing the culture of young Burundians would not happen unless this conflict resolution training was made a part of the curriculum that all secondary school children received. 

Providentially, during the workshop in 2005 with the President and his Cabinet, Dr. Wolpe had an opportunity to speak with the then Minister of Education, who agreed with this premise. But it was not until 2008, that McDonald, who now headed the Wilson Center program, and BLTP Director, Fabien Nsengimana, were able to reach agreement with the government of Burundi. The Minister of Education formally agreed to support this program in order to complement efforts already underway within the Ministry of Education to promote citizenship and human rights education at the secondary school level. As the Minister stated “the schools can become the incubation unit of a new culture in Burundi; one without violence and one [that privileges] dialogue”. He asked WWICS and BLTP to concretize the proposal and seek funding support. 

Building the Capacity of Burundi’s Future Leaders
Youth (ages 7-19 years) comprise more than 32% of Burundi’s fast growing population and they are potentially volatile and easily manipulated. Inheriting a country still beset with division and uneven resource distribution, Burundi’s youth have, in the past, served as flashpoints of violence and were often manipulated by political factions to be their “enforcers.” Schools were often the sources of the recruitment of child soldiers and served as the incubators of ethnic polarization and outbreaks of inter-communal violence during the war. In the future, they will be at the forefront of the transition from post-conflict peace consolidation to sustainable economic development. They will be the agents of change as they grow into adulthood. The need to engage them in learning a new culture in response to conflict is, as the American slang saying goes, “a slam dunk.” 

With the Minister of Education’s support, the WWICS applied for a grant from USAID East Africa for a program called “Building the Capacity of Burundi’s future Leaders,” and was awarded the funding in December 2008. WWICS was the prime contractor with fiscal and oversight responsibility, but the project was to be implemented by Nsengimana and his staff at the BLTP with the assistance of two experienced international consultants, to both develop the curriculum and conduct the training for and testing of the curriculum. Chosen as consultants were Elizabeth McClintock and Tina Robiolle. McClintock, currently a PhD candidate at Fletcher School and a founding partner of CMPartners conflict management specialists, had worked with WWICS over the previous six year as the lead facilitator in its work with Burundian leaders. Robiolle, a professional conflict resolution trainer from France, but now based in San Francisco, California, had also worked with the WWICS as a facilitator in 2005-07 on the leadership project when she was associated with ESSEC/IRENE of Paris.

The main goal of the program was to create a conflict resolution curriculum that would be integrated into the Ministry’s civic education course for the entire country. Students would learn how to view conflict differently, not only to manage conflicts but also to prevent them through improved communication and problem solving skills.

The program had three main components. First, was the reinforcement of relationships amongst the main stakeholders – teachers’ unions, parliamentarians and Education Ministry’s key officials – through a training module on building collaborative capacity as they would be involved together in the curriculum development and evaluation and needed to develop a “team” concept. Second was the development of the curriculum itself. Through interviews with teachers, students, unions and Ministry’s officials, consultations with education experts at UNESCO and other international school systems, and an extensive research effort on existing conflict resolution programs, the needs of all concerned were identified and models of successful school conflict resolution examined. This resulted in two products – a teacher’s manual and a student guidebook. The third component was a training program in the methodology, facilitation approach and content of the curriculum. Twenty teachers from ten schools were chosen to be part of a pilot program (with emphasis placed on the tenth grade), and these 20, plus 4 Education Ministry officials, were trained to teach the curriculum. The curriculum was then “vetted” in these pilot schools, which yielded further feedback on the teaching materials that was integrated into the original version. 

The Curriculum
The curriculum is organized around five core lessons:

• Awareness of the impact of preconditioning on conflict; 
• Perceptions of different groups of the same reality;
• Communications;
• Effective conflict management through an analytical framework; and,
• Problem solving skills.

These lessons are closely related to each other but they are taught in sequence and build progressively on each other. 

The first lesson teaches students that the way they respond to a conflict situation is dictated by their past perceptions of others, assumptions of behavior and intent of others, and habits and cultural biases imbued by parents and communities. It emphasizes the idea that conflicts are natural, but it is the way a conflict is managed that makes it positive or negative. Three conflict management methods are presented and analyzed and students come to realize that fighting or fleeing are not the only ways to manage a conflict. 

The second lesson is designed to teach students the existence, origins and importance of perceptions and preconceptions in their relationships with others. The students are encouraged to analyze their own perceptions and also try to understand and take into account the perceptions of others. In order to do so, dialogue and discussion are presented as essential.

The link is then easy to make to the third lesson, which is dedicated to communication and its crucial role in conflict management. Communication tools are presented and students are invited to practice techniques like active listening in order to develop their communication skills.

The fourth lesson presents an analytical framework inspired by the same interest-based approach used in the national leadership training, which helps students analyze conflictual or problematic situations, and choose a method to manage these situations. The difference between positions and interests is explained, students are also encouraged to be creative and productive in the development of solutions that can satisfy the interests at stake by using brainstorming techniques (i.e. put all options on the table).

Finally, the fifth lesson presents a simple problem-solving tool of an alternative way of solving difficult situations and issues. It underlines the importance of starting by defining the problem and analyzing its possible causes before considering any solutions. 

BLTP’s mandate was to develop a conflict resolution curriculum for the three grades of high school. Therefore the curriculum has been divided in three parts, one for the 10th grade, a second for the 11th grade and a third for the 12th grade. These five lessons are found in each of these three segments. Their content increases in difficulty as the grades ascend. 

A teacher's manual and a student manual are been developed for each class. In the teacher's manual, each session includes:

• An introduction for the teacher, explaining the context and purpose of the exercise in question;
• Detailed instructions on how to conduct the exercises; and,
• A synthesis of the key lessons that can be drawn from the session. 

The first challenge faced when creating the teaching materials for the curriculum was to respect the current scheduling of classes in secondary schools in Burundi. Currently, the schools’ daily class schedule is organized around 45-minute sessions. Each session is dedicated to a separate subject. Moreover, the civic education program is only taught once a week. Therefore, the time allowed to this subject per week is only 45 minutes. But, it gets worse as that is the entire civic education program, which is divided into seven existing components, including human values, human rights, education for peace, sexuality and reproductive health, international humanitarian law, environmental education, and the foundations of power and democracy. The conflict resolution theme has to be fitted into this already over crowded civic education program.

This time constraint represented a special challenge for the BLTP team because BLTP’s national leadership workshops usually lasting three to five consecutive days. The benefit of the longer time frame is that the trainers can build on lessons session by session, taking a skill or tool from one session to apply to the next challenge presented to the participants. That means the key lessons are vivid in their minds and they can easily relate to them. In secondary schools, there is no possibility to teach only one subject during a particular week. Therefore, each lesson of the conflict resolution curriculum has to be designed fit into the 45 minute session. Because the pace of the lesson is slowed when applied to a school setting – only once a week - the time available has to be shared with a review of past lessons to make sure that the students remember the tools and skills and can relate to them. 

Testing and Approving the Curriculum

The teaching materials were successfully tested in September 2009. As mentioned above, 20 teachers, who had been trained in the curriculum, were deployed to 10 schools, located around the country, and taught the curriculum to approximately 1066 students, broken down almost evenly between girls and boys. 

An evaluation questionnaire was distributed to each teacher and each student who participated to the test, as well as to the broader stakeholder group of Ministry officials. Over 1600 questionnaires were analyzed thanks to the help of a team from the Ministry of Education. 

The teachers said in the questionnaires that they appreciated the teaching methodology used. They thought that teaching the lessons of this curriculum in the beginning of the school year was essential as they consider that the tools taught would be useful not only for the other themes of the civic education program but also for other subjects.

The students expressed a great interest in the topics and the exercises that have been proposed. Some students even suggested that they would like to see this curriculum introduced in all schools of the country. They also expressed occasional difficulty in understanding some expressions used as they were in French, the language used for teaching in secondary schools and in which the curriculum was developed. Some students do not speak or understand French. Finally, some students expressed a need to participate more which was not always possible considering the size of their class.

Indeed, during the pilot phase, the main difficulty in teaching this curriculum was overcrowded classrooms. In many Burundian schools, the average number of students per class reaches sixty. It is not unusual to find teachers struggling with more than one hundred students. Therefore the curriculum has been adapted to reflect this fact.

All feedbacks were taken into account and the teaching materials were reviewed in October and November 2009.

In December 2009, during an official meeting with the Ministry of Education, the curriculum was presented by the BLTP and validated by the Ministry for use in the three grades of high school. It was decided that it should become the introduction of the national civic education course. At the request of the Minister and the education officials, the BLTP was not only asked to extend the program to every high school but also to develop a similar curriculum for the middle and primary schools and for out-of-school children. 

In order to address the Minister’s first request, the Wilson Center and the BLTP developed a proposal for a two-year program that they are seeking to get funded. The stated goals are 1) to train two teachers in every high school by September 2012 on the content of the civic education course, and 2) to develop and print a single document for the national civic education course that will fully integrate BLTP’s conflict resolution curriculum as the introduction. 

In fact, prior to incorporating the conflict resolution module into the national curriculum, much work needs to be done. First, even though the existing seven themes of the civic education course were developed in 2005 by several organizations which included UNESCO and ICRC, there has been no coordinated training of teachers on these various themes. As a result, only a few teachers were trained at all and almost none received training on all the themes. Moreover, no single document which incorporates the civic education themes has been made available to the schools yet; and due to a lack of financial resources, only a few copies of the teaching materials can be found at the headquarters of the Ministry. In fact, there is currently no electronic version of the national civic education curriculum, so it will have to be input into a computer program, printed and copied for distribution in the school system. As new contributors to the civic education course, the Wilson Center and the BLTP believe they should bring these organizations around a table with the Ministry of Education and work on joining their efforts in order to give the teachers and students access to the full content of this important course.

The teacher training and the final document that will be a result of this proposal will include the whole content of the civic education course as it has a great potential for peace education in general. Indeed, the Wilson Center and the BLTP have observed that this course suffers from a lack of coordination among the various actors involved in its implementation and are convinced there are interesting synergies to explore. 

First evaluation of the Impacts of the Conflict Resolution Curriculum

Six months after the pilot phase, under the existing USAID grant, the BLTP had the opportunity to train sixty additional teachers and to follow up with the pilot schools’ teachers. Their feedback indicated that the curriculum is having a positive impact.

First, there is an effect on the students themselves. The teachers observed improved attitudes toward conflict as students become better skilled at nonviolent problem solving and communication. Prior to learning these techniques, many students were afraid to answer questions, for fear of being wrong or being ridiculed. Thanks to the brainstorming technique used in the curriculum, which fosters a greater acceptance of their answers, the students feel more at ease participating. This was observed in all areas of school studies. Moreover, outside of the classroom, students started using the terms and tools of the curriculum amongst themselves. Now when there are tensions in the school, these students belong to the group who seeks a solution through dialogue.

Another sign of the interest raised by this curriculum is the fact that students from other classes which were not part of the test, asked about attending this course after having heard about it. Moreover, there was a strike in the schools during the pilot phase. Teachers were not working and most of the students were at home. Even so, the teachers trained for this curriculum decided to follow through with presenting the course and their students were so interested in the content that they attended every session.

The second impact observed was a change in the relationship between teachers and students which affected positively the classroom climate. The teachers have traditionally been taught that they should have an answer to every question. If they did not know how to answer a student’s question, they put off the response until later. One teacher realized that before using the participative method offered in the curriculum, when a student did not give the right answer, the teacher tended to dismiss him or her. This teacher explained that now he listens to the answers to his question and tries to guide the students in response, often reframing his question for better understanding. 

Another example of this impact is seen in a story related by one teacher. He explained that there was a student who had an important issue with some other students. He went to see the school director but was not satisfied with his answer. He then thought of organizing a hunger strike, but before doing so, he went to see this teacher – who did not even teach in his classroom. This teacher listened as the student described the situation and the option he was considering. The teacher reviewed the options with him and showed him that a hunger strike was not a good alternative as it would not satisfy his interests and could get him expelled from school. He explained other options that might be available and the student calmed down. This mediation was successful as the issue was resolved. Thanks to the content and method used in this curriculum, the students are more at ease to communicate with the teachers as they consider them more open minded and potential mediators.

Another impact was that the teachers reported an improvement in the academic results of the students of these pilot classes. Apparently, this conflict resolution curriculum seems to have an impact on the grades of the students in the other areas of school studies. They have more concentration and show a greater interest in the classroom. One teacher explained that before the test, the tenth grade students were the ones with the weakest results in the school. Now, according to this teacher, these students obtain better results than the students of the other grades and they are the most interesting students to work with. 

We credit much of the program’s achievements to these two essential elements: the Burundian teachers' wholehearted motivation; and the effective collaboration between key contacts at the Ministry of Education and the BLTP. 

Postscript: Hope for the Future

Howard Wolpe said in 2006, "the BLTP is designed to be a long-term process. We hope and expect that BLTP participants, for years to come, will collaborate with one another in stabilizing the Burundian transition and in guiding the country's post-war economic, social and political reconstruction" . With this new program targeted at youth, the BLTP is achieving its principal mission more than ever. It is not only necessary for a post-conflict recovery process but it will also help to imbed conflict prevention capacities in the demographic that will assume the mantle of Burundi’s future, the youth. Working with youth is really fulfilling as they represent the future of a country and the positive impacts of the program are already being felt. The next step is to strategically coordinate among all the peace-building organizations involved in order to make sure that these efforts will be coherent and sustained. 

There is a great hope that youth will develop a new way of thinking and seeing conflict, a new behavior that will give them the ability to work better together and enjoy a sustainable peace and development in their country, Burundi.

Seeds of Peacebuilding: The Burundi Leadership Training Program

The aforementioned initiatives and workshops have resulted in a number of identifiable and significant breakthroughs for all the participants.

Meeting of January 25th, 2008, with the Minister of Education, Saidi Kibeya.

Based on Tina Robiolle’s personal involvement in this initiative as a researcher, facilitator and trainer of trainers.