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Richard Batsinduka and Integrative Peacebuilding

October 13, 2016

In the late 1990s, Richard Batsinduka worked closely with me in introducing Community-Based Conflict Resolution, as a form of peacebuilding, to Rwanda. He passed away in September, 2016, leaving a legacy of conflict transformation.

I first met Richard in 1996; at the time he was distraught over the loss of virtually all his extended family in the Rwandan genocide. He was highly motivated to take my two-day seminar on Reconciliation at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR), so much so, that he read Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by René Girard in preparation. Eventually he also took my other seminars, including Deep-Rooted Conflict. As he came to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the genocide, he started a process of inner healing.

Learning to become a Third Party Neutral training, as he did a one-year Residency at the CICR, Richard had an epiphany: “This training could work in Rwanda!” Given his passion, I thought to myself, “We have to make this work.” My first call was to Kendel Rust who had recently retired as a Director at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). “Kendel,” I said, “Richard Batsinduka needs a mentor to prepare a grant proposal for CIDA.” Kendel not only helped with the proposal to the Peacebuilding Unit (Susan Brown, the Head of the unit, approved it and with $50K we started the initiative) but also became a partner with Richard in Rwanda.

In the Summer of 1997, Richard went to Rwanda alone to put on two TPN trainings, ostensibly in English and French but in reality, mainly in Kinyarwanda. He gathered balanced groups for training, coming from key government departments, NGOs, and churches. There was a gender balance as well as a balance between Hutus and Tutsis. The training worked its magic, breaking down barriers and creating new relationships, Richard adapted it, quite naturally, to be culturally appropriate.

On the basis of Kendel’s evaluations, CIDA provided a half million dollars to continue the training, including a training of trainers to make TPN training sustainable.  We were privileged to have eight Rwandans come to Ottawa to become trainers. One of them, has been doing training at the university in Butare, and to my knowledge is continuing to this day. Another became an MP and helped to write the constitution for Rwanda. Another, from the association of unions, was very active in community reconciliation initiatives. Yet another had a mandate to train all the social workers (he sent me an e-mail a couple of years ago saying he was going to Kenya to study in a masters program; he wanted me to know that the seeds sown in the 90s “had not been in vain.”)

Early on, Richard convened a meeting of all the NGOs in Rwanda with an interest in conflict resolution. There were 27 of them. Never had they gathered together for a consultation.

Richard and I had a relationship of openness and respect. I could comfortably offer any ideas I had and he could just as comfortably respond, “That wouldn’t work in Rwanda,” when he saw that the ideas wouldn’t fit the culture.

After the Rwanda initiative, Richard found his place as a Conflict Management Practitioner in the Federal Government. Starting with the Department of National Defense, he served as a mediator, trainer, and coach in a number of Departments. At his funeral colleagues bore witness to his wise and gentle ways.

What does all this have to do with Integrative Peacebuilding (IPB)? First off, over the last six years I have been working with Padre Steve Moore and a team of trainers and scholar-practitioners on an Integrative Peacebuilding initiative that includes five graduate courses. It was launched as pilot project in September, the month of Richard’s passing. I will write more on this in future blogs. Now I wish to reflect on what I learned from my work with Richard, as it relates to IPB.

Culture is a complex aspect of human existence. Often those within a culture cannot put into words all the values, taboos, and behaviors that are important to them; however, they are very aware when someone goes against them. In this case, Richard knew Rwandan culture from the inside. In a myriad of subtle ways, he could make TPN training relevant in Rwanda through the very manner in which he did the training. He could also find a way of getting the right people into the training modules.

The combining of TPN training, which was heavily influenced by principles from Chinese philosophy through the developmental work of Bob Birt, with a Rwandan flavor, resulted in emergent creativity—something new, including new insights around the very nature of reconciliation. Here, as an aside, I must point out that Richard was an acknowledged expert in the Kinyarwanda language; fellow Rwandans marveled at the sophisticated translation. The word he used for reconciliation built on the root metaphor of straightening crooked sticks so there would be a free flow of positive energy—a great insight into what is needed in reconciliation processes.

The work of Richard showed how Government, local Non-Governmental Organizations, International NGOs, civil society, and grassroots could be brought together for a peacebuilding initiative funded by the Canadian Government. Our own collaboration, together with Kendel, showed the potential for trusting relationships and cultural creativity between Canadians of European heritage and Africans.

Richard’s creative work opened up adjacent possibilities (a key term linked to emergent creativity). He laid the groundwork for other initiatives in Africa, including Burundi with his friend Sylvere Kabwa from that country, and was an example for what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Vesna Dasovic-Markovic (another story).

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