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Local mediation committees spread democracy in Rwanda

University of Gothenburg


IMAGE: This is Innocent Ndahiriwe, University of Gothenburg. view more

Credit: Photo: Helena Svensson

Local mediation committees were established after the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when the ordinary courts were inundated with cases. The objective was to relieve the courts' handling of minor crimes. But it was also to create a tool to break the conflict spirals at an early stage that had previously characterised Rwandan society.

"My dissertation shows that this also works," says author Innocent Ndahiriwe.

In his doctoral thesis, he interviewed 380 people involved in mediations and himself attended 67 different mediation sessions.

"Conflicts between individuals or families are settled through the discussions in the committees where everyone has the opportunity to have their say. And it can involve conflicts that go as far back in time as the 1950s," he says.

The conflicts often concern who has the right to land. But Innocent Ndahiriwe's dissertation also shows that the conflicts have a very heterogeneous set of causes: employees who have not been paid by their employers, debts that have not been repaid, somebody who sold another person's property and used up the money, and so on.

The committees are comprised of people from the local population, who received special training in basic law. They summon witnesses and especially local elders who have knowledge of traditions and conditions far back in time.

"However, everyone interested is also welcome to participate in the mediations. And this openness has been an important factor for the successes of the committees," says Innocent Ndahiriwe.

One effect of the mediation committees besides conflict resolution is that there are now many with good leadership training throughout Rwanda. Knowledge of Rwanda's laws and civil rights has also been spread. This has especially strengthened the position of women in society.

"Many people I interviewed say that the mediation committees really contribute to conflict resolution and more democracy. This way, I believe, they are also a clear example of how state-building from the bottom up can take place," says Innocent Ndahiriwe.

This is not to say that the reform is problem free. In his dissertation, Innocent Ndahiriwe provides several pieces of advice to the Rwandan government about how the institution of the mediation committees can be improved. Above all, more resources are needed to build a necessary support from bureaucrats for the committees. Another problem is that many complain that they do not understand how the committees arrived at their decision despite the openness. Accusations of corruption in connection with the mediation sessions have also been lodged.

"In spite of this, the mediation committees are important tools for building a more democratic Rwanda," says Innocent Ndahiriwe.


More information

Dissertation title: State building in post conflict Rwanda. Citizen participation in local conflict mitigation

Author: Innocent Ndahiriwe, phone: +250 788 87 82 18, e-mail: or

The dissertation abstract is available for download at:

The dissertation is a part of a collaboration between the University of Gothenburg and the University of Rwanda, with the aim of strengthening academic research and education in Rwanda. The project is financed by Sida. For more information about the project, please contact Sara Blichfeldt, phone: +46-31-786 4311, e-mail:

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