In 1994, the ethnic Hutu extremists in Rwanda initiated a genocidal attempt against Tutsis and other minorities and slaughtered over 800,000 in just 100 days. The captured and imprisoned perpetrators were later released back to their own home communities; they returned to live in the same Rwandan villages among the surviving family members of the murdered victims. This living condition has caused enormous interethnic, social, and personal tensions and conflicts as well as high levels of resentment and hostility toward the offenders among the surviving victims, and anguish, remorse, and guilt among the ex-prisoners.
In a peace-building and ethnic conflict-preventing framework, Dr. Masa Minami (2014) has developed a method of fostering interpersonal reconciliation in previously war-torn communities and villages where risks of new or escalated interethnic conflicts and hostilities exist. This method is based on two main theories: (a) Japanese nature-oriented and action-based Morita therapy, and (b) contact theory in social psychology. The ABPRA’s principal strategy is to engage conflicted members of a community in regularly shared practical activities (i.e., tangible daily tasks such as clearing lands, harvesting and husking corn, sorting coffee beans, and producing bricks for building projects), in which former perpetrators volunteer their labour, as a personal expression of apology and regret, to fulfill their partnered victim survivors’ request for work over a fixed duration.
In this Moritian framework, no attempts are made to control or modify the participants’ feelings and attitudes toward each other (e.g., anger, guilt, hatred, ambivalence), nor are such demands or expectations placed on them throughout their program engagement. Social contact is sustained over time through shared work activities. Participants have opportunities afterwards to discuss their experiences and personal reflections in individual and joint interview sessions.
The current project extends Dr. Masa Minami’s pilot project by extending the number of working pairs to 150 (n=300) over a longer duration at multiple sites (eight villages) in Rwanda. This work is estimated to take at least six years to complete. It is hoped that this project will result in the development of a field-tested and evidence-based program protocol, stimulate both research and intervention work, and contribute to a wider and effective application of the ABPRA program for promoting reconciliation, peace, and conflict de-escalation in Rwanda and other countries.