The gods are angry
....There are more than 2,000 African ethnic groups but despite the incredible diversity there are striking commonalities among them. Whereas Western jurisprudence emphasizes punishing the guilty, the widespread African tradition stresses restitution and reconciliation or "restorative justice"—the basis of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions established after the dismantling of Apartheid.
Africa's economic heritage featured free village markets. There were rudimentary free markets in Timbuktu, Kano, Salaga, Onitsa, Mombasa and elsewhere before the advent of the colonial era.
Whereas the West practiced majoritarian, or representative, democracy, ancient Africans practiced participatory democracy, where decisions were taken by consensus at village meetings variously called asetena kese by the Ashanti, ama-ala by the Igbo, guurti by the Somali, dare by the Shona, ndaba by the Zulu or kgotla by the Tswana.
Gacaca: A successful experiment in restorative justice?
....The twofold reparative function of restorative justice is, however, crucial and so the extent to which gacaca’s emphasis on ‘truth-telling’ realised its desired outcome is subject to debate. To draw on Johnstone’s conception of restorative justice once again, the fact that gacaca failed to offer something positive, in the form of compensation, to meet the needs of the victims meant part of its reparative function was undermined.
You cannot compare apples to oranges: Ubushingantahe vs. criminal justice
Conflict resolution in Burundi was halted for decades due to the ongoing ethnic strife between the Hutus and the Tutsis. As the Burundian civil war continued, a British based organization named ActionAid helped to rebuild customary institutions that were destroyed by the conflict, and the Bashingantahe council, known also as Ubushingantahe, was one.
However, in 2000, the passage of the Arusha Accord settled the civil war, brought about peace negotiations, and formally recognized the Ubushingantahe as a conciliatory judicial mechanism.
Winning the invisible conflict: Is Sri Lanka headed for sustainable peace?
....So what exactly is restorative justice? According to Dr Howard Zehr, my Professor of Restorative Justice at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at the Eastern Mennonite University, restorative justice ‘involves those who have a stake in a specific offence collectively identifying and addressing harms, needs and obligations, in order to heal and put things right’. It requires recognition of the people who have been hurt, and what they need (in order to alleviate that hurt).
Similarly, it recognizes who has an obligation for causing that hurt, and what process can be put in place to make things right. It brings two parties together in the understanding that unless and until the truth has been told, however unpalatable it might be, in the open and forgiveness sought, there can never be any reconciliation. This is true whether it be two individuals, two factions, two communities, two ethnicities/cultures or two countries.
Justice, reconciliation and peacebuilding: Seen through African eyes
In 2000 the Catholic Diocese of Damongo in collaboration with the Catholic Relief Services started a peace project to build local capacity for justice-building, reconciliation and peace-building. In the course of my work I had to deal with the issue of the relevance of a Western style peace-building in African conflicts. Why not use the African traditional systems of conflict resolution? Implicit in these statements is the assumption that the Western style is foreign and in effective. African traditional systems work better in an African setting. African conflicts, African solutions. At the international level, indigenous and traditional practices of peace-building are regarded as unaccountable, opague and contradictory to the “enlightened” intentions of Western form of peacebuilding (liberal Peace) and internationally sponsored post war reconstruction efforts.
Promoting international support for community-based justice mechanisms in post-conflict Burundi and Uganda
Those who committed crimes in the long wars in Burundi and Uganda are wanted by both the national and international criminal court system, but very little attention is given to peacebuilding, reconciliation, or restoration of the communities destroyed by violence. For example, the reconciliation process of mato oput, an Acholi tradition in northern Uganda, and the Ubushingantahe in Burundi, uniquely achieve justice and healing of the concerned parties in a way that a formal justice system cannot. These methods of restorative justice emphasize community-building and the need to reconcile an entire society after conflict.
To complete this project, interviews with both victims and perpetrators of crime, as well as implementers of restorative justice programs were conducted in Burundi and Uganda. Using this local perspective, the paper elevates the need for international recognition and support for restorative justice mechanisms in post-conflict communities in Africa. Civil society has an important role to play in elevating awareness of these traditions and practices, and the U.S. government can enhance restorative justice through both leverage and funding. Ultimately, it is imperative that Western governments and citizens around the world perceive restorative justice as a legitimate and much-needed form of justice.
Gacaca's end and its legacy
The Rwandan government announced today that it will stop taking new gacaca cases as of July 31st and that it intends to wind down gacaca operations within five months. Gacaca is a traditional local justice procedure (gacaca roughly means “justice on the grass” in Kinyarwanda) that the government modified to process the staggering number of low-level genocide cases and help reconcile perpetrators with their communities. Starting in 2002, the Rwandans began operating a system of more than 10,000 gacaca courts. Regardless of what one may think about its merits, the gacaca experience has represented a Herculean task with hundreds of thousands of cases processed in the past few years. In the words of Lars Waldorf, it was mass justice for mass atrocity. But was it successful? I was asked today on the BBC World Service (interview starts at the 18:53 mark) about gacaca’s legacy and I noted that it was mixed.