Solving Ethnic Tension with Dialogue in the DR of Congo: Steve Grachet


“These Tutsi are provoking us!” exclaimed farmer after farmer to Steve Grachet, deep in the countryside of the DRC.  Steve was there with a dialogue team from Resolve Network to address a conflict which was about resources on the surface, but with a deep undercurrent of racism and ethnic tensions.

Herders, mostly Tutsi, for whom cows are an important source of wealth, didn’t have enough grazing land for their numerous beasts.  So they let the cows eat the crops of neighboring farmers, who were minority Hutus.  The farmers responded by killing the cows or confiscating them until their owner paid for the damages the animals had caused.

Underneath this conflict is a long history of ethnic violence.  The country had been through the Rwandan genocide and two wars.  “After the war,” Steve told Peacemaker 360, “each community tried to organize themselves by creating self-defense groups.  Those turned into bandit movements, thus maintaining confusion between communities.  Each of these groups was assimilated into a specific ethnic group; May-May for Nande, Nyatura for Hutu, and m23 cndp for Tutsi.  Hence, this situation has led to stereotypes which have led to violent retaliation by each group towards each of the communities.”

To address this conflict, Steve and the dialogue team talked to both the farmers and the herders about how violence operates in a vicious cycle, re-creating itself and leading to more problems.  They also introduced the concept of restorative justice, which focuses on reparations and restoring relationships, rather than punishment for its own sake.  Restorative justice can help people get out of cycles of retaliation.  It was difficult, but his team managed to show these long-term enemies the benefits of living together, and showed them how if they coexist, all of their lives could improve.

“The most important lesson is there is not development without coexistence because it is inside diversity that you profit from each other’s gifts.  For example, we know Hutus are farmers, Tutsis are herders, and Nandes are traders.  This means Hutus need meat and milk, Tutsis need legumes, and Tutsis and Hutus all need products that the Nande trade.”  Everyone needs the others, Steve emphasized.  “That is why it is important for you all to coexist if you want development and peace.”

One of the hardest parts of running these dialogues is the lack of trust he encounters when he and his team come into a new area as a strangers.  “Sometimes people don’t trust foreigners.  They are so shy,” he told us.  His solution?  To start out as an observer, patiently learning the history of the conflict from the people involved before he tries to initiate change.

It is not easy to challenge prevailing cultural norms, but Steve’s advice to other activists or would-be activists is to try to give yourself the benefit of the doubt and recognize your capacity instead of focusing on your limitations.  If you show your oppressor you are strong, they will consider you strong, he said.  If he could reach back in time and give advice to his younger self, he would say, “Never give up, and try again even if things seem difficult or impossible.”

Steve may be reached by email at Grachets@gmail.com, on LinkedIn as Steve Grachet, and on Facebook as Steve Melho Grachet.

 

By Peacemaker 360/Maija Jespersen

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