The Abunzi Mediation in Rwanda: Opportunities for Engaging with Traditional Institutions of Conflict Resolution

"This Policy & Practice Brief analyses the role of traditional institutions for conflict resolution, paying special attention to their relevance in post-conflict societies. Using Rwanda’s abunzi mediation system as an example, the brief considers traditional African mechanisms for conflict resolution as unique, context- specific, and responsive to the justice needs of societies emerging from conflict. The brief draws attention to synergies between the modern and the traditional by highlighting how traditional institutions have sometimes complemented the state, which is often too overwhelmed and under-resourced to be able to offer timely and effective justice. The abunzi mediation is part of the Rwandan justice system, whose restorative approach helps people to address their conflicts without resorting to litigation and other retributive approaches. While acknowledging these benefits, the brief also highlights some challenges of the abunzi system, and particularly cautions against too much state oversight in community-driven conflict resolution processes. For true local ownership of justice, the brief advocates diminished state interference in the affairs and processes of the abunzi. The brief further makes recommendations on how to enhance the functionality and relevance of abunzi to the present day realities of the post-conflict state of Rwanda."