In June 2010, AFSC Burundi organised a regional conference on mediating elections-related conflicts in Bujumbura. The three-day conference brought together participants from Benin, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe to dialogue and exchange on the causes and flashpoints of elections-related conflicts and on strategies and approaches for mediating electoral disputes.
Over the three-day event, participants representing independent electoral commissions, the judiciary, civil society, political parties, former diplomats and professional mediators heard different case studies from countries that have experienced contentious elections, the strategies adopted to avoid violent conflict in the post-elections phase (as in the case of Ghana and Benin) and to hear the lessons learnt from those countries where preventive mediation failed and violence ensued (as was the case in Kenya and Zimbabwe).
The need for building capacity in mediating elections-related conflicts is acute in many Africa countries, particularly in Burundi as the current political deadlock attests. With this conference, AFSC was able to create space within a highly charged climate for protagonists to enhance their understanding of the causes of electoral disputes, the different mechanisms for arbitrating and mediating such conflicts in other African countries in a politically neutral and safe environment.
Academics, religious leaders, diplomats and a former Head of State sat side-by-side with members of the ruling party, grass-roots Quaker mediators, opposition party members and the electoral commission to discuss the particular challenges and opportunities in Burundi to use mediation as an alternative mechanism for resolving the electoral conflict that is currently threatening the peace, security and democratic progress that the country has made since the ceasefire agreement that brought to an end its thirteen-year civil war that claimed over 300,000 lives.
In the words of Former Burundian President, Pierre Buyouya “this is a very important seminar and it comes are the right moment. Sometimes we do not see immediate results, but I believe debate and training is extremely important and we need to continue doing this.” Similarly, the Executive Representative for the Secretary General of the UN in Burundi, Charles Petrie stated in his opening remarks that “this conference comes at an opportune moment for Burundi”.
Although this conference was not intended to mediate the current situation in Burundi, the fact that so many actors in the dispute came together to dialogue openly about the mandate, role and challenges that mediators face during elections-related conflicts was already a step forward and enhances the current debate and capacity for mediation. As one Burundian participant said; “I have gained a perfect understanding of the crux of the problem (elections-related conflicts) and I see that we still have leaders or other experienced people who can undertake this kind of mediation. All of this can help me to make an effort to one day be such a man on whom we can count.”
Mediating elections-related conflicts before, during and after elections becomes a crucial means for resolving electoral disputes but also for addressing the root causes of these conflicts. Particularly, Burundi is in need of experienced and dedicated mediators, not only to provide support in the current state of affairs but also to heal the relationships and address the issues that are at the root of the current conflict. Through dialogue, exchange and on-going training and support, AFSC is enabling Burundians to release this potential within themselves and to find lasting peace and reconciliation for their country.
Cathrin Daniel, Capacity Building Program Officer