Summary of "The Time Dimension in Peacebuilding: The Case of Rwanda"

Summary of

The Time Dimension in Peacebuilding: The Case of Rwanda

By John Prendergast

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: John Prendergast, "The Time Dimension in Peacebuilding: The Case of Rwanda," sect. in Building Peace, by John Paul Lederach, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1997), pp. 170-177.

Prendergast analyzes international intervention in the conflict in Rwanda using Lederach's models of conflict and peacebuilding. In 1994 the Rwandan government embarked on a campaign of domestic genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fled the country as refugees. While the international community was still debating whether to intervene, rebel forces rallied and overthrew the genocidal Rwandan regime. Supporters of the deposed genocidal government fled into the same refugee camps which housed their would-be victims. Although the genocide was ended, the new government still faces serious difficulties.

In Lederach's view, peacebuilding should recognize four overlapping time frames. First is immediate action to intervene in a crisis. Next is short-range planning which should focus on training and preparation to address the conflict at hand. Peacebuilding activities should respond to longer range plans, focusing on producing desired social changes over the next decade, and finally over the next generation. Prendergast argues that poorly conceived short-term peacebuilding interventions have exacerbated Rwanda's long-term difficulties. First, the international community failed utterly to prevent or stop the Rwandan genocide. The international community mounted a massive relief project to aid the Rwandan refugees in neighboring countries. However, these aid programs failed to distinguish between the victims and supporters of the genocidal regime. Aid programs neglected the population still inside Rwanda. Moreover, some of the nations now housing refugees had supported the genocidal regime in Rwanda. Prendergast argues that, in their immediate response, "humanitarian agencies furnished aid that, though it saved lives, reinforced the authority structures of the perpetrators of genocide."[p. 171]

In the short-term, the new government's most important task is to break the cycle of impunity by identifying and prosecuting those responsible for the genocide. The UN has convened an International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda, but that tribunal has been slowed by the lack of resources and authority. Delays in arrests and indictments have allowed many criminals to escape or disappear. Rwanda's own national genocide trials have proceeded much more rapidly. Rwanda has been rapidly rebuilding its judicial institutions. Peacebuilding interventions in this phase should focus on assisting this rebuilding process with training programs.

Planning over the next decade should focus on social change. Prendergast describes a number of current projects focused on promoting positive social change. Many agencies have offered psychosocial trauma care, especially to the many orphaned and abandoned children in Rwanda. Though many of their initial models for diagnosis and treatment were flawed or unrealistic, the agencies appear to be learning and revising their approaches. A variety of organizations have offered workshops and conferences on social healing, and on conflict management. The new Rwandan government has also sponsored such workshops. Organizations within Rwanda are developing local peace committees, and peace education programs.

Long-term peacebuilding must focus on structural change (although planning at every phase should be consistent with these long term goals). In the case of Rwanda, structural adjustments must address the control and distribution of resources, especially of arable land, and methods of political power sharing. Long term regional planning is needed to address the current, problematic national boundaries in the Great Lakes region. Ill-drawn boundaries have led to ethnic unrest in Rwanda's neighboring states also.