Sentama, E. (2020). Co-operatives and reconciliation after violent conflicts: Lessons from post-genocide Rwanda. In Sara Elder, Isobel M. Findlay, Judith Harris, Fiona Duguid, & M. Derya Tarhan (Eds.), Review of International Co-operation (pp. 46-62). International Cooperative Alliance.
Background & Theory
This article explores the impact that a cooperative might have toward reconciliation after conflict (in this case specifically, after violent conflict). “Co-operative” is used in this article under the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) guidelines, and generally refers to an organization formed by multiple groups to discover and discuss their shared needs and goals.
Sentama, in “Co-operatives and reconciliation after violent conflicts: Lessons from post-genocide Rwanda” (2020), seeks to address the following questions:
- How might a co-operative help achieve reconciliation, especially following violent conflict?
- How does a co-operative impact the people and groups involved?
The author performed this study by interviewing members of two co-operatives: the Peace basket cooperative and the Abahuzamugambi coffee cooperative. The Peace basket cooperative had a total of 38 participants and all participated in this study. The Abahuzamugambi coffee cooperative had over 2,000 members, and a total of 150 participated in this study. The study included both female and male members and focused on two aspects: that of the Genocide survivors (62 participants) and that of the Genocide perpetrators (126 participants). The interview sessions focused on evaluating, from their perspectives, how people felt about the outgroup before joining the co-operative, why they joined the cooperative, and how (if at all) it changed their perspectives and relationships.
The members of the cooperative indicated that most of them joined the cooperative to provide for their families. Most joined while still having reservations/guilt/anger/hate toward each other, but needed work to do and a cooperative was the best way for a lot of them. They worked alongside each other, and while it seemed many did not join for the purpose of reconciling, this happened throughout their time serving together in this way. Now, most reported that they were very close to each other and helped ease not only financial burdens, but the trauma, pain, and loneliness they all felt in some way or another.
What This Means
- Co-operatives are an effective way to build reconciliation among those in conflict, even violent conflict, and even if not initially intended to do so.
- This provides a unique perspective that two groups in conflict can reconcile even without third party intervention, so long as both sides eventually come to a willingness to do so.
- One of the most important takeaways is that co-operatives are organized and lead by two or more groups and are founded on the basis of equality and often include working toward a shared goal. These unique factors help move things in a positive direction, which in this case resulted in reconciliation, forgiveness, and acknowledgement of wrongdoings from all involved.
For consultants: Consider how we might encourage those involved in intergroup conflict to be willing to work together, even once mediation ends. This could be the key to long-term peace.
For everyone: Being open to other perspectives and willing to see people as our equals, even when they have wronged us, can help us reach reconciliation in the midst of our conflicts.