A lot has been happening in the Great Lakes region these days. Along the Rwanda/ DR Congo border, tension is building over one General Laurent Nkunda . The story is all over the spaces.
In the recent weeks, there have been reports and counter reports over those who have been fuelling discontents in the fragile Congo. Big names have been mentioned, provoking angry responses and threats of sort. But that is not all.
In the same region, Rwanda’s preparations for the country’s Golden Jubilee are on high gear. But those headlines are not what attracted my attention, last week's closure of the impressive Gacaca did.
The courts, often cited as a great experiment on judicial systems, were one of the modern methods of justice delivery in Africa, illustrating how a contemporary world could draw from indigenous knowledge to solve its issues. And it worked a great deal, notwithstanding murmurs here and there.
According to the Rwandan Government website of the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, the system was set to fulfil a number of objectives, including: The reconstruction of what happened during the genocide; the speeding up of the legal proceedings by using as many courts as possible; the reconciliation of all Rwandans and building their unity.
What is it?
Gacaca (pronounced as ga-cha-cha) are village-based traditional courts that have proved more efficient way of justice delivery, especially in Africa where Western educated judges and magistrates have their challenges.
Unlike Western schooled courts that pit the two sides of argument against each other, Gacaca works towards effective reconciliation, not perks.
On a typical day, the traditional courts will gather a group of respected elders to hear different cases in the villages under a trees. After the 1994 genocide that threatened to rip Rwanda apart, even clear generations, Gacaca courts came in handy as an experimental way of delivering justice.
No posh city courtrooms, benches are adequate. No need for elaborate court procedures that often delay justice in many African countries; no need for legal representation that the elders would consider a way of clever deceptions, something that human rights activists have been up in arms against.
Based on the traditional system that has worked for years in Rwanda, the Gacaca courts are simple and straight to the point. The judges are people of integrity vetted through strict standards, not degrees, giving this virtue some value in the society, and are ardent workers whose ambition is to do everything to keep their communities at peace with each other. And the results of Gacaca clearly illustrate this point.
When Rwanda’s Western trained judicial officials were tasked with the genocide case, their verdict was quick. “We need around 200 years to hear them all,” The Guardian newspaper recalls.
That is how the Gacaca courts were considered in 2001.
In my village, we got a something very close to the Gacaca, the Njuri Nceke elders.
Though considerably weakened by modern pressures, this is a group of elders, continuously replenished through traditional processes. They listen, decide and arbitrate on different village conflicts.
At a higher level, the elders meet with other communities, in case of an inter-community crisis, to arbitrate on different issues.
Unfortunately, just like in the case of Gacaca, the Njuri Nceke elders have largely been locked out of the formal justice system, despite their speed, reliability and even credibility compared to the so called modern courts.
The traditional courts are also comparatively cheaper to run and even more affordable to litigants.
Question is, why are we squeezing out practical institutions that could boost Africa’s chances at the international level?
With the controversies surrounding the International Criminal Court in Africa, institutions like Gacaca and Njuri Nceke need to get a boost. Has President Kagame seen this side of the argument ?
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