Trusting Mediators: On Becoming inyangamugayo in Rwanda

This paper investigates some of the lived consequences of a society that had to rebuild itself after genocide. The analysis is confined to inyangamugayo, persons who stand against shame, refuse public blaming, are reliable and impartial, and act as vanguards of trustworthiness in their communities. These persons of trust are elected to mediate parties in mandatory mediation at the lower level of the Rwandan legal system. In post-genocide Rwanda, mediation was brought back into communities in 2004 as institutionalized and regulated space for dispute settlement governed by law1. Mediation became a forum of experimenting with resolution of minor disagreements and disputes in local communities that was incepted in responsiveness to the transitional justice mechanism of Gacaca Courts, functional between 2003-2012 in which lay-judges presided over prosecution of genocide-related crimes. Speaking with John Braithwaite, institutionalising mediation can therefore be put in context as responsive regulation to transitions in the legal system incepted by the Gacaca Courts2.

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Mediators and disputing parties in session, Gasaka Sector, Southern Province, Rwanda.  

The promise of mediation is its becoming of a space for participatory engagements of citizens and disputing partners who employ registers of pursuing their claims and making audible their accusations. Mediation embodies various modes of practices and articulations for actors in dispute. They bring critique to light, employ strategies of mistrust and consciously distance themselves or resist figurations of authority. This challenges inquiries in post-genocide Rwanda, that overlook critical capacities of Rwandans, often represented as passive agents silenced by the politics of genocide3.

In the Rwandan context, mistrust cannot only be seen as the absence of trust; nor is it a “derivate from an original state of trust”4; neither is mistrust a mere flip side of trust nor a stronger feeling than distrust. Moreover, mistrust is a cautionary practice of actors who cooperate with others. Practices of mistrust are embodied by actors who doubt, critique, provoke, steer questions and voice inequalities and injustices. Mistrust is to maintain a critical and (self-)determined distance to situations, institutions, actors and to preserve a space for (un-)determined action or intervention.

Inyangamugayo - Vanguards of Trustworthiness

Russell Hardin suggests a trajectory that captures the very process of investing one’s trust in others and entrusting them with one’s faith, reaching from trust to trustworthiness; your “trustworthiness is your commitment to fulfil another's trust in you”5. In the following paragraphs on the worthiness of mediators, I indicate how “trustworthiness can be a motivation for acting”6. Trust, according to Dasgupta, “is based on reputation and that reputation is ultimately to be required through behaviour over time in well-understood circumstances”7. In other words, the meaningful result of trust is to enable cooperation whereas the result of mistrust is to avoid the attempt to cooperate8.

In Rwandan, trust is at the heart of electing mediators to form mediation committees. Foreseeing the being in need of a mediator to resolve a disagreement with a neighbour or relative sometime in the future is an inducement for Rwandans to accept mediation committees as an institution of worth and significance in the everyday. Trustworthiness of mediators and trust in mediation is constitutive for delineating the practice of mediation from the institution of mediation on the threshold of the legal system9. A society pushed towards the brink of existence by acts of genocide, trust and trustworthiness are a requirement to reduce social complexity as condition to act and prevent recurrence. Everyday life, practices, routines and decisions of approximately 30.000 mediators across Rwanda, therefore, involve practices of trust and trusting and translation of law as a post-genocide regulatory measure in mediation of family and property relations, matrimonial regimes and inheritance.

To reach trustworthiness ubunyangamugayo, literally to have the strength to publicly stand against disgrace and shame, and becoming a trusted person, inyangamugayo is explained by Emmanuel Désiré Uwimana, mediator in the Southern Province of Rwanda who establishes proof of how to become inyangamugayo along the folloing lines: 

“It is to see, that the person who will represent you [in mediation], has the value of trustworthiness. It is a quality of knowing what is good and what is bad. It is in my behaviours. If in my house I always fight with my children and my wife, do you think that I can be a trusted person? First, they have to see my behaviours before they trust me. To stand before them and represent them in mediation, if I do not have this worthiness myself there is no need to trust me for solving their problems, because I did not earn trust in my own home”.

In the field of mediation, a person can only reach trustworthiness and be a trusted person when one’s actions and behaviour foremost with one’s family are seen as ethically exemplary, good and for that matter trustworthy:

“A trusted person is someone who was not involved in genocide, is impartial in all decisions made, and has no quarrels or cause disturbances in the community. People who trust me hope that you can do good things for others, because a trustworthy person is someone who cannot discriminate people based on ethnicity, but will base decisions on what the law says”10.

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Mediators in their sashes at inception of a mediation session, Nyamirama Cell, Southern Province, Rwanda.

Trustworthiness is among the everyday register. Notions of trust often go along with hope and confidence, beliefs and faith. Practices of trust and entrusting are orientated towards the future. Everyday situations of earning one’s trustworthiness through being good with others, less concerned with oneself and one’s own issues, or selflessness, can be a significant ethical responsibility for community members to fulfil. With such acts of kindness and caring, mediators set values agaciro. The value of selflessness, of having empathy for and being kind with others is integral for mediators’ cordiality:

“People trust me and they know that there is no one to help them except the one they can trust. We have to help people, our neighbours and to serve the country we belong to”11.

In this regard mediators gradually become vanguards of a new spirit of trustworthiness and truthfulness in Rwanda. These two forms of worth are remediated as vital for family, community, nation and future making. Beyond rebuilding and reconciling the post-genocide nation, legal reform that re-established mediation as institution sets the tone for mediators to mobilise Rwandans in search of shared values:

“To be a trusted person of integrity is characterized by saying truth, being humble, listening attentively to others, live in harmony without any kind of violation, assist others. All this leads to the trust between people”12.

Truthfulness: “Mediators bring people together in truth”

The quest to bring trust to light and establish trusting relationships as foundational principle in mediation is closely linked to trustworthiness that qualifies a person inyangamugayo to be elected as mediator. It seems worthwhile to look closer into how relations evoking trust and truth play out in the everyday. Silas shares the circumstances surrounding his selection to become a mediator based on someone’s conduct:

“To elect inyangamugayo, people only select persons who were not involved in genocide. Persons who do not steal, not even touch the cash crops of others. Persons who do not have quarrels or cause disturbances in the community where they live. That is how people came to conclude that I am inyangamugayo. They hope that you can do good things for others, because inyangamugayo is someone who cannot discriminate people based on ethnicity, but will base his decisions on what the law says. That is inyangamugayo, someone who is impartial in all decisions made”13.

The dialectics of trustworthiness and truthfulness points towards cooperation between people which is guaranteed based on how actions of persons are valued, measured and put in the context of what everyone’s expectations of people live up to. That is, persons seeing and estimating the actions of others. Value is ascribed to good actions and behaviours that surface in everyday situations and ordinary encounters. Investing one’s trust in a person and seeing truthfulness in the doings of mediators is open for everyone to share into, but also to scrutinize in cases of inappropriate conduct. “The ways of finding out about trust and truth goes along with Hardin’s candid street-level epistemology that knowledge of another’s trustworthiness can come from many sources other than thick relationships”14. It is therefore a practice-based approach to trusting and trustworthiness. Entering into a mediation calls upon the disputing parties into being-with-others. This coming together, entering and making of community indicates that actors’ positions are being re-mediated through collaborations. 

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Members of mediation committee listen to a claimant, Kigeme Cell, Southern Province, Rwanda.

Broch-Due and Ystanes introduce trusting to ethnographic inquiry. Still they acknowledge, a certain elusiveness of the practice of trusting, though less in its scope then in its anthropological presence, they formulate trusting as a disposition, a powerful affect, a stance towards the world expressed in a confident reaching out to others. They thus emphasise the degree of future-orientation in a trusting disposition accumulated through collections of positive experiences as actors get along with one another. When trust weaves together intersubjective worlds, it is also in danger of being undermined by mistrust, a corrupting force with the power to encroach social worlds and their associated actors15.

Even though, more detailed ethnographic analysis would be necessary to speak about the dialectics between trust in mediators and mistrust in mediation, the background to the herein presented short vignette and analysis is quite clear. A disorderly state of the nation in the years leading to genocide in 1994, shattered social fabrics and disquieting acts of genocide committed by people living together in close proximity and familiarity still influence the everyday in Rwanda. Mediation is but one forum to translate and negotiate values of people facing the predicament of re-establishing trust in a post-genocide nation.

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Mediators at home in conversation about their work, Kigeme Cell, Southern Province, Rwanda.

Conclusion: Between Trustworthiness in Mediators and Mistrust in Society

The challenges of living together after genocide will continue to resonate in disputes – especially over the resource of land. Mediation is seized by actors attempting to come to terms with transmutations of conflicts, [i.e. matters of dispute originating from before or during genocide], but continue to transmute in various social and material forms of the everyday. The pursuit of Rwandans to secure modes of existence translates into social forms of mediation and remediation. Trustworthy persons, inyangamugayo, who qualify to become mediators, contribute to nation building and future making. Being inyangamugayo and becoming a mediator, speaks of practices to navigate between trustworthiness and mistrust as a broader societal undercurrent. Mediators reinforce citizens’ identification as Rwandans instead of them resigning to ethnic categories that led to the nation’s descent into genocide. The inyangamugayo of Rwanda mediate values and registers of worth in local forums integrated in the legal system and set values for the future of nation-building in the institution of mediation. 

Déplier la liste des notes et références
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Organic Law n17/2004 of 20/06/2004 on the organisation, jurisdiction, competence and functioning of the mediation committee, Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda.

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John Braithwaite, Restorative Justice and Responsive Regulation, New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.

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Susan M. Thomson, “Whispering Truth to Power: The Everyday Resistance of Rwandan Peasants to Post-genocide Reconciliation”, African Affairs, 110 (440), 2011, p. 439-456.

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Esther Oluffa Pedersen, Lotte Meinert, “Dialogue Three. Intentional Trust in Uganda. Joint Statement”, in S. Liisberg, E. Pedersen, A. Dalsgard, Anthropology and Philosophy: Dialogues on Trust and Hope, New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2015, p. 99-103.

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Russell Hardin, Trust and Trustworthiness, New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 2002, p. 28.

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Partha Dasgupta, “Trust as a Commodity”, in D. Gambetta, Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, New York, Basil Blackwell, p. 49-72.

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Filip Reyntjens, “Le gacaca ou la justice du gazon au Rwanda”, Politique Africaine, n° 40, 1990, p. 31-41.

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Silas Ndakizi, Mediator, Gasaka Sector, Southern Province, Rwanda.

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Pascal, Mediator, Gishamvu Sector, Southern Province, Rwanda.

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Isobanurampamvu kuri gahunda ya « Ndi Umunyarwanda ».

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Silas Ndakizi, Mediator, Gasaka Sector.

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Russell Hardin, “The Street-level Epistemology of Trust”, Analyse und Kritik, n° 14, 1992, p. 152-176.

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V. Broch-Due, M. Ystanes, ”Introduction: Introducing Ethnographies of Trusting”, in V. Broch-Due, M. Ystanes, Trust and its Tribulations: Interdisciplinary Engagements with Intimacy, Sociality and Trust, New York, Berghahn, 2016, p. 1-36.