Community Dialogue Forums Foster Peaceful Coexistence between Communities in Kigoma Region, Tanzania“There is no better way to resolve disputes than sitting in a round table and discussing the issues peacefully.” – a reflective thought from Frederick, a refugee participant from Mtendeli Refugee Camp.
Hosting refugees is not a new phenomenon for host communities in Kigoma Region, North-East Tanzania. For several decades now, the region has been a catchment area for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. Sprouting tension between the two communities still remains unresolved. In February 2019 DRC Tanzania’s Protection Unit, funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), organized two Community Dialogue Forums bringing refugees, host communities, local authorities, UN actors and I/NGOs together to foster peaceful coexistence.
With a rich background in organizing such dialogues in 2018, the shift and tone of conversations this year was remarkably encouraging and fruitful. In 2019, DRC is changing the approach by ensuring communities first conduct their individual dialogues to agree on crucial topics of discussion before presenting them to the larger forum. This approach, borrowed from UNDP’s Community-Based Conflict Resolution and Community Dialogue for Sustainable Peace models, has proven very valuable and productive.
After thorough discussions in the forums, the community agreed on three main topics of discussion: Safety in and around the camps; environmental degradation; and problems when there are interactions between refugees and locals. During the dialogue, participants were encouraged to share freely and discuss the causes of conflict between refugees and host community while making suggestions on how to reduce sources of conflict. The first forum was held in Nduta Refugee Camp on 12th February, where 96 representatives (42 women and 54 men) from the refugee community, host community and other key stakeholders participated. On 20th February, another forum was held in Mtendeli, where similarly, 92 representatives (37 women and 55 men) attended.
In Nduta, safety issues affecting both host community and refugees were outlined. Concerning issues of armed robbery in host communities, beatings, extortion of refugees (including sexual assault and rape of women/girls) who go out of the camp to collect firewood and presence of weapons in the camp were highlighted.
Refugee representatives noted that some of the reported incidents of robbery and theft in the host community by refugees were driven by the desperate need to survive the hard life in camp to support their family. The issue is reported to have become rampant, an issue associated with the presence of unregistered Burundians in the camps. This has been attributed to the halted registration of new arrivals by Ministry of Home Affair - MHA-UNHCR and to the presence of Burundians in the camps who have returned from Burundi after assisted voluntary repatriation. This has raised issues of lack of access to services in the camps. Security is a major concern for local farmers, especially during the harvest season where crops are stolen before harvesting, livestock is stolen and honey beehives are cut down.
“To improve the security in this community, refugees need to access more food, because the lack of food leads them to stealing,” says Kitahana, a member of the host community.
As the forum came to an end, participants agreed to enhance communication amongst themselves and exchange information on possible and real threats affecting both sides, thus finding remedies to jointly tackle issues on insecurity.
Environmental degradation was also highlighted as another main challenge with instances of poaching in game reserves by both communities, contamination of water sources and cutting trees for firewood contributing to deforestation in the area. The communities resolved to increase awareness on planting more trees, production of energy briquettes from waste materials and pest control. Helpful alternatives were also shared between the communities, such as the use of charcoal stoves that require less firewood conserve trees. Further knowledge and skills on the use fuel efficient stoves was shared to help solve the emerging environmental issues.
In the forums, it was clear that most of the problems were due to lack of proper communication and lack of properly marked boundaries. The common market, situated 10 kilometers from the host villages was highlighted as a major cause of robberies and thefts along the way – with host community members requesting for the construction of another market to reduce the incidences. Other emerging issues highlighted were the lack of clarity on the rights and access to services for refugees and host community members who have inter-married. As the issues seem complex, it has been communally agreed that the community representatives and leaders are responsible for their communities, to ensure protection, collective security, dissemination of information on issues, services and activities within the communities.
To wrap up, both communities shook hands, an indication of unity and pledge to uphold the commitments made to steer the community forward.
“It was good to show that refugee and host community members can live together peacefully. I would suggest that we hold such forums more often. It has taught us that we are one so we need to live peacefully and learn to solve misunderstanding amicably,” remarked Julia, a female representative from Kazilamihunda Village.
In the days following the forum, an MHA official confirmed that the forums played a huge role in ensuring peaceful co-existence among the two communities. 2019 looks brighter and clearer, for both Burundian refugees and Tanzanian host communities living in Kigoma Region.