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Reviving the Baraza: First Week of Zeidler Facilitator Training in the DR Congo

"This teaching reminds me of the Baraza.

It's a tradition that is now dying as we move away

from our tribes and into urban areas.

I believe this teaching could help us revive the Baraza

for this time and for this place."

--Pr. Euclid Mugisho, Goma, DR Congo

I heard the word "Baraza" on the first day leading a facilitator training of 20 community leaders in Reflective Structured Dialogue in Goma, in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Immediately my ears perked up and I had the participants open their manuals to the pages labeled "E’space de co-creation" or "Co-creation space." Collaborative design -- where we acknowledge the wisdom embedded in local culture and rely on participants to co-design curriculum to meet local needs -- is one of the core values guiding the Zeidler Center's work in the DRC. I learned that Baraza, a Swahili word which means "dialogue," are meetings that had been part of tribal tradition but had been lost to the members of the training who mostly lived the urban center of Goma.

I asked the participants to share any recollections or personal experiences they had with the Baraza, and also did a little research myself. I learned that Baraza is a long-held tradition across Eastern Africa including the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the Baraza, community members meet to discuss matters of importance, resolve conflicts, and share news. The dialogue is structured and meant to honor the voices of all who attended. Barazas were safe and inclusive spaces open to the entire tribe, regardless of social class or gender -- identifiers that might otherwise exclude. Sometimes Barazas have held the function of community courts focused on reconciliation, providing alternative avenues for justice within the tribe, thus circumventing more retributive police or legal action.

It is common for those being trained in Reflective Structured Dialogue to have difficulty distinguishing the inherent difference between dialogue and conflict resolution. The Congolese leaders currently being trained are no different. Whereas conflict resolution is an important tool for working out discrete issues between individuals, the kind of facilitated dialogue we teach at the Zeidler Center (a method we adopted from the Public Conversations Project out of Boston) happens before conflict resolution and is focused on building mutual understanding across great divides. In dialogue, we do not attempt to work out solutions or come to consensus or agreements. Instead, we work on humanizing the Other and creating an environment of trust, safety, and relationships. We have found that investing in this foundation of dialogue ensures that subsequent work focused on conflict resolution and collaboration is more successful.

Once Pr. Euclid made the link between the Baraza and Reflective Structured Dialogue, the benefit of facilitated dialogue became clear. So far, the participants have identified the following topics most in need of community dialogue: tribalism, domestic violence, prejudice (social equality), joblessness, and love. We held the first practice dialogue facilitated by the participants on the topic of tribalism. Tribalism refers to feelings of discrimination between the 500+ tribal groups who come together in the city, and face communication challenges between the many languages spoken within a single community and demands a careful balance between holding pride in one’s ethnic identity and hospitality to others.

This week’s training will give participants practice in redirecting those who break communication agreements and well as the art of crafting dialogue questions. I am thrilled to be working with such a dedicated group of individuals. To accommodate participants’ schedules, the majority who must take off work to attend the trainings, trainings take place 8 hours per day, 2 days per week (on Thursday and Friday) for three weeks. To get to the training, one participant rode a flat bed truck all day from his home in the countryside to Goma and is staying for three weeks in the city. I am humbled and honored by the dedication of these individuals and excited to see them lead a nation.

Stay tuned for more…

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