Gounden's speech at the 2006 Africa Peace Award

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Below follows the text of ACCORD Founder and Executive Director, Vasu Gounden's speech at the 2006 Africa Peace Award ceremony...

President Thabo Mbeki

President Pierre Nkurunziza and Mrs. Nkurunziza and Your distinguished delegation

Premier Sbu Ndebele and Mrs Ndebele

National Ministers

Honourable Obed Mlaba and Mrs Mlaba

MECs

Professor Sibusiso Bengu and Mrs Bengu

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

We often talk of unlocking Africa’s potential, the potential of her wealth, her creativity, her culture, of freeing the spirits of our ancestors and liberating the passion of our people and we are painfully aware that the only key to unlocking that potential is peace…but saying it is much easier that achieving it. Tonight I take this opportunity to share with you the efforts of a dedicated band of peacemakers to give you a glimpse into the daily lives of those who contribute to unlocking Africa’s potential.

The African Centre for the Constructive resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), is an African conflict management institute with initiatives in several countries on our Continent. Starting in South Africa in 1992 it now operates in more than 26 countries in Africa with its headquarters in Durban, South Africa.

Today we will witness the Nation of Burundi receiving the Africa Peace Award at this lovely ceremony…but few of us will remember or even know of the long walk to this peace. For us at ACCORD our contribution started in 1995. Today we have three offices in Burundi and employ 25 staff. Our Head Office is in Bujumbura, the capital city. In 2004 we opened two rural offices in Rumonge and Ruyigi in this country known as the heart of Africa.

Our work in Burundi over the decade started with exchange visits and confidence building to build trust in what was a deeply divided society. We brought a cross section of politicians from all the opposing groups to South Africa and facilitated meetings for them with the different political parties in South Africa who had forged a negotiated peace just a year earlier. We invited groups and individuals in South Africa who represented extreme views but who finally chose peace and linked them with extreme groups and individuals in Burundi to share experiences.

In 1997 through to 2000 our work concentrated on promoting dialogue among the warring groups by again engaging them in a variety of carefully structured dialogue seminars where lessons were shared with our Burundi colleagues from other negotiated conflicts. We worked alongside the facilitation teams of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and former President Mandela.

From 2001 through 2006 we started an intensive capacity building programme in Burundi where we built conflict management capacity among several groups. Over 800 youth and women leaders, trade union and business people, traditional leaders and academics were trained by ACCORD staff.

This period also co-incided with the opening of our rural offices (and all our Burundi staff are present here today)…where we confronted one the root causes of the problem in Burundi…land settlement. Our offices in Rumonge and Ruyigi mediate several local level land disputes every week.

In 2003 we were requested by the official facilitation team, facilitating the ceasefire negotiations to prepare all the armed faction in negotiation skills. Several of those individuals are present here today and are in senior Government positions. After Burundi’s historic elections we were requested by the CNDD-FDD who had won an overwhelming victory in the election to prepare a group of ten selected individuals for training in leadership. We are honored to see so all of that class of 2005 return today as senior Government Ministers and officials.

Early this year the Government of Burundi, the South African Embassy in Burundi and ACCORD launched a joint initiative to promote reconciliation in Burundi by hosting a series of consultations throughout the country on the issue of truth and reconciliation.

Honourable Presidents, distinguished guests we are happy to announce that this morning President Nkurunziza and his delegation visited the ACCORD offices where the Minister of Good Governance, Minister Venant Kamana and I in my capacity as Executive Director of ACCORD signed a Memorandum of Understanding which will see us cooperating on several joint initiatives related to:

Increasing the capacity of the Burundi Government to plan and implement national-level policies and build capacity in areas critical to a successful post-conflict period including the following specific initiatives:

Assistance with the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its subsequent implementation;
The establishment of a National Commission on Human Rights to foster and strengthen a culture of human rights;
To develop strategies and institutions to resolve issues related to land resettlement;
To assist with a broad Justice Sector Reform initiative;
To develop training programs in anti-corruption to compliment the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Court and the Anti-Corruption Brigades.
And finally reinforcing the capacity of the Burundi Government to develop and implement short, medium and long term strategies and implementation plans;

Honourable Presidents, distinguished guests as an Africa organization bringing African Solutions to African Challenges we are proud to be associated with the People of Burundi and I take this opportunity on behalf of all the dedicated peacemakers, many of whom sit among you today, to salute the People of Burundi and pledge our continued support for peace in this beautiful country.

I thank you.