Women learn to solve conflicts

MCC trains peacemakers in DR Congo to prevent problems from escalating to violence

Melanie Mafinga resolved a financial issue between a mother and her daughter. — MCC/Fairpicture/Justin Makangara Melanie Mafinga resolved a financial issue between a mother and her daughter. — MCC/Fairpicture/Justin Makangara

In the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, Blandine Pesa told the story of a conflict she resolved between a husband and his wife in their home city of Kikwit.

Esther asked her husband Alphonse (real names not used for their privacy) to pick up 7,000 francs ($2.54) that she had earned through her participation with a community savings group. He did, but then promptly drank 2,000 francs worth of alcohol with her money.

When Alphonse came home, Esther asked him for money to buy flour. He told her he left her money on the table.

“You didn’t leave the money there,” Esther protested.

“If you say there wasn’t any money, and I say there is, I’m going to go and hang myself,” he countered.

Still a bit tipsy, Alphonse stood up and his phone fell. The phone protector popped open and the remaining 5,000 francs fell out.

“You said you didn’t have money, but there it is,” Esther exclaimed. She was angry. “I’m going to my parents’ house! The marriage is over.”

Alphonse asked his wife for forgiveness, but she would not forgive him. Seeing how angry his wife was, he contacted Pesa, a peacemaker he knew, to see if she could help them resolve the situation.

Pesa is one of 50 women from the Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo who have taken peacebuilding trainings from Mennonite Central Committee staff since 2019. Those 50 have trained 155 others, including some men.

Every month, these peacemakers meet in one of three groups, each known as a Women Situation Room, or WSR. They share stories like the one Pesa has told to encourage each other. Their goal is primarily to resolve conflicts before they lead to violence, said Jacob Sankara, MCC peacebuilding coordinator in DR Congo.

“It is the word of God. Peace comes from God himself,” said Melanie Mafinga, a WSR. “I’m very happy when I see them living together in a good relationship.”

Joining the Mennonite Brethren women in peacebuilding work in Kikwit are women from the Mennonite Church of Congo, who also have WSRs in Tshikapa, a city about 220 miles away. The women from the two denominations, which have not always seen eye to eye, built connections as they trained together.

Members of WSRs all over the country are using a variety of techniques for dealing with conflict, including conflict analysis, mediation, negotiation, reconciliation and arbitration.

In early 2024, MCC was supporting 67 groups with 3,602 members, the majority in eastern DR Congo where armed groups are active.

Pesa chose mediation as her method to resolve the situation. She met with Alphonse and heard his side of the story. He confessed that he drank a lot. Esther, who initially refused to meet with Pesa, eventually told her side of the story. Working with each person, Pesa helped them think about the conditions for reconciliation.

The mediator’s job is to help the two parties figure out what they can give and what they need from the other person to be sure the reconciliation is genuine. Each person who wronged the other must take responsibility and demonstrate sincere regret.

When Pesa brought the couple together, they were both prepared to apologize for their parts in the conflict and to forgive the other. Alphonse promised to stop drinking as an indicator of his sincerity. And since then, Pesa said, he no longer drinks.

Sometimes forgiveness is all that can be offered, said Mafinga, who resolved a yearslong conflict between a mother and her daughter over an unpaid debt.

“The money is gone, but forgiveness is everywhere, and peace is remaining,” she said. “The Bible says if someone comes to ask forgiveness, we should forgive them.”

Solving problems on the grassroots level is important in DR Congo, which has faced decades of violence caused by warring armed groups, especially in the eastern provinces.

“Big conflicts happen because problems at the grassroots level are not solved,” Sankara said.

Being in a WSR empowers women, Sankara said. As they have gained confidence and experience in solving conflicts and speaking in public, some women are now elected officials in their local governments.

In Kikwit, women are getting involved in mentoring teen girls and providing a safe place for displaced women to register complaints against field owners who sexually exploit them in exchange for food.

Linda Espenshade

Linda Espenshade is Mennonite Central Committee U.S. news coordinator.

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