SFCG’s Participatory Theater in Rwanda Featured in Africa Peace and Conflict Journal
Search for Common Ground’s work using participatory theater for peacebuilding in Rwanda was recently featured in an article in the Africa Peace and Conflict Journal. The article, “Acting Out of Conflict: Using Participatory Theater as a Tool of Peacebuilding in Rwanda,” was written by SFCG Communications Associate, Sydney Smith and former International Intern, Elise Webb.
SFCG is helping Rwandan citizens and government leaders take ownership over the process of collaboratively negotiating land disputes through participatory theater. Community theater performances based on real-life local conflicts over land use are helping Rwandans expand their ability to understand different perspectives and think creatively to find collaborative resolutions to disputes.
As Sydney and Elise explain, “The drama of participatory theater transports audiences to a realm where they can see alternative solutions to their own conflicts. Its fictions are grounded in reality, but by virtue of being fictitious, they can be taken more lightly, and sensitive subjects can be broached. The theater is a safe space in which to address issues that are otherwise left as whispered tensions or angry hands. The impact of the participatory theater program has the potential for further growth and reach through word of mouth, hopefully to be utilized in real-world conflicts and contexts.”
The themes of the plays were designed based on interviews with community members. The result is that the scenes are directly relevant to the daily experiences of locals. One participant noted, “One of the scenes presented was about two neighbors; one was a widow and the other neighbor changed the border of the property without permission. The theater was a reflection of how the people in my cell live. Problems like this happen often when widows feel they have no one to stand up with them.”
“Prior to the theater performances, many locals did not realize that they played a role in a conflict, and thus also did not recognize their potential to resolve it.” However, interviews after community theater performances showed that “Across the board, [participants] recognized the conflicts portrayed as relevant to their own lives, realizing that they themselves played a role in the conflict, seeing their particular rights and gaining and understanding of the appropriate role of local authorities in mitigating and mediating conflict. Beyond gaining knowledge and skills, the interviewees could cite specific examples of how they applied this new knowledge to their own lives. They reported changes in behavior among leaders toward citizens, reciprocal changes in citizens’ attitudes toward local leaders, and resolution of personal conflicts. In addition, the trained actors were empowered as social communicators and expanded their skills to successfully manage conflict.”