Project Description

Machete on the groundBackground

In 1994, the ethnic Hutu extremists (Interahamwe) in Rwanda initiated a genocidal attempt against Tutsis and slaughtered over 800,000 people in just 100 days. The captured and imprisoned perpetrators were later released back to their own home communities; they returned to live in the same Rwandan villages among the surviving family members of the murdered victims. This living condition has caused enormous interethnic, social, and personal tensions and conflicts, high levels of resentment and hostility toward the offenders among the surviving victims, and anguish, remorse, and guilt among the ex-prisoners. Reconciliation and healing from the scars and traumas of the genocide continue to be the central theme for bringing peace to people’s minds and society in Rwanda today.

Project Overview

This is a large-scale program delivery project. It involves the development, implementation, and on-going refinement and evaluation of a reconciliation program called the Action-Based Psychosocial Reconciliation Approach (ABPRA) (Minami, 2014a,b). The Program is designed to foster interpersonal and interethnic reconciliation between the offenders and surviving victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and to help both groups move toward psychosocial healing and peaceful coexistence beyond unforgiveness, guilt, hatred, and anguish. The purpose of this project is to deliver the innovative ABPRA Program in Rwandan village communities and seek participant input for further refinement and evaluation of the Program. The Program has been developed and successfully pilot-tested by Masahiro Minami (2014a,b) on a small number of reconciliation dyads living in two remote villages in Rwanda. Minami’s research has offered significant implications to personal and societal change and de-escalation of interethnic conflicts. The current large-scale project extends the delivery of the original ABPRA Program involving over 500 working pairs (n=1000+) in multiple Rwandan villages across the country.

Brief description of the ABPRA Program.

In a large peace-building and ethnic conflict-preventing framework, Minami developed and implemented the ABPRA as a method of facilitating interpersonal reconciliation in previously war-torn communities where interethnic conflicts and hostilities exist. Its theoretical foundation is formed by two main theories: (a) Morita therapy and (b) contact theory.

The ABPRA’s principal approach is to engage conflicted members of a community in shared practical activities side by side (i.e., physical labour and performing tasks such as clearing lands, harvesting and husking corn, sorting coffee beans, repairing a house, producing bricks). Shared work takes place in the context of the former perpetrator’s offering his labour as a concrete behavioural expression of his apology in response to the victim survivor’s request for a fixed duration (2 hours, one day per week over eight weeks). This voluntary labour and task performance by the former perpetrators constitute the central part of their mutually shared time lasting for about seven hours (from 8.30am to 3.30pm) per day; see below. After the paired work activities, each participant is invited to share his/her experiences with the reconciliator. They then hold a conversation session facilitated by the reconciliator on their experiences and reflections in their mother tongue.

A Typical ABPRA Program’s Day Schedule

4:00am-8:00am Reconciliator and staff trek to the village.
8:00am Meet and greet the former perpetrator, and walk together to the survivor’s home
8:30am The former perpetrator greets the survivor and offers his labour for the day. The survivor assigns the labour of the day.
8:30am-9:00am The survivor and the former perpetrator collaboratively prepare for the labour (e.g., walking together to the field, sharpening machetes for harvesting, fetching water together to prepare for clay brick making, small talks).
9:00am-11:00am Collaborative engagements in practical labour tasks between the former perpetrator and the survivor based on the latter’s request
11:00am-11:30am Cleaning, mingling, and small talks
11:30am-1:00pm Lunch break (taking lunch separately)
1:00pm-2:00pm Participant #1: Individual debriefing of the joint labour experience with the reconciliator
2:00pm-3:00pm Participant #2: Individual debriefing of the joint labour experience with the reconciliator
3:00pm-3:30pm Mingling together for sharing experiences/conversations with each other and the reconciliator; planning for next week
3:30pm-7:30pm The reconciliator and staff trek back to the city.

Scope of the project.

It is estimated that at least six years and the cost of 3.5 million dollar will be required to complete this project from the preparatory program development phase to the program delivery phase, and finally to the phase of knowledge dissemination and further program refinement and modification for future global applications beyond Rwanda. This project entails the following four phases:

  1. Preparation Phase (Year 1): Preparation for program delivery (e.g., program manual development, work with project allies and Rwandan government and institutions, and development of a psychosocial reconciliator training manual). Preparatory work for offering the ABPRA Program at multiple Rwandan sites will be carried out in liaison with various local partnership organizations in Rwanda (e.g., National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda, Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and National University of Rwanda).
  2. Training Phase (Year 2): Psychosocial reconciliator training. Educating and training an international team of reconciliator candidates and project assistants will take place.
  3. Implementation Phase (Years 3, 4, and 5): Program implementation and on-going refinement of the ABPRA Program with evaluation and incorporation of participant feedback and reconciliators’ observations regarding the Program. The ABPRA Program will be implemented in eight Rwandan villages involving a minimum of 350 working pairs (i.e., over 700 volunteer participants) during the course of three years.
  4. Dissemination Phase (Year 6): Dissemination of the information on the Program and its evaluation, international consultation and collaboration for possible global applications of the Program beyond Rwanda. Year 6 will be dedicated to consultations with international experts and the development of strategies and materials for disseminating information on the Program’s outcomes and future recommendations. Further attempts will be made to refine the ABPRA Program’s delivery format and ways of seeking participants’ input for evaluating and improving the Program. Possible global implementation beyond Rwanda will be explored.

Throughout this project, we will be consulting and working with international experts on prevention of wars and conflicts, violence-related trauma, conflict resolution, and intercultural communication and collaboration throughout this project. Throughout the final year, we aim to communicate and collaborate with various international organizations for peace promotion and to explore possible ways of applying and implementing the ABPRA Program as a war prevention and peace building strategy beyond Rwanda.

Accessing and mobilizing resources for launching this project.

An international advisory committee will be formed. Consultation and collaboration with faculty members and researchers at the following educational and research institutions will be an integral part of the current project: University of British Columbia, University of Oxford, University of Exeter, Tokyo Jikei University School of Medicine, and the Japanese Society for Morita Therapy. National and local Rwandan organizations (e.g., National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda, Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and National University of Rwanda) will be serving as Program Allies to offer their resources of support and information and help establish local liaisons with communities where the Program will be delivered.

Featuring economic implications and global applications.

Economic implications and the potential value of the ABPRA Program and its framework for addressing interethnic conflicts in other parts of the world will be featured. For example, the economic aspect of this program will be examined through cost-effectiveness comparisons between the ABPRA Program and other programs/interventions currently offered by governments and non-government organizations. The estimated cost of providing ABPRA-based interventions to prevent future interethnic conflicts will be contrasted with the cost of intervening wars and interethnic conflicts through collaborations and consultations with economists. It is hoped that this project will result in the development of an effective, field-tested and evidence-based program protocol and stimulate its wider and effective application for promoting reconciliation, peace, and conflict de-escalation and prevention in Rwanda and other countries.

Morita Therapy and ABPRA Program

Morita therapy is a Japanese psychotherapy practised by psychiatrists and other health professionals and paraprofessionals since the 1920’s. It emphasizes: (a) having an accepting stance toward affective conditions as they are without negation, preoccupation, or manipulative attempts to control, (b) redirecting self-focussed attention toward concrete activities and immersing self in practical tasks in the present, (c) revitalizing and mobilizing constructive desires for a productive and meaningful life and an improved lifestyle, (d) encouraging choice over action (vs. emotion) and appreciating the consequences of positive action, and (e) fostering a natural and spontaneous process of emotional healing (Ishiyama, 2003; Ishiyama & Minami, 2009).

This Moritian framework will be applied to the Rwandan context in this large-scale project. No attempts will be made to control or modify the participants’ feelings and attitudes toward each other (e.g., anger, guilt, hatred, and ambivalence), nor will such demands be placed upon them throughout their program engagement. Instead, feelings and attitudes toward each other will be left to a natural and spontaneous course of change, while we facilitate participants to shift their focus onto concrete and practical activities leading to tangible and productive outcomes. Purposeful social contact will be thus sustained between survivors and perpetrators over time through shared work activities. The effectiveness and positive outcomes of the above approach in fostering interpersonal reconciliation has been demonstrated by Minami’s (2014a,b) recent research.

This approach stands in contrast to more commonly and traditionally used psychological and affect-regulating approaches (e.g., forgiveness-based intervention) designed to help surviving victims learn to soften their anger and hostility and forgive the offenders. However, such approaches to changing victims’ affect and attitudes and appeasing their strong, genuine and natural emotions (e.g., anger, hostility, and resentment) have limitations which can impede a natural healing process, as reflected in the following comment by an interviewed survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide: “Forgiving or not forgiving him, it’s all the same to me. If I forgive I still have no peace. If I don’t forgive, it’s the same. What’s inside me will never go away. I don’t know if anything can remove what’s inside of me!” (Hinson, 2009).

In Conclusion

The ABPRA Program offers a unique peace-building and ethnic conflict-preventing intervention framework as a method of fostering interpersonal reconciliation in previously war-torn communities and villages where risks of new or escalated interethnic conflicts and hostilities exist. It is expected that paired individuals’ direct experiences of working together side by side and performing practical tasks will facilitate a spontaneous (vs. forced or intellectualized) reconciliation and healing process and foster a new relationship, positive feelings and attitudes toward the paired partner beyond the hatred, anger, guilt, remorse, and anguish that they have suffered for decades.


  • Hinson, L. W. (Director). (2009). As we forgive. [Documentary]. Los Angeles, CA: Mpower Pictures.
  • Ishiyama, F. I. (2003). A bending willow tree: A Japanese (Morita therapy) model of human nature and client change. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 37, 216-231.
  • Ishiyama, F. I., & Minami, M. (2009). Application and features of a Morita therapy approach in clinical counselling: Deepening of authenticity and therapeutic turning points in a Canadian case. Japanese Journal of Morita Therapy, 20(2), 1-9.
  • Minami, M. (2014a). Nurturing reconciliation. Therapy Today, 25(7), 10-13.
  • Minami, M. (2014b). Development and field testing of action-based psychosocial reconciliation approach in post-genocide Rwanda (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from