Before examining the performance and evaluation of the Abunzi system, this section looks at the countrywide mapping of mediators per district and province for 2012 and the categories of those who bring their cases to Abunzi courts.
Abunzi Mapping Countrywide:
Source: Ministry of Justice (MINIJUST), Secretariat in charge of coordinating activities of Mediation Committees, Countrywide Mapping of Abunzi, 2012.
The different social categories of respondents who called upon by Mediation Committees are presented in the following table.
Experience with mediation committees per social category:
Source: Rwanda Governance Board, Survey on the Performance of Mediation Committees, Kigali, February 2012, p. 34.
The breakdown in this table shows the diversity represented in cases heard before mediators, including those from vulnerable groups such as widow(er)s, child-headed households, persons living with disability etc... This form of conflict resolution, which is free, speedy and easily accessible, is beneficial to marginalised groups who may otherwise find formal court proceedings costly and intimidating.
The graph below, taken from the “Survey on the Performance of Mediation Committees”, shows that land inheritance, at 47%, constitutes the most common claims, while disputes relating to moving land boundaries constitute 39% of cases. This reflects how widespread these conflicts are within the community and the necessity for a system that allows them to be settled out of court.
Categories of claims presented to Mediation Committees:
The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) conducted an investigation into public perceptions of some of the benefits of Abunzi in comparison to ordinary courts. Those surveyed highlighted the following positive attributes:
- The reduction of time spent to settle cases (86.7%),
- Reduction of economic costs of cases (84.2%),
- The ability to mitigate conflicts between litigants (80.1%).
Other advantages mentioned are the participation of citizens in the mediation process (67.3%) and freedom to choose a judge by the plaintiff and defendant (56.7%).
A participant in a group discussion in Karongi District stated:
"Cases examined by mediators used to be taken to ordinary courts. A case could take two years or more and people were impoverished due to travelling to Rusizi [in former Cyangugu prefecture] to have our cases examined there. We would spend all the little money we had. Sometimes we used to sell our cattle or pieces of land to get money to spend in courts. We have no words to express our excitement about Abunzi. This is a justice of proximity and free of charge".
A participant in a group discussion held in Musanze District said:
"Mediation Committees constitute both a closer and a cheaper form of justice. We pay nothing in terms of time, transport, or court fees. It's justice close to home”.
A participant in a group discussion in Kicukiro District spoke about the benefit of mitigating conflict at the community level:
"Unlike ordinary courts whose decisions specify the winner and the loser who, in most cases, keep living in an antagonistic relationship, Abunzi strive to help litigants to resume former normal relationships or at least mitigate the magnitude of their dispute".
The cost relative to ordinary courts is widely considered as key advantage of Abunzi, and the following tables outline the comparison in detail.
The total number of cases settled by Mediation Committees examined stands at 683. Direct and indirect expenses stand at 14,138,000 Rwf, or US $22,441. The unit cost for each case settled by Mediation Committee is estimated at 20,700 Rwf or around US $32 (as of February 2013).
The total number of cases settled by primary courts examined stands at 967 (580 civil cases and 387 criminal cases); both direct and indirect expenses are estimated at 271,474,164 Rwf (US $430,911). The unit cost for each case settled by primary courts is therefore estimated at 280,738 Rwf (or US $446). The opportunity cost of the 683 cases settled by mediators, in the ten selected districts, amount to 177,606,320 Rwf (US $281,915).
Side by side comparison between the Abunzi system and the judicial court system:
The tables and graph above show the significant cost difference between cases decided in primary courts compared with Abunzi. They demonstrate both that Abunzi not only offers more affordable justice for citizens and a more efficient and economical means of delivering justice for taxpayers.
In addition to the cost efficiency as presented above, the system of Abunzi was also evaluated in terms of integrity of its mediators. According to RGB, the majority of people interviewed perceived Abunzi mediators as trustworthy individuals who were respectful of all parties, not likely to accept bribes, and capable of remaining impartial during proceedings. The graph below presents these findings with the following figures:
However, some of those who lost their cases, questioned the integrity of the mediators.
Furthermore, some participants say that they observed "irregularities" leading them to suspect mediators' integrity. These perceptions were highlighted in the responses from individuals who were not satisfied with the Mediation Committee’s final decisions.
The main reasons for dissatisfaction with mediators were ‘perceived nepotism’ or partiality on the part of their mediators (72.5%), the impression that mediators received bribes from the opposing parties (13.3%), but also the non-enforceability of the mediation decision (7.3%).
However, at an institutional level, a higher number of respondents (79.2%) expressed more trust in mediators as they believed that it is harder to corrupt an entire committee; in comparison to the 75.3% figure representing the trust in mediators at the individual level.
On the question of citizen’s experience on integrity regarding corruption practices, the study conducted by the RGB showed that this indicator ranked high.
The overall performance of Abunzi Mediation Committees in Rwanda is considered high, standing at 77.2%. The highest indicator is the one related to mediators' integrity (81.5%) followed by public satisfaction with mediators' capacity (76%) and public confidence in Mediation Committees (75.9%). Effectiveness of services rendered by Mediation Committees scored the lowest (75.4%). Focus groups demonstrated a high degree of confidence in the process, particularly in terms of mediating litigants and contributing to justice and conflict resolution at the community level. The survey uncovered concerns regarding the effectiveness of services rendered by these committees, and this could be attributed to the challenges faced in terms of logistical support, and the need for reinforcement of capacity building initiatives from partnering governmental and non-governmental institutions.