The CRC was created in 1993, under the initiative of Mr. Ben Mussanzi wa Mussangu, who at the time was a radiologist at the Centre Médical Evangélique in Nyankunde-Bunia.
The story begins with Ben Mussanzi wa Mussangu, who was forced to flee from his home in eastern DRC to the UK in 2001. Born into the Ngiti tribe which lives around Nyankunde, southeast of Bunia, he was working as a radiologist in Rwanda in 1992 when he was asked to help reconcile three bishops who had been feuding for a decade. The power of this mediation convinced him that God was directing him to return home and share this knowledge with his own tribe.
Mussanzi and his wife Kongosi, a teacher, returned home the next year to Nyankunde, which was home to the Centre Médical Evangélique (CME), a large hospital and teaching facility created by five local churches in 1966 to serve a local population of 150,000. Both worked at CME and lived in a small house just above the main hospital buildings. Violence erupted between the Ngiti and Hema tribes six months after their return, and Mussanzi, whose name in Ngiti means ‘friend of everybody’, was nearly killed by young drug-crazed Ngiti men who did not initially realize he was from their own tribe. Trembling as he rode his bicycle home after the attack, he pledged to God to begin teaching his own people about community cohesion and harmony and the need for people to live and work together despite their differences.
Slowly, by trial and error and advice from others, he learned how to educate communities about conflict transformation in a way that they could understand clearly. His first strategy was to travel to villages in the war zone on Friday night and get up early on Saturday mornings to shout his message from the hills above the village. Many people, including Kongosi, thought he had lost his mind. Then a young sociologist politely suggested that a better strategy would be to bring together community leaders in gatherings where Mussanzi could talk rather than shout, and that he would be happy to help in organizing such meetings.
Between 1993 and 1997, operating from Mussanzi’s living room and funded from his own salary, CRC organized seven such ‘mini-conferences’ which brought together as many as 100 community leaders. As CRC invited influential people who had a constituency to whom they could pass on the message, and as Mussanzi’s teachings – based on common sense and Biblical messages – resonated with local people, this work made him well known across the entire Ngiti region.
In 1997, when UK-based trainers Simon Fisher and Sue Williams delivered a workshop for community leaders in eastern DRC in 1997, people told them about Mussanzi’s work. They invited him to attend a course in Birmingham at which they taught the theoretical foundations of conflict transformation. Mussanzi realized that this material would not be meaningful in DRC unless it was translated into the same kind of language he already used. “I said honestly this will not work here, and so from there I designed something new, using the same scientific knowledge but giving examples and cases from the Bible.”[vi] He entitled this manual, “Conflict resolution in communities, cases from the Bible”.
CRC’s work in teaching tolerance, mutual respect, love of God and love of neighbor, peace and non-violent resolution of conflict in eastern DRC had three goals. It wanted to create a network of people who were trained in preventing, managing and transforming conflict; to help communities in conflict to learn and strive for peace, forgive each other, and create a culture of trust that would benefit their children and grandchildren; and to encourage all those with a vocation for peace to practice their skills. As word of this work spread outside DRC after 1997, CRC began to develop a higher profile internationally, even as the war worsened in Ituri. By 1999, more than 50,000 people had been killed and half a million displaced in what came to be known as the ‘Ituri wars’.
In 2000, CRC changed its strategy and the audience for its conflict transformation work. For seven years, it had been training community leaders, believing this was the right way to deal with a conflict that was primarily ethnic in nature. But in 2000, a community survey showed that people believed CRC should focus on the young people who would be the leaders of tomorrow. As a result, CRC developed a short 30 hour course in conflict transformation offered to students in their last year of university studies, and the longer-term goal of creating a Peace University.
The importance of working with youth came home to Mussanzi and Kongosi with particular force that year, as militias began to target educated people. After their elder daughter’s best friend was killed, “someone came to talk to Kongosi and said the next one on the black list is your daughter,” Mussanzi said. Alone because Mussanzi was at an international conference in Sri Lanka, Kongosi managed to get Mapenzi safely out of Nyankunde.
Then Mussanzi and Kongosi themselves became targets. “Someone came to say, Ben, your name is on the list. They came even to our door. I remember one night they came into the house and they attacked the door and then they told their leaders that Mussanzi had put electricity in the door – they were touching the door and were electrocuted and fell down several times and went away. Several times the same thing happened, and then they gave up on that way. Then they began to look for different ways to kill us. Then they tried to catch me during the day, which didn’t work.” Finally, when CRC decided to send Mussanzi to the UK to pursue formal studies in peace, Kongosi asked her brother to get a ticket for Mussanzi to fly from Bunia to Nairobi, and arranged a taxi to take him to Bunia. “So that was how I was evacuated.”
During its annual general meeting in June 2001, CRC had decided to build the faculty for its proposed Peace University by sending one leader per year to the UK to study at Bradford University’s School of Peace Studies. Tearfund funded his tuition costs, but he left for the UK with no funds for living costs apart from $500 provided by CRC. Kongosi was convinced that God would provide, and that was what he told the UK embassy in Nairobi when they asked how he would support himself. From Bradford, he successfully appealed to a German donor who had rejected their previous request for such support.