Lessons in Reconciliation – Justice & Truth in Africa

What happens when societal harmony is broken? What kinds of tools and resources can be deployed to bring people back together? Truth commissions, a form of restorative justice, have been deployed in many Africa nations as a means to address past injustices, conflict, and mistrust from the bottom-up. The most notable examples are South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Rwanda’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, both of which connected victims and perpetrators through truth-telling as a way to heal and reconcile the nation.

In November, we connected with a leader in the field of restorative justice, Dr. Bonny Ibhawoh, the Senator William McMaster Chair in Global Human Rights at McMaster University and Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Restorative Justice for our third Lauder Africa fall webinar. Drawing on his experience with human rights in South Africa, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia and expertise on truth commissions, we discussed how restorative justice can address old wounds and give societies new ways to learn from each other and move forward. What are the various forms of restorative justice and what challenges arise in attempting to apply this form of justice to fragile societies? And, are there lessons from the African experience that can be applied to the racial injustices in the United States?

Watch the webinar in its entirety here.


Societal wounds erupt if they’re not fundamentally addressed: Dr. Ibhawoh discusses the importance of addressing deep-seated historical injustices and how truth commissions played a major role in moderating major political and social transitions on the continent.

Reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa did not come without truth: Dr. Ibhawoh also shared about how South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission was focused foremost on a goal of truth. The narratives that South Africa’s post-apartheid society had about what had happened were disparate. Creating a society that could build together and work together demanded that there be a shared understanding of that past.

There are lessons from Truth Commissions for the United States: Recognizing the tensions that have been amplified by the recent election and protest for racial justice in the United States, the conversation turned to the possibility of applying restorative justice models. Though there is currently draft legislation in the US Congress, there is skepticism in enacting it. Hear Dr. Ibhawoh’s thoughts on the steps needed to lead to lasting change.