Insight on Conflict http://www.insightonconflict.org Mapping Local Peacebuilding Fri, 22 May 2015 19:55:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Copyright © Insight on Conflict 2014 ruairi@peacedirect.org (Insight on Conflict) ruairi@peacedirect.org (Insight on Conflict) 1440 http://www.insightonconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/IoC14x144.jpg Insight on Conflict http://www.insightonconflict.org 144 144 Insight on Conflict is a resource on local peacebuilders in conflict areas. You’ll find information on how local people are working to resolve some of the longest and bloodiest conflicts around the world. Insight on Conflict is a resource on local peacebuilders in conflict areas. You’ll find information on how local people are working to resolve some of the longest and bloodiest conflicts around the world. peace, peacebuilding, conflict, war Insight on Conflict Insight on Conflict ruairi@peacedirect.org no no Transitional justice in Mali: opportunities and challenges http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/transitional-justice-in-mali-opportunities-and-challenges/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/transitional-justice-in-mali-opportunities-and-challenges/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 12:23:33 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45608 The negotiations for a comprehensive peace deal in Mali have been marred by continuing violence and the refusal of key parties to sign the final document. Daniel Ozoukou discusses the prospects of the agreement making a lasting impact.

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Image credit: Magharebia

Image credit: Magharebia

Transitional justice is always difficult, and nowhere is this truer than in Mali. The country, which is trying to negotiate a lasting settlement to its complicated conflict, will have to deal with a wide variety of issues as it seeks to establish procedures to deal with past and present crimes.

While the government and the Azawad movement argue over the signing of the Algiers Peace Agreement, deadly violence continues to affect Mali. But there are opportunities and challenges in this. Opportunities because there are incentives and initiatives for transitional justice in Mali, and challenges because there are still roadblocks to seeing it through.

What is transitional justice, and why is it relevant to the Malian context?

Transitional justice is the response to systematic violation of human rights in a country. This includes formal and judicial as well as traditional procedures, but all are aimed at documenting crimes, achieving prosecutions and building peaceful social and political relations.

Various initiatives have been undertaken to build a lasting peace through reconciliation, truth and justice
Mali has experienced a violent conflict between non-state armed groups and Malian armed forces. Non-state armed groups affiliated to Al Qaeda occupied the northern regions of the country for several months in 2012. Investigations and reports reveal that many crimes have been committed by both the state army and the rebels. Consequently, tension and anger remain between many different groups, particularly in the north.

Various initiatives have been undertaken to build a lasting peace through reconciliation, truth and justice. Hence, in Mali there are some opportunities for transitional justice.

Opportunities for transitional justice in Mali

A Malian Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (CVJR) was established in January 2014 to replace the former Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission (CDR). The shift is important because the search for truth is an important pillar of transitional justice, including the right to judiciary process. The CVJR has the responsibility to investigate crimes committed between 1960-2013 – since independence – and make recommendations to the government. Its mission is to contribute to peace consolidation and national unity.

The Ouagadougou Peace Accord signed in 2013 and the Ceasefire Accord of May 2014 also reaffirm the creation of an international investigative commission. The International Criminal Court is also active in the country in order to investigate violations of human rights in the country following the 2012 crisis. These initiatives are key elements to engage in judiciary action to search for the truth and combat impunity.

Challenges to transitional justice in Mali

The degradation of the security environment is a challenge to transitional justice
The first challenge to transitional justice in Mali is the security situation, which is once again becoming very unstable. The Mopti region, which was seen in the past as one of the most stable, is now threatened by the movement for the liberation of the Macina, which is strongly opposed to the presence of the Malian Armed Forces. Criminal attacks are increasing, and NGOs have reported more than 22 security incidents in April 2015. This is clearly a sign of the degradation of the security environment, and it is impeding the work of the investigators.

Furthermore, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission is not yet completely operational, with its fifteen commissioners still to be nominated.

The Malian Peace Deal

The Government of Mali signed the Algiers Peace Accords after a long period of negotiation in March 2015, but some of its opponents, including the Coordination of Azawad Movements, have refused to sign. It is clear that without the accord the implementation of transitional justice initiatives will be compromised. On May 15, 2015, a final meeting for the signature of the Algiers Peace Accords was planned in Bamako, but the main rebel alliance said that despite agreeing to sign an initial agreement, it wanted further changes before agreeing to the final document.

So the Malian government signed the peace accord with pro-government fighters. That is the easy part. But the main player in the crisis is the Coordination of the Azawad Movement (CMA), and its refusal to sign means that peace will not yet come to Mali.

Across the country violence is sparking, with armed groups claiming different parts of territory
Those who did attend included high level delegations from Ecowas, the UN, African Union and civil society organisations, as well as 20 heads of state. I heard government officials and allied groups say that peace is back. But the deal signed in Bamako cannot positively impact on the peace process for the government has signed with its own militias without the significant opponent side – the CMA.

Two weeks ago the governmental militia, GATIA perpetrated a violent attack against the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) positions in Menaka, near Gao in the north of the country. This was followed by an ambush against the Malian army in the Timbuktu region.

Across the country violence is sparking, with armed groups claiming different parts of territory; in this case, the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) which operates in the centre of Mali, around the Mopti and Segou regions. The resurgence of criminal attacks, with IEDs and ambushes, suggest the conflict may soon escalate.

Diplomatic clashes

The head of peace operations at the UN, Hervé Ladsou, spoke of his regret at the non-participation of some of the parties to the conflict.

He also denounced the violations of the ceasefire, calling on all parties to resume dialogue and ultimately peace talks. In reaction to that statement, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s comments made the malaise between the UN operations in Mali and the government clear; the government accuses the UN of impartiality.

In Mali, people believe that the peace deal signed on Friday will lead to nothing.

The way forward

An active civil society is key in supporting transitional justice mechanisms and initiatives
Real transitional justice could be a possibility in Mali. But it is facing many challenges including security, the inertia of the CVJR and the lack of a peace accord between the government and the Coordination of Azawad Movements.

An active civil society is key in supporting transitional justice mechanisms and initiatives. And Malian civil society is more and more active in transitional justice issues with the support of ABA ROLI and Freedom House. Twenty-two local organisations have been trained on transitional issues and a network of human rights advocates has been set up to monitor the situation across the country. The network has monitored human rights violations since the 2012 crisis and published a report in 2014. That report reveals 500 cases of human rights violations across the regions of Segou, Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Bamako.

In a country as fragile as Mali a strong civil society is a requisite to holding people accountable for their crimes
The local peacebuilding organisation WALIA is playing a leading role in mobilising communities to understand transitional justice and catalyse full participation from society. It stands at the forefront of the struggle against impunity and the achievement of sustainable reconciliation. In a country as fragile as Mali a strong civil society is a requisite to holding people accountable for their crimes and put pressure on the government. Malian civil society could play an important role in the transitional justice process.

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Community cohabitation around Lake Chad http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/community-cohabitation-around-lake-chad/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/community-cohabitation-around-lake-chad/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 09:31:38 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45845 Towns and villages around Lake Chad are absorbing refugees and migrants from around the region. Elie Djimbarnodji discusses the causes and consequences of this for community relations.

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Ngouboua, on the shores of Lake Chad. Communities in the region have had to cope with an influx of refugees from Nigeria. image credit: UN.

Ngouboua, on the shores of Lake Chad. Communities in the region have had to cope with an influx of refugees from Nigeria. Image credit: UN.

One of the major challenges in the Lac region of Chad concerns how best to ensure peaceful cohabitation between several neighbouring communities. There are four key groups of people:

  • Nigerian refugees who have fled towns and villages in Nigeria because of the conflict there.
  • Returnees – Chadian migrants who left for Nigeria but have now returned.
  • Displaced people – Chadians who have left their villages because of the threat from Boko Haram and have moved towards more urbanised areas.
  • Local communities – who are absorbing the other three types of people.

At the root of difficulties is a big decline in economic activity
At the root of their difficulties in living together is the big hit in economic activity which the region has suffered. Trade with Nigeria has become extremely difficult. Nomads and herders can no longer go to Nigeria with their cattle, and traders can’t import goods from across the border. Fishing on Lake Chad has been banned for security reasons. As such, local populations – whose three principal activities are raising livestock, trading, and fishing – have been left with few ways to pursue their livelihoods.

It is in this context that local inhabitants have seen waves of new arrivals. Unfortunately, their daily struggles have made relations difficult. Local people have complained that the new communities have caused problems, and will create shortages.

In particular, they claim three things:

  • That the new arrivals have led to difficulties over shared resources, including pasture for livestock, land to cultivate and firewood.
  • There is a climate of suspicion around the new arrivals, because they are not sure exactly who they are. This has led to questions surrounding their status: are there members of Boko Haram among them? Are there informers?
  • Another source of worry is the humanitarian assistance which is primarily provided to refugees, returnees and displaced people by international NGOs and the UN. This is sometimes viewed badly by local groups, even though they also receive some assistance.

Although this is a broad analysis, it is instructive to reflect on the internal dynamics which lead to such conflicts. When poverty, inactivity, economic need and a lack of trust come together, small but key events can poison communities and worsen latent tensions. This means it is key to reflect on these actions and the ways in which these latent situations can be anticipated.

Working with community leaders would help developed a shared recognition of the mutual need for peace
NGOs, local associations and organisations need to reflect on what work can be done to develop this fragile cohabitation. The public authorities are generally more inclined to response work than prevention, which is why action in anticipation would be useful. The first step is to identify the type of work and the relevant people who could undertake it. Based on the situations described and on the importance of tradition and religion, some of the principal community leaders who could be involved include imams and religious teachers, traditional authorities including heads of villages, cantons and ferricks (nomadic camps), and representatives of youth and other organisations.

Working with these leaders would help develop a shared recognition of the mutual need for peace, and could include training and awareness-raising activities as well as the development of a peaceful conflict resolution committee, bringing together members from each community.

This is not an exhaustive list. Once these actors have been identified and activities have been started, it would be beneficial to raise awareness of these issues among all the different populations involved, through or with their respective leaders. It would also be helpful to use this work to identify other people and activities who might become involved.

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Introducing Bouyo Séverin: providing insight on Chad for Insight on Conflict http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/introducing-bouyo-severin-providing-insight-on-chad-for-insight-on-conflict/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/introducing-bouyo-severin-providing-insight-on-chad-for-insight-on-conflict/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 16:51:23 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45005 My background: peacebuilding and human rights My name is Bouyo Séverin. Born and raised in Chad, I studied political philosophy as an undergraduate and have MAs in Human Rights and several certificates from the UN Peace Operations Training Institute. I also studied Human Rights Education at the Catholic University of Central Africa. My background is […]

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Chad is working to deal with refugees from Sudan, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. Image credit: Reclaiming The Future.

Chad is working to deal with refugees from Sudan, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. Image credit: Reclaiming The Future.

My background: peacebuilding and human rights

My name is Bouyo Séverin. Born and raised in Chad, I studied political philosophy as an undergraduate and have MAs in Human Rights and several certificates from the UN Peace Operations Training Institute. I also studied Human Rights Education at the Catholic University of Central Africa.

My background is in communications, monitoring and evaluation and project management. I’ve worked with a variety of organisations in Chad, including the Chadian League for Human Rights, Management Systems International, Counterpart International and Care International. I have worked at the UNDP and also spent two years teaching international humanitarian law at the High Francophone Polytechnic Institute of N’Djamena.

Challenges in Chad

Over the course of the last few decades in Chad, political instability has stunted the economic and social development of Chad. It has also had a negative impact on peacebuilding. However, with the country enjoying a period of relative peace after the signing of peace accords with Sudan, hope is being revived.

Nevertheless, despite this relative stability, Chad is still dealing with cross-community conflicts affecting most of the country, particularly in its border regions. The causes of these conflicts are essentially linked to access to and control of natural resources between different groups of people.

The impact on Chad of the crises in Libya, the Central African Republic and Sudan has affected the already vulnerable situation of many communities, worsening the conflicts between them.

Indeed, in Chad’s fragile security context, reintegrating Chadian citizens returning from Libya and the Central African Republic will be a key challenge. Other marginalised groups, including young unemployed people and ex-combatants, will also need to be accounted for.

There are many other issues of concern – and hope – in Chad. These include:

  • Disputes between agricultural and livestock farmers. This is a long-term problem and forms part of continuing discussions in the National Assembly.
  • On-going fighting between the Chadian army and Boko Haram.
  • Efforts by religious leaders and civil society organisations to prevent violent extremism in Chad.
  • The development of the electoral process this year, which has begun in a climate of tension between the parties concerned.
  • The challenge of ensuring peaceful cohabitation between those returning from CAR and the local population in the south, and between Nigerian refugees and the local population in the south and west.
  • The question of motorcyclists having to wear crash helmets. The issue has led to several violent protests in Chad.

I am extremely pleased to begin my work with Insight on Conflict. As the new Chad Local Correspondent, I am looking forward to conducting research on peacebuilding groups working to resolve these and other conflict issues around the country.

In addition, I will be seeking to explore a range of topics and publish articles on the impact of Boko Haram, the contribution made by civil society to conflict prevention in Chad – in particular, religious, traditional and customary authorities – and the refugee issues mentioned above. The challenges of building peace in Chad are many and varied, but so are the people working to address them.

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How sport can create peace in Zimbabwe http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/sport-can-create-peace-zimbabwe/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/sport-can-create-peace-zimbabwe/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 10:50:56 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45731 The legacy of Nelson Mandela is helping to promote reconciliation in Zimbabwe. Brian Canever and Sarah Hillyer discuss sport as a tool for peacebuilding.

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Nelson Mandela has served as an inspiration to peacebuilders across the world, including in ZImbabwe. Image credit: Ted Eytan.

Nelson Mandela has served as an inspiration for peacebuilders across the world, including in ZImbabwe. Image credit: Ted Eytan.

“Sport has the power to change the world”
On the night of the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco in May 2000,

Nelson Mandela spoke a simple, eight-word phrase that has since been quoted time and again by world leaders and sports enthusiasts alike: “Sport has the power to change the world.”

The South African president, a former amateur boxer who was the catalyst for his country’s historic win at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, continued, saying that sport “has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

Standing across a coffee table, sharing tea with South Africa’s white captain Francois Pienaar prior to the tournament, Mandela experienced the power of sport intimately. He created a pact that would transform Pienaar’s life and help begin the process of racial healing in South Africa.

Across the border in neighbouring Zimbabwe, there are also athletes and sports fans who hold tight to Mandela’s words, and believe that even more than scoring goals, lifting trophies, and packing stadiums, sport can be used as a vital tool to promote peace and foster development.

At the Center for Sport, Peace & Society, we have had the pleasure to work with two Zimbabwean women, Grace Chirumanzu and Belia Zibowa, alumnae of the US State Department and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, who work every day to make this vision a reality.

Chirumanzu, one of few female sports reporters in Zimbabwe, started All Women in Sports Media — Zimbabwe, a mentorship program for aspiring female journalists. Zibowa, a former basketball player and coach, plans to launch a holistic basketball program called Now More Than Ever in late 2015.

The situation in Zimbabwe

The economic system has found most people struggling to make ends meet
“In Zimbabwe, the [declining] economic system has found most people struggling to make ends meet,” Chirumanzu said in a recent interview.

“People try to buy and sell anything they can to find profit. Companies are failing to sustain the salaries of those who are employed full-time. [These] stressful situations have cascaded into domestic violence, with women and girls on the receiving end.”

Despite gender equality amendments in Zimbabwe’s new constitution, approved in 2013, a recent report from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency found that a significant number of citizens — 24 percent of men, and, surprisingly, 37 percent of women — still approve of domestic violence as a means of dealing with “errant wives.” And, since an upturn in the country’s fortunes after the financial collapse in 2009, the current economic situation looks bleak, with mineral prices falling and minimal foreign investment into the country.

On top of gender and financial issues, Chirumanzu said tribal conflicts that have long been veiled by the country’s independence, like the longstanding struggle between many Ndebele and Shona people, also continue to affect Zimbabwe.

“These [tribal conflicts] have been given a blind eye and sometimes resurface in forms of violence at sports grounds,” Chirumanzu said.

As recently as March 2015, a football match between Highlanders and Caps United had to be temporarily halted after fans threw missiles onto the field, and then erupted in post-match skirmishes that left at least one fan seriously injured.

The power of sport

Funding sport may be a challenge, but it is not impossible
Chirumanzu believes that sport, if used in the ways that she and Zibowa aim to use it, can help eradicate these problems. Inherently, Zimbabwe’s popular team sports—football, rugby union, cricket and basketball—focus on the importance of teamwork, concentration, determination and discipline in order to be successful on and off the field.

“Sporting projects [can also] provide women a place to find a platform for sisterhood support,” Chirumanzu said. “Sports can work as therapy to women and girls, and since most sports are goal oriented, winning will teach them they can achieve something in life.”

“Losing also can help them learn from their mistakes. It is their place to cool off from the pressures of managing the home.”

Funding sport, especially for women, may be a challenge with the current economic scenario, but it is not impossible. As a result of their participation in the GSMP, Chirumanzu and Zibowa were able to build strong support networks in the US, including their host mentoring organizations, ESPN and the WNBA, respectively. Both women are also able to apply for follow-on grants from the US State Department.

A lot can be said about the power of sport to change the world, and some of it may ring hollow. In the case of Mandela, and our two Zimbabwean partners, the belief in sport is deep and should reap success that will stretch from Harare to Bulawayo and throughout the rest of their country.


Peace Direct will soon be launching a new section on Zimbabwe, with updates and profiles of local peacebuilding work in the country. Check back to find out more.

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Insight on Conflict: local knowledge with global impact http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/insight-on-conflict-local-knowledge-for-a-global-audience/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/insight-on-conflict-local-knowledge-for-a-global-audience/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 13:41:23 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45685 Peace Direct has been responding to events in Burundi and Myanmar this week, demonstrating the value of local knowledge.

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Image credit: Jose Javier Martin Espartosa

Myanmar hit the headlines this week after thousands of Rohingya were stranded in the Andaman Sea. Image credit: Jose Javier Martin Espartosa

Our London office took a flood of phone calls from international media about the plight of the Rohingya
It’s been a busy week here at Peace Direct. The attempted coup in Burundi saw our peace network, INAMA, fully occupied with monitoring violence and attempting to defuse tensions. Meanwhile, our London office took a flood of phone calls from international media about the Rohingya people, who are stranded in the Indian Ocean after fleeing from Myanmar.

Journalists from Al Jazeera, Associated Press, the BBC, CNN, MSNBC and the Financial Times called in, along with newspapers in Turkey and Holland and National Public Radio in Washington, DC. They were seeking experts to talk about the human tragedy of the estimated 8,000 Rohingya migrants abandoned in the Andaman Sea. They came to us because details for local NGOs involved with this emergency are published on our peace-mapping site Insight on Conflict (IOC).

Local first in Myanmar

What struck us about all this was that is showed the value – and scarcity – of good quality information on local peacebuilding organisations like these. Even though we do not work directly in Myanmar, our knowledge of local peacebuilders there was a vital link in the chain of reporting and publicising the Rohingya’s plight.

In particular, there was significant interest in the Arakan Project, which monitors the situation of the Rohingya, an ethnic minority group in northern Mayanmar. The project is featured on the Myanmar section of IOC’s interactive database of local and international peacebuilding organisations. This carries news and research from the field, as well as a profile of the causes and consequences of conflict issues in Myanmar.

With elections scheduled for later this year, we will continue to monitor events in Myanmar closely, via our Local Correspondents in Yangon and across the border in Thailand. And we will support local peacebuilders there in any way we can.

Peace Direct’s unique network of Local Correspondents

As we approach 1,000 local peacebuilding organisations mapped on IOC, the news from Asia shows more than ever the need for local knowledge. And it highlights the value of our unique network of local correspondents, who conduct bespoke research on peacebuilding organisations around the world on behalf of Peace Direct.

We currently profile peacebuilding work in 29 different regions. But our EU-funded expansion means that we will cover more than 40 by the end of this year. The commitment of the world’s largest aid donor – and the interest of the biggest global news organisations – confirms our belief that local people can help solve global problems.

For more information on Burundi, Myanmar or any of the other regions we cover, please get in touch. We’ll be delighted to hear from you.

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A call for peace in Burundi http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/peace-burundi/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/peace-burundi/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 15:48:50 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45625 As the situation in Burundi deteriorates, local peacebuilders are calling for peace. You can help spread their message.

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burundi-coup

Peace Direct’s partner in Burundi has been sharing regular updates of the unfolding situation following yesterday’s coup attempt. In this developing situation they are pushing a message of peace to encourage all encourage all parties to refrain from violence and find a peaceful resolution to the unrest.

INAMA are working tirelessly to spread this message throughout Burundi. You can help take this message international and show that there are local voices speaking out against the violence. Please share as widely as you can using the hashtag: #paixauburundi

INAMA’s message of peace follows in both English and French:

A call for peace

To the citizens of Burundi:

  • Abstain from alarmist rumours and divisive information, and denounce any call to hatred or violence, while awaiting the restoration of order and of credible channels of information.
  • Refrain from any act that could lead to an escalation of violence, under penalty of being held criminally responsible, remembering that criminal responsibility is always personal
  • Respect diversity and each other’s political and ethnic backgrounds
  • Together look after security, unity, social cohesion and peace
  • Safeguard everything that peace has brought and stand united as communities with a shared future together

To the protagonists:

  • Respect the fundamental texts that permitted the restoration of peace and harmony among the people of Burundi
  • Consider reorganising the electoral process and calendar, to allow free and peaceful elections where all parties have the right to campaign without hindrance
  • Refrain from any act that could lead to an escalation of violence, under penalty of being held criminally responsible
  • Respect diversity and each other’s political and ethnic backgrounds
  • Show tolerance, moderation and restraint in words and actions

Un appel à la paix

Aux protagonistes

  • Respecter la diversité et d’appartenance politique et ethnique des uns et des autres,
  • Faire preuve de tolérance, de modération et de retenue dans les propos et dans les actes,
  • S’abstenir de tout acte qui pourrait conduire à une escalade de la violence sous peine d’en être tenus pénalement responsables,
  • Respecter les textes fondamentaux du pays qui ont permis la restauration de la paix et de la unite entre Burundais,
  • Considérer la réorganisation du processus et calendrier électoraux afin de permettre la tenue des élections libres et apaisées où tous les partis ont le droit de faire campagne sans entraves.

Aux Citoyens Burundais

  • En attendant la restauration de l’ordre et des canaux officiels et crédibles d’informations, s’abstenir des rumeurs alarmistes et des informations divisionnistes et dénoncer tout appel à la haine ou à la violence,
  • Respecter la diversité d’opinion et d’appartenance politique des uns et des autres,
  • S’abstenir de tout acte qui pourrait conduire la violence sous peine d’en être tenus pénalement responsables et se rappeler que la responsabilité pénale est toujours personnelle,
  • Collectivement veiller à la paix, à la sécurité, à l’unité et la cohésion sociale,
  • Sauvegarder les acquis de la paix et rester soudés en tant que communautés ayant un avenir commun en partage.

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Storytelling for peace http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/storytelling-peace/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/storytelling-peace/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 13:31:58 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45592 Kirthi Jayakumar explores how storytelling can be a powerful tool for peacebuilding.

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A professional Syrian storyteller. Image credit: yeowatzup

A professional Syrian storyteller. Image credit: yeowatzup

“To tell one’s story is a human right” – Masha Hamilton, The Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

A large part of building peace and living in a world of peace comes from a state of empathy. As Mother Teresa said, ‘if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.’ This state of belonging to each other stems from the fact that we are not only individuals, but also a part of the whole that constitutes the universe. This state of belonging to each other stems from the shared notions of happiness and suffering and the crests and troughs that life offers. Suffering is simply a part of the human condition, and comes from our own existence as separate bodies reacting to emotions and our rational mind.

It is a very human tendency to be attached, to crave fulfillment from our experiences, and to seek outcomes that we want. It is also as much a human tendency to fear the unknown and the impermanence of life, especially when we are challenged with the potential or actual loss of those that we love. We cling to externalities that are always changing – while being rooted in our own story – and that in turn, results in a state of separation from one another and the truth. Ultimately, all that we each seek is the discovery of our true selves.

Storytelling is effectively what it is named: telling a story. The difference, though, when it is brought to fore in peace work, is that it is not the narration of an imaginative tale – although some curriculums may be broad enough to include it – but rather the rendition of one’s own true story. Storytelling is presented as “an accessible, flexible means by which a community might examine values embedded in its traditional stories with an eye to abandoning strife – conducive values and transforming destructive storytelling into constructive.”

Fundamentally, storytelling as a peacebuilding tool is a perfect example of decolonising peace. Decolonising peace arises “from a decolonization of the mind; from the cognitive and emotional understanding that individuals do not necessarily need expert outsiders and their resources to shape their daily lives, or more importantly, to bring them peace.” Storytelling is effectively a route to decolonising one’s mind, since individuals arrive at a cognitive and emotional awareness of how potent a tool for change they are. All they need to do is to speak their own narratives: one does not need an expert outsider to help alter the course of their everyday lives; one does not need to find peace outside when the answer is truly within.

The functionality of storytelling as a concept emanates from the notion that conflicts stem from the bad stories that we hear about ourselves, others, the past and the future. Almost all of our suffering is in our mind: guilt or depression over things that have occurred in the past, or anxiety over the past or future. We can carry in our memories anger, guilt and especially resentment towards people who have mistreated or betrayed us even long after those nasty people have departed or died, or we can choose to empty this mental backpack instead of lugging around our treasured old garbage.

Building bridges with words

We cannot change a narrative, of course. Our baggage is indeed our own to carry – but getting the load off one’s chest by telling true stories can help pave the way. It helps in facing the truth to understand who we are, where we come from and what has been our past, we become capable of understanding our strengths and weaknesses, and build bridges with others by listening to them with empathy.

The more we judge other people, the unhappier we are
It is a well-known psychological dynamic that the more we judge other people, the unhappier we are, ourselves. In this regard, storytelling has the capacity to help one go beyond the realm of looking at others with their own opinions colouring their perspectives, by making them empathise with the storyteller. It helps increment community building, the transmission of values, increasing knowledge sharing and supporting collaborations across differences. Mutual empathy and mutual empowerment are central to psychological growth. Empathy becomes the fount of human connection and the retention of that connectivity, and transcends the realm of a one-way relationship.

There is an element of mutuality created in the process of storytelling – inherently because it is a shared activity where all those that are involved participate in it fully. It creates room to be emotionally accessible to retain that connectivity. When this empathy is created, it prevents violation of every sort, simply because if a person is empathic to another, they will not engage in the kind of conduct that might cause the other person a violation.

Countering stereotypes, building empathy

When one hears stories from the other side, they become aware of the other side, they understand that everything that meets the eye is not necessarily true, and that there are stereotypes that need deconstruction. In the process of listening to stories as they are told, a room full of strangers can become a room full of familiar and congenial people with amity. Listeners gain by deconstructing stereotypes and social stigma. They can also release their own issues by experiencing and by empathising with the others who speak out.  Listeners can understand that triggers don’t hold any importance any longer. Listeners can come to understand and experience the other side – for instance, a perpetrator might do well to gain insights into what a victim or a survivor may feel.

The storyteller benefits through listeners and witnesses, through sharing their burdens of hurt and suffering. We create the conditioned suffering by our desire to defend our stories – our business cards so to speak – and our picture of who we think we are. Storytellers can speak the truth for the first time, and be heard without being judged or questioned. If we don’t let go of our issues, we become attached and comfortable with our suffering and our victimhood. It doesn’t matter if one is a perpetrator or the wronged, it only matters that they want to speak out. That comes from the notion of wanting to learn to question our reality.

Each day, we have the choice to defend our ego and relive our story – or we can find a way to choose differently
Each day, we have the choice to defend our ego and relive our story, or we can find a way to choose differently. Through storytelling, the teller questions their tendency to hold onto a painful reality, while the listener begins to learn that they should be considerate, because everyone is coping with something or the other. The contrary – which is best explained as being ‘two-valued logic’, or the logic of the self versus the other, gives rise to the lack of empathy and fear of the other, in whatever way it is that it manifests – as a Christian Crusade or an Islamic Jihad or Western Imperialism with its extermination of indigenous people.

Collectively, for both the teller and the listener, the dialogue and cross-current of information shared through storytelling can create tremendous emotional healing. With physical and emotional stress, actual changes in the body can and do occur. Ultimately, it is our life’s purpose to first feel ourselves as part of a deep uniting experience, and then to help others have that same experience

Storytelling: a powerful peacebuilding tool

Storytelling has tremendous potential to exacerbate altogether, or to at least transform social conflicts. In the process of telling their stories, storytellers have the potential to effect change and make an impact of a lasting kind on their cultures and the implications they have on those that perceive them from the outside. Storytelling has all the trappings of a good peacebuilding mechanism: it doesn’t need highly advanced technology, it doesn’t need a precondition of literacy or affluence, and it simply doesn’t need a medium – because it is transcendental. In effect, stories are a tool of ‘enculturation’, in that they engage both the teller and the recipient in a collaborative process of making a meaning and a message stand out of experiential living, while deconstructing myths, misconceptions, stereotypes and constructing values of empathy and tolerance.

Constructive storytelling is capable of assisting in the process of peacebuilding.  The storyteller enters a conflict situation and functions like an ambassador or a diplomat – as the listener is an onlooker, looking into the situation within from the outside. Where storytelling and sustainable cultural diversity are concerned, the medium’s accessibility and flexibility greatly recommend its use in long-term peacebuilding.

Storytelling doesn’t need highly advanced technology and need a precondition of literacy or affluence. It is transcendental
Through sharing personal stories, peace becomes a possibility that transcends mere promises. We are inherently interdependent, as a people, as a community, as a world. But we continue to perceive each other with hatred, with negativity, with mistrust, with deep rooted prejudices, all of which we transform into beliefs and then pass onto the next generation in the form of assumptions and stories of hatred, and stereotypes. Storytelling in that sense of the term is a tool of diversity and interconnectedness and of self-discovery. Peacebuilding starts at the lowest level and builds its way right to the top. Speaking at the grassroots level brings in a space that people can use to evolve and foster an exchange in peace.

The ability to be open to people all over the world impacts the comprehension of the very quintessence of human nature. The tales of bravery that one recounts: of escaping traumatic treatment through domestic violence, of dealing with adversity of a crippling nature, or of getting out of a challenging reality just out of pure courage have tremendous power in revolutionising the lives of many people that listen and learn from these stories. In the process, people learn to empathise at the tragedies they learn about, and gain from the strength that is developed. Storytelling or story-sharing is the best mechanism of peace that there could be. The creation of empathy is long lasting, impactful and heavily influential in bridging and bridling differences that could potentially culminate in conflict.

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Breaking news: Burundian ‘coup d’état’ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/breaking-burundian-coup-detat/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/breaking-burundian-coup-detat/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 16:42:39 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45453 Reports suggest that a coup d'état may have taken place in Burundi today. Peace Direct and its partner organisation, INAMA, are responding to events on the ground.

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Burundi has seen weeks of protest in the capital, Bujumbura, and elsewhere. Peace Direct and its partner organisation, INAMA, are responding to events on the ground.

“On the streets, there is fear, excitement and nervousness”
Reports suggest that a military coup may have taken place in Burundi.

Local and international news sources say that army leaders have attempted to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza, following weeks of protest at his decision to stand for the presidency for a third consecutive term. The decision had been denounced by many as unconstitutional, including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Burundi now faces a tense stand-off, with rumours of coup leaders racing to seize the airport while the President prepares to fly in from crisis talks in neighbouring Tanzania.

We are in contact with our Burundian partner organisation, INAMA, who have described the scene on the ground.

“When the coup was announced, the only way that news could reach many communities was via phone calls. We immediately informed our citizen reporters. There is significant danger of violent reactions to the coup, so sharing information in this way is very important,” INAMA said.

INAMA is a network of 25 local peacebuilding organisations, which have trained 250 volunteers and citizen reporters around the country. They are helping us collate real-time information and create conflict briefings for local emergency services, aid agencies and the UN.

A witness said: “On the streets there are many people celebrating, but also some uncertainty. There’s a mix of excitement, fear and nervousness.”

Now we need your help. Peace Direct has launched an emergency appeal to support INAMA and help stop the violence in Burundi. Click here to donate and find out more.

More information

For a full update on the current situation from INAMA, see below. Follow Peace Direct on twitter for more developments.

Peace Direct’s partner organisation in Burundi, INAMA, said the following:

  • The borders and international airport have closed down.
  • The signs in Bujumbura at this moment (17.00 Burundi time) are that the coup is gaining success. The leader of the coup (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) is seen as a credible figure. This increases the chances that the coup will be successful, although General Niyombare has not yet announced the coup at the National Radio station. That is what is causing uncertainty, and doubts about whether the coup has been successful or not.
  • The largest protests on the streets are at the main National Radio and Television station (RTNB), where protestors want the station to broadcast the coup announcement.
  • The army is protecting protestors and providing security on the street. The police is less visible downtown.
  • The RPA radio station is broadcasting again after two weeks and this is very significant because it is allowing news to reach beyond Bujumbura.
  • INAMA is most concerned about the security situation outside Bujumbura. The army presence in Bujumbura is providing stability. However outside Bujumbura where communities are more isolated, they fear that activists and journalists may be targeted.


For background information on the situation in Burundi, as well as details of other local organisations working to support peace and prevent violence, click here.

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Telling their story: reflections on war http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/telling-their-story-reflections-on-war/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/telling-their-story-reflections-on-war/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 11:14:02 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45442 Rémy Ourdan, war correspondent and founder of the WARM foundation, sees himself as a messenger for those living through war. Jessica Kuntz spoke to him about his work, which is dedicated to telling the harrowing stories of modern-day conflict for future generations.

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As Sarajevo recovers from the horros of war, it is playing host to a number of vibrant initiatives supporting peace and reconciliation. Image credit: Andreas Lehner.

As Sarajevo recovers from the horros of war, it is playing host to a number of vibrant initiatives supporting peace and reconciliation. Image credit: Andreas Lehner.

The First World War was infelicitously called the ‘war to end all wars,’ a phrase coined by HG Wells in his coverage of the conflict. History proved otherwise: the hard-fought peace proved fleeting and some 20 years later, the Western world was plunged once again into global conflict. As the world order has evolved in the decades since, so too has the structure and nature of conflict. Nonetheless, as any reader of world news knows, conflict itself remains widespread.

War correspondent Rémy Ourdan has made a career out of documenting such conflict. His résumé as a reporter for Le Monde includes stints in Afghanistan, Egypt, Rwanda, the Congo and Pakistan, among others. It is a career he describes as living alongside people who are experiencing the most important and dramatic time of their lives. His passion for war reporting is decisive: “[Le Monde] gives me money to travel and space to write,” Rémy muses. But even if it were not his job, he would still go to war zones to listen to people. “And if I have an opportunity to send out a message, the story, I will do it.”

Sarajevo – a city of war, peace and nonchalance

Sarajevo is deep and clever but light and easy
But of the many locales he has covered, it is Sarajevo to which Rémy always returns. “I love [Sarajevo]. It’s charming… it is at the same time very deep and clever, on the other hand, very light and easy.” He pauses, searching for the right word. Nonchalant? Yes, he decides. Sarajevo is nonchalant.

It is also the city in which he decided to establish the central branch of the WARM Foundation (War Art Reporting and Memory), an organisation dedicating to bringing together artists, reporters, academics and activists around the topic of contemporary conflict. “Sarajevo survived,” Rémy explains. “It is also a symbol of resistance.”

In an era of fleeting public attention, where audiences are increasingly impervious to the images of human suffering that permeate their television screens, Rémy doesn’t report with the goal of shaping policy or generating a particular response from Western governments. Rather, he sees himself as a messenger for those people who are living through war: “I wouldn’t betray those people I meet in Libya or in the Central African Republic,” he emphasises. Whether Western readers react to his reporting, well, that’s up to them.

WARM: supporting peacemakers at home and abroad

WARM has gotten its start supporting several projects including Abounaddara, a group of anonymous filmmakers involved in emergency cinema in Syria and the theatrical production of The Secret of Raspberry Jam in Sarajevo.

Everyone should have the right to tell their unique stories
WARM’s most ambitious project to date was launched in June 2014 with the week-long “World WARM I Festival”. Run in collaboration with the Post-Conflict Research Center in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the festival began on the centennial anniversary of the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia.

Guests from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas attended the festival, which featured exhibitions, film screenings, conferences and workshops highlighting the work of individuals who are dedicated to telling the harrowing stories of modern-day conflict. Some of the festival’s featured projects were the interactive web documentary Grozny Nine Cities”, which explores the aftermath of the Chechen wars, and the photography exhibition Testament“, which displayed a collection of photographs taken by the late photojournalist Chris Hondros during his more than decade-long coverage of the world’s conflicts, including Kosovo, Afghanistan, the West Bank, Iraq, Liberia, Egypt, and Libya.

From strength to strength: the second annual WARM Festival

Moreover, #Dysturb, a network of journalists dedicated to making photojournalism more accessible to a wider audience, got involved in last year’s events. #Dysturb plastered hard-hitting images in public spaces throughout Sarajevo that depicted what’s happening in places like Egypt, Afghanistan, and Georgia. Additionally, on the final day of the festival, more than 120 former Libyan rebels gathered in Sarajevo for the emotional world premiere of director Florent Marcie’s Tomorrow Tripoli: Revolution of the Rats”, a documentary dedicated to their 2011 fight against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Every war is different, and in the same war every day is different
Following the success of last year’s inaugural festival, the WARM Foundation is now planning its second festival, which will again take place in Sarajevo from 28 June to 4 July 2015. This year’s event has attracted proposals from around the world, with many geared toward WARM’s dichotomous approach to conflict, which it believes is shared as both a collective voice while simultaneously presenting conflict through the unique perspective of each individual who experiences it.

A theme that emerges throughout the conversation with Rémy: “In a war, it is about chaos and violence. Every war is different, and in the same war every day is different. Everyone should have the right to tell their unique stories.”

And this is the essence of WARM’s mission: “to tell the story with excellence and integrity”. Its past and future projects aim to present those stories often lost in the context of violent conflict to a wider international audience, and to preserve such memories so that they can be passed on to future generations.

This is an edited version of an article by Jessica Kuntz and Leslie Woodward that originally appeared on Balkan Diskurs. A non-profit, multimedia platform dedicated to challenging stereotypes and providing viewpoints on society, culture, and politics in the Western Balkans.

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Can tribal institutions help rebuild Yemen? http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/can-tribal-institutions-help-rebuild-yemen/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/05/can-tribal-institutions-help-rebuild-yemen/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 11:52:58 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=45373 Yemen is a complicated and often misunderstood place. Najwa Adra discusses the role that tribal political structures must play for long-term peace and development in the country.

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Image credit: Richard Messenger.

Yemen has a vibrant and healthy tradition of community politics and decision-making. Image credit: أسامة الإرياني.

After the bombing, a flood of aid workers will arrive, armed with the latest development buzzwords
At some point in the near future, the bombing of Yemen’s cities and on-the-ground violence taking place there will cease, opening the way for a flood of aid workers representing international organisations to arrive. They will bring with them welcome and much needed humanitarian assistance, as well as well-meaning consultants, armed with the latest development buzzwords and their own ideas of how to rebuild a country.

Models of governance, conflict resolution and micro-credit schemes that have been used elsewhere will be applied to Yemen with little consideration of how well they fit into Yemen’s social and economic environment. While immediate humanitarian relief may assist a harried population, the rebuilding efforts could easily damage the fabric of Yemeni society, thus completing the destruction begun by the combined efforts of former Yemeni president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, and the Saudi-led bombing campaign that began on March 26.

Although Yemen is economically the poorest country in the Middle East, it may be the wealthiest in social capital. Yemen’s limited experience with colonialism has left largely intact important tribal institutions that still prioritise mediation, egalitarian ethics, cooperation and respect for women, all of which can be effectively harnessed in rebuilding and crafting a democratic nation.

The vast majority of Yemen’s rural population, and a growing number of its urban population, self-identifies as tribal (qabayil). Yemeni tribes are territorial units organised into subunits, each with its own elected leader. They are best described as civil society organisations capable of mobilising groups of varying size to serve community needs. Schools, mosques and feeder roads to villages are all constructed to be affordable to the communities by mobilising local labour.

Tribal politics: conflict or cooperation?

I heard a wonderful example of tribal cooperation at a meeting at Oxfam, Sanaa in 2004. Wanting to build a health center in an under-served rural community, Oxfam staff offered the community a proposal for a micro-credit scheme to raise capital for the project. When these plans were rejected, the disappointed development agents left, saying they would return in a month. On their return they found a health center built and awaiting staff to be supplied by Oxfam. Such stories abound throughout Yemen. By listening to the concerns of local people, similar organisational principles can be applied to postwar rebuilding of Yemeni communities.

Yemeni women play a much more important role in society than many realise. Image credit: Rod Wallington.

Yemeni women play a more important role in society than many realise. Image credit: Rod Waddington.

Another important form of social capital has supported Yemen’s beleaguered justice system by maintaining security in rural areas. This is customary law, a sophisticated legal system based on mediation and restitution, with a focus on due process. Physical aggression is not tolerated, even among children. Non-confrontational ways of expressing differences and protesting injustice are institutionalised in Yemeni society. These include the use of pithy rhyming phrases that synthesise the protester’s position and invite a similar considered response from his or her adversary.

The gender perspective: Yemeni respect for women

2011 showed the extent to which respect for women has permeated all levels of Yemeni society
Historically, tribalism in Yemen has respected women. Although all legal systems – customary, Islamic law and State law – assume a woman’s dependence on her male kin, economic necessity counteracts the official ideology of male control. Gender segregation is rare in rural communities; women are active economic participants, and they benefit from multiple safety nets. The protection of women is the norm, and women are rarely victims of assault or targets of violence. Yemeni women’s assertiveness often surprises visitors. It is important to note that these attitudes towards women are traditional to Yemen.

The demonstrations of 2011 showed the extent to which tribal principles of cooperation, egalitarianism, due process and respect for women have permeated all levels of Yemeni society. Women were highly visible leaders and participants, as protesters from diverse groups and parties worked together. Yet Yemen’s tribal heritage is under threat. Tribal rules have broken down over the past 10-15 years in response to feuding and warfare in the north and to the extent that corruption and government co-optation of major tribal leaders have reduced their accountability to their constituents. Other threats include an imported, often externally funded, politicised Islam that perceives tribal heterogeneity, flexibility and reliance on consensus as divisive and the mobility of rural women as unacceptable. Ironically, Islamist views are perceived as ‘modern’ by young tribal Yemenis because they differ from local traditions.

Understanding rural society in Yemen

Yemeni spirit and institutions have provided society with extraordinary resilience
Urban Yemeni and expatriate scholars, who have absorbed western visions of modernity and its assumptions that rural life is, by definition, conservative, patriarchal and incompatible with nationalism, also oppose tribalism, usually with little understanding of tribal life. Further, many southern Yemenis distrust northern tribes due to a history of raids in the past and more recent land grabs by corrupt tribal leaders acting at the behest of the Yemen’s ousted president. Finally, a month of merciless bombing by Saudi forces and their allies has polarised Yemen’s population with unprecedented sectarian animosity. The potential for civil war is real.

Experience elsewhere has shown the common practice of contracting relief work to external actors to be unsustainable, often leading to corruption and violence. The alternative is to contract local organisations staffed by Yemeni nationals familiar with the customs and concerns of the affected communities. Only with their input can sustainable models of national development be devised. The spirit and institutions that have provided Yemeni society with its extraordinary resilience can continue to do so if harnessed towards goals of rebuilding that all share.


Insight on Conflict will soon be launching a new section on Yemen, with updates and profiles of local peacebuilding work in the country. Check back to find out more.

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