Insight on Conflict Mapping Local Peacebuilding Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:00:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Copyright © Insight on Conflict 2011 (Insight on Conflict) (Insight on Conflict) 1440 Insight on Conflict 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 no clean Canada as a peacemaker in action Tue, 30 Sep 2014 09:09:13 +0000 Gabriela Monica Lucuta examines Canada’s role in formulating the shift from the ‘right to intervene’ to the ‘responsibility to protect’ and advocates for the continued efforts of the international community to ‘prevent, react and rebuild.’

The post Canada as a peacemaker in action appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


Image credit: UN Photo

By the end of the 1990s, Canada began to articulate approaches in response to chronic International Humanitarian Law violations against civilians in specific situations. Internationally, Canada long enjoyed a reputation as a “multilateralist, an effective mediator, a diplomat, and a pragmatist with particular expertise in peacekeeping, international criminal justice and human rights.” Former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson is widely considered the father of peacekeeping, a great supporter of the UN, and a gifted individual in international diplomacy. Canada’s continued reputation as a conciliatory, multilateralist and peace-minded nation is in part due to Pearson’s contribution.

Canada’s foreign policy evolved in history through consistent involvement in peacekeeping and later on was realised through various policies that initiated the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine and human security. One of Canada’s first humanitarian actions was to sponsor the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The scope was to reconcile the “obligations of sovereignty” with the humanitarian imperatives of modern day warfare. The R2P concept introduced a new way to characterise the longstanding desire to minimize the impact of conflict on civilians. Initially, the concept was developed in direct response to the international community’s failings to prevent the genocide in Rwanda and the deliberate targeting of civilians in Kosovo and Srebrenica.

In 2001, the first report of The R2P was adopted as a UN document. This action shifted the discourse from the “right to intervene” to the “responsibility to protect.” As part of the newly defined concept, states have a responsibility towards preventing conflict whenever possible, then reacting to human rights violations and finally, rebuilding communities torn by war. Its applicability today is necessary in each and every crisis that we witness because the elements of conflict have similar roots and causes.

“Freedom from fear” became the main topic for the Human Security Agenda. This represents an action-based peacebuilding strategy conceptualized by former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy. Its inclusion into Canadian foreign policy was consistent with the corresponding international obligations and the duty to protect. This concept was supported by effectively engaging UN and its member states as a common goal of reducing human suffering caused by armed conflict. R2P insisted on the duty role of states. It introduced three important changes:

  1. Shift of the peacebuilding discourse from the right to intervene to responsibility to protect.
  2. Redefinition of sovereignty as a state duty to protect its civilian population.
  3. Focus on primary responsibilities of states for prevention, reaction and rebuilding.

The peacebuilding international action represents the linkage between the human security concept converging with existing international humanitarian law and human rights law agendas as a more comprehensive and reliable strategy for a lasting peace. The benefits include a better applicability of the international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee compliance, a commitment to the ICC by integrating the Rome Statute into the national laws, addressing impunity by introducing ad hoc tribunals for justice-related processes, improving access for the safety of humanitarian personnel, and addressing the impact of certain conventional armaments. The improvement in the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions came as a result of all these elements working together in harmony.

It is the international community’s interest in having a continual access to peacebuilding resources that is at the heart of humanitarian action. The peacebuilding efforts would be wasted without a complete recognition of the criminal dimension which comes as a consequence of a willful denial of humanitarian access. An early deployment agenda might be the only preventive action available in emerging conflicts when diplomatic negotiations cannot reach the parties involved. Peacekeeping missions remain central in most agenda deliberations with a specific scope of action as the preferred means of protection employed by the UN Council when armed conflict arises. Other peacebuilding themes covered by the R2P concept include refugees, internally displaced persons, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, rehabilitation, terrorism, housing, land, and property rights of oppressed citizens.

The way forward

The widespread gaps in fulfilling this R2P agenda remain to be addressed as the main concern expressed by international community is its inability to fulfill all its duties to protect civilians due to lack of humanitarian access and assistance on the ground. In recent civil conflicts gender-based violence seems to be a growing trend which must be prevented at all costs. Consistency in fulfilling the scope of R2P agenda must be upheld by all UN member states.

This agenda must be focused on the good planning and organising of all preventive and protective activities and serving the right of all civilians to be protected from armed conflicts and terrorist attacks. In cases like Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan there were “critical gaps between words and deeds” which shows a growing need for practical efforts, access and accountability in implementing the R2P principles. The only way to achieve all these goals is by striving to commit to an increased cooperation between peacekeepers and civilians which must be actively engaged in all conflict situations. National authorities must take an active role when crimes against civilians and humanitarian workers occur as it is their accountability to protect human lives. The latest conflict crises in Ukraine and Syria prove that there is a need for better planning and resourcing of peacekeeping mandates along with an improved training of civilian and military personnel as part of an integrated peacekeeping mission.

The most recent situation in Nigeria proves that there is an increased need for a protection agenda which includes children who face terror during armed conflicts. Also, women need protection when faced with rape, injustice, and violations of many types within their own communities. Peace and security can be achieved when freedom from fear and freedom from want are expressed and applied in all peace activities. The UN Council must remain steadfast in facilitating humanitarian access to these missions and assist civilians without delay.

This is a goal to keep, not only as a promise but a continual commitment to close the gap between rhetoric and application. An action-based peacebuilder is a warrior with a great cause. The responsibility to protect the innocent must be understood and accepted as the most valuable effort to peace and justice. There is a correlation between the two concepts. Hence, there is a great correlation between peacebuilders and the ones who need protection. The rightful claim that Canada is a nation of peacebuilders must inspire others to act as well. There is nothing that can stand against a unified force for peace. The Nigerian girls need to be rescued, Ukrainians need justice and a peaceful future, Syrians needs a change in their political leadership. Freedom from fear and freedom from want is not just a dream. It is our obligation and a necessity that starts with an action towards a more inclusive community of peacemakers.

The post Canada as a peacemaker in action appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
Peacebuilding with local citizens Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:52:41 +0000 Many of Liberia's motorcycle taxi drivers were combatants during the civil war. Many have found it difficult to reintegrate back into society, and have been known to engage in lawless behaviour. The "Pen-Pen Peace Network" is an example of how Liberia's motorcycle taxi drivers can become part of efforts to minimize the likelihood of political violence.

The post Peacebuilding with local citizens appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


When we went through the . . . containment site after the revolution, we were demobilized . . . for five days. How can a man who went through a revolution for fourteen consecutive years [be healed in] only five days? Just [put yourself in his shoes]. You think they’ll not be traumatized? In five days’ time you say “go,” you give him US$150. Then after . . . the $150 is finished what [can he do]? So it’s good that the motorcycle business came to Liberia. If it were not so, I swear you [could not] come to this country. People will be blasting things [being violent]. You getting me? Even myself as a former [military officer], I will form my men and we will be at the corner and we will highjack the car because I’m not doing anything. But I don’t have to do that. Motorcycles came to Liberia and now I can [tell people about] this opportunity. - Former combatant

Since the end of Liberia’s protracted civil war in 2003, motorcycle taxi driving — called pen-pen driving, locally — has helped build peace in the country by providing people with both a livelihood and a means of transport while helping drivers reintegrate into society. Yet pen-pen driving is a profession fraught with challenges, and one that requires the attention of the peacebuilding community.

Many pen-pen drivers were combatants during the fourteen-year conflict (1989–2003) that devastated Liberia’s infrastructure. Motorcycles became an alternative means of transport in part because they are faster than cars and buses and are easier to access. Although pen-pen drivers have become valued service providers, they are also often perceived as outcasts. Pen-pen drivers have been known to engage in lawless behaviour and to confront both police and customers. Their low socioeconomic status also makes them vulnerable. Some are hired by criminal entities to engage in illicit activity or by political parties and politicians during campaigns and elections to intimidate and harass political opponents. Cases have been reported of their staging political violence across Liberia, notably in Monrovia. Because of this potential to trigger political violence, their integration into the country’s peacebuilding efforts is essential.

These factors motivated us to work with pen-pen drivers and those who regularly interact with them to help minimize the likelihood of political violence. We created an opportunity for community members to come together including police, drivers, and customers, to talk with each other and develop ideas for peacebuilding. In these sessions, we were listening to much more than peacebuilding strategies — we were listening to messages of hope and commitment to help improve local communities through collaboration.

The group formed a local peace committee called the Pen-Pen Peace Network. Over the last ten months, the committee has developed a multimedia campaign based on text messages, radio, and billboards to improve attitudes toward and behaviours of pen-pen drivers. It has also designed and conducted an outreach plan to various audiences. Working with the Purdue Peace Project and the Women Movement for Sustainable Development, the committee has helped design surveys to measure the impact of these strategies. It has advocated on behalf of pen-pen drivers and some members have become part of Liberia’s national-level conversation about the industry. They have all, in effect, become local leaders.

Challenges still exist. The Pen-Pen Peace Network, however, drives home the message that local, everyday citizens can be effective peacebuilders. It inspires us to believe that, together, the imagining and doing of peacebuilding is possible. Our hope is that the committee’s efforts will help pen-pen drivers reintegrate into society and contribute to the economy, undo their image as perpetrators of violence, and promote their role as agents of peace.

UPDATE: At the time this issue of Building Peace was being finalized, the Pen-Pen Peace Network initiated a public awareness campaign throughout Monrovia to educate citizens about Ebola virus prevention and created hand-washing stations around the city. The Pen-Pen Peace Network was inspired to tackle their country’s recent challenges and, with efficient transportation, the Pen-Pen drivers are well positioned to aid their community. This extension of the program’s activities maintains its focus on locally-centred initiatives.

This article was originally published in Building Peace, a regular publication sharing stories of people, communities, and organizations that are transforming the face of peace and security around the world.

The post Peacebuilding with local citizens appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
War, peace and the second term of Colombia’s President Santos Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:27:34 +0000 Hasan Dodwell offers an analysis of recent events in Colombia which have included the re-election of Juan Manuel Santos and the continuation of both the world’s longest running civil war and the most promising peace process the country has ever seen.

The post War, peace and the second term of Colombia’s President Santos appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


Image credit: Voice of America

Any future peace agreement will have will depend on how prepared Santos is to listen to the grassroots and go beyond a mere cessation of hostilities to tackle the root structural causes
As President Santos begins his second term as Colombian President and peace creeps ever closer to becoming a reality, the extent of positive change any future peace agreement will have will depend on how prepared Santos is to listen to the grassroots and go beyond a mere cessation of hostilities to tackle the root structural causes of the more than 50-year civil war.

The Colombian conflict is the world’s longest running civil war. It is a war fought between armed guerrilla groups formed in response to deep social inequality and violent political exclusion and a Colombian State protected by an Army which was demoralised in the 90s but rejuvenated by billions of dollars of US military aid. It is also a conflict that has seen the expansion and consolidation of para-state armies created by elements within state institutions and private businesses and responsible for targeting civilian activists who dare question the ruling economic or social order. The guerrillas remain strong in rural Colombia, the Colombian Army maintains the technological advantage, and paramilitaries continue to act with almost total impunity.

According to a recent government-backed study the civil war has left at least 220,000 dead. Over 80% of those killed have been civilians. A horrific figure. And even more horrific when one considers that the guerrilla groups, demonised and listed as terrorist organisations by the United States and the European Union, are together considered to be responsible for no more than 30% of the deaths. The Colombian state, a close economic and political ally on both sides of the Atlantic, is involved in over two-thirds of the killings, either directly or implicitly through its collusion with the para-state armies.

But whilst war has raged as a constant, there have also been numerous attempts at peace. In the 1980s a peace process with the largest guerrilla group, the FARC, led to the creation of a political party and the demobilisation of a not insignificant number of guerrilla fighters. But this was short lived as the state and paramilitaries combined to kill thousands of members of the party, most with no connection to the guerrillas at all, including two presidential candidates and numerous elected officials. Another attempt was made between 1999 and 2002, when a huge extension of territory was turned into a demilitarised zone to allow for talks to take place. But again the talks failed as the ongoing confrontations elsewhere in the country, and particularly the intensification of paramilitary violence, did not give space for mutual confidence to build between the negotiating parties. The talks were abandoned when the FARC hijacked a plane, forcing it to land and taking a Senator hostage.

Ten years after the dramatic collapse of the last talks, a new process was begun in 2012 and this process continues today – it is unsurprisingly dominating Colombian politics and is starting to foment ever expanding hope that an end could finally be found to the Colombian armed conflict. It is considered to be the most serious attempt ever to bring peace to Colombia.

Whilst that hope spreads however, the peace process has also created division, as is almost the rule in a country torn apart by warfare
Whilst that hope spreads however, as is almost the rule in a country torn apart by warfare, the peace process has also created division – the traditional ruling classes have gone through a vicious and very public divorce. On the one side are the so-called Uribistas, their figurehead being the ex-president Alvaro Uribe, a militarist opposed to any form of peace negotiations whose political career has moved hand in hand with paramilitary expansion and the most extreme periods of human rights abuses – he has faced repeated accusations of directly supporting paramilitary groups. In spite of this record Uribe continues to enjoy significant support from across the country. On the other side is the current government, headed by President Santos who surprised almost all analysts when, after serving as Defence Minister under Uribe and winning the 2010 election on the promise of a continuation of the former president’s policies, he repositioned himself significantly, recognising victims of state crimes and promoting a peace process with the FARC as his potential legacy. The recent elections unequivocally confirmed this divide. Santos was forced to a second round run-off against the Uribista candidate and his ruling coalition narrowly won the most seats in Congress. Alvaro Uribe returned to political office as a Senator and his newly founded party now fronts the official opposition.

Whilst Santos receives plaudits internationally for his continued commitment to the peace process, and he should indeed be encouraged to maintain that commitment, it is grassroots peace organisations that are the true torch bearers of this peace process. It is they who have been developing ideas, working in communities and pressuring the politicians for peace long before “talking peace” became mainstream. Indeed as Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos presided over a period characterised by the most severe atrocities ever committed by the Colombian Army whilst at the same time anybody rejecting a military solution to the armed conflict would likely be accused of collusion with terrorists – many peace organisations were treated as such.


As peace causes the traditional ruling classes to fracture, the traditionally marginalised are coming together, and the significance of this should not be underestimated.
But the commitment of the grassroots is unwavering. One of the most positive results to already come out of the current talks has been the unification on a single platform of a number of previously divided organisations, principally around the issue of peace. This new found unification was demonstrated in March with the first meeting in Bogota of the Cumbre Agraria (Agrarian Council), which grouped together thousands of grassroots organisations to put forward proposals to the Colombian government concerning the rural regions of the country where poverty, violence and the armed conflict is most intense. As peace causes the traditional ruling classes to fracture, the traditionally marginalised are coming together, and the significance of this should not be underestimated.

Unfortunately, in contradiction to the positive steps taken to initiate the peace process, Santos’ policies towards grassroots organisations have in practice offered little change from those of his predecessor. His economic policies still fail to take on-board their concerns and there continues to be a considerable lack of progress on the human rights front. Last year saw more human rights defenders killed than for any other year in the past decade, whilst members of the Santos government continue to accuse legitimate protests of being organised by the FARC, and political opponents continue to be put in prison on the basis of flimsy evidence and trumped up charges. There has been an important change in discourse from Santos, but this must be transformed into hard policies if Santos is to demonstrate that he is committed to ensuring that the peace process goes beyond a mere cessation of hostilities and actually provides the framework to promote a more socially and politically inclusive Colombia.

In confronting some of the most reactionary forces inside Colombia’s institutions, Santos has undoubtedly taken a bold and important step. To ensure that this moment of such historical importance for Colombia does not become another colossal missed opportunity, it is now essential that Santos and his second term government provide all the necessary guarantees to grassroots organisations and ensure that their views are included inside the mainstream political framework. Santos has followed their lead in initiating a peace process; he must now further distance himself from Uribe and listen to the demands and proposals coming from the grassroots. It is from there that he will find the solutions needed to address once and for all the deep lying causes behind this incessant war.

The post War, peace and the second term of Colombia’s President Santos appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
GDELT Global Dashboard: Big data for conflict resolution and peacebuilding Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:24:56 +0000 Charles Martin Shields looks at the GDELT Global Dashboard - a new tool for visualising conflict and protest events on a global scale.

The post GDELT Global Dashboard: Big data for conflict resolution and peacebuilding appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


The Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT) has been gathering and databasing all the news events related to conflict and political protest dating back to 1979. GDELT continues to be fed new data through the various global news services, automatically updating every day. At the end of July GDELT released their Global Dashboard which visualizes all of their data collected from February 2014 to present on a map of the world. It’s a fantastic tool for conflict management and resolution professionals who are interested in big data, since it takes their information and puts it in a visually attractive, easily navigable format. This is an exciting development, so how does it work and what can peacebuilding practitioners get out of using GDELT’s event data?

The first thing to keep in mind is that the Dashboard is new. As it stands there are only two filters for event data (‘conflict’ or ‘protest’), but there are plans to expand these filters so that users can easily focus on the events that are of most interest. For now they’ve done a pretty good job of helping filter out conflict events, which are basically events involving kinetic violence, from protest events, which could end up being violent but are generally more along the lines of protests and social action. While basic, these are good starting points for an initial filter. The nice thing about the dashboard though is that if I have some expertise about the region or event I’m interested in gathering data on, I don’t need the filters because I can use geography and date to narrow my search. The Dashboard allows the user to take advantage of their contextual knowledge to filter the data, so while the built-in filters that come later will be helpful researchers can still use the database efficiently now.

Let’s say we’re interested in recent protest events in South Africa, but we want to know if there have been any in smaller cities, since we know that there’s likely to be a lot of political action in places like Cape Town and Johannesburg. I started with the Dashboard zoomed out to the maximum, so I could see the whole world, then went to the bottom left and set the date that I was interested in seeing news from. For this test I picked August 3, 2014. Below is what the screen looked like at this point:


We can see the whole world, and in South Africa there are big dots indicating aggregated data. Since I want to see what’s happened outside the main cities, I zoomed in until the dots started to disaggregate, then I selected the ‘protest’ filter to remove the ‘conflict’ events. Once I was zoomed in the filter was set, I found that there was a protest event in Port Elizabeth so I clicked on the dot and a box with the web addresses for news articles about a protest against money being spent on a museum appeared:


I clicked on the Google News link, which took me to the related articles that Google had collected about that protest and read one that had been reposted by a local news service from the Agence France-Presse:


I managed to do this in a few minutes using the Dashboard, work that would have taken longer if I was just doing searches for protest news out of South Africa. What makes the tool really useful is that I can search in a few different dimensions. If want to know if this is the first time there has been social action around the museum in Port Elizabeth, I can leave the map zoomed in to that location and scan through the dates going back to February. What we can do, relatively easily, is see events and narratives spatially and analyze how they change over time.

This is a big dataset, so I thought hard about what its value added is from a methodology perspective. As I dug through the data, I realized something important. I’m not sure this is a database that will be particularly useful for forecasting or predictive analysis. You might be able to identify some trends (and that’s certainly a valid task!), but since the data itself is news reports there’s going to be a lot of variation across tone and word choice, lag between event and publication, and a whole host of other things that will make predictive analysis difficult.

As a qualitative dataset though, the GDELT data has incredible value. A colleague of mine pointed out that the Dashboard can help us understand how the media conceptualizes and broadcasts violence at the local level. Understanding how news media, especially local media, report things like risk or political issues is valuable for conflict analysts and peacebuilding professionals. I would argue that this is actually more valuable than forecasting or predictive modeling; if we understand at a deeper level why people would turn to violence, and how the local media narrative distills or diffuses their perception of risk or grievance, then interventions such as negotiation, mediation and political settlements can be better tailored to the local context.

Big Data is a space that is both alluring and enigmatic for conflict resolution professionals. One of the key challenges has always been making the data available in a way that is intuitive for non-technical experts to use. GDELT’s Dashboard is a great start to this, and the possibilities for improving our understanding of conflict through the narratives we can observe in the media are going to grow rapidly in the next few years.

The post GDELT Global Dashboard: Big data for conflict resolution and peacebuilding appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
South Sudan: a challenging space for civil society Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:01:54 +0000 Local peacebuilder, Kisuke Ndiku, looks at the challenges facing South Sudan as it searches for sustainable peace, and the role civil society is playing.

The post South Sudan: a challenging space for civil society appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

Image credit: UN Photo

Image credit: UN Photo

Following the independence of South Sudan in July 2011, there was great hope for peace.  The country was engulfed by an influx of returnees from among the diaspora and internally displaced. Civil society, including humanitarian and development organisations were hopeful of building peace. The church was particularly enthused after many years of working hand in hand with civil society to facilitate peace in South Sudan. It was from that background that the church and civil society responded with formidable courage when the situation deteriorated into violent conflict in December 2013.

As South Sudan reflects on its third year of independence, a dark cloud overhangs the country.  The December 2013 crisis changed the peace context significantly.

The crisis has had long-reaching consequences that have negatively affect the whole of South Sudan and infused the political and the military blocks with strained tensions.  Within the armed forces, internal fractions, rivalry, and divided loyalties exist. The ruling political party, the SPLM,  is in transition, from being a liberation movement to a political party in government.  This backdrop leaves room for more possible flare ups of tension that might trigger conflict.  There seems to be very little being done to ease these dynamics for the moment, beyond the erratic IGAD process.

Economy teetering towards collapse

World Bank reports indicate that the economy is teetering towards collapse if oil revenues are interfered with. Revenue from oil could be stopped due to increased risks and insecurity.  Austerity measures to stem the economy could lead to an even more downhill slide as the country has almost no economic sectors other than oil. Currently the economy runs on dependence on expensive borrowing by the government and incoming aid money. Just a few private investments in Juba, Malakal, Wau, Bentiu, Wau and Yei exist.

The ramifications of the crisis led to new types of crises such as spiralling inflation.  This could be exacerbated if there is a major shakeup of the currency by devaluation.  This would inhibit commerce and trade. Moreover, the South Sudan’s balance of trade has never taken off due to the country being a net importer in terms of goods and services in all sectors.

Humanitarian crisis looming

Factors indicate that South Sudan will encounter one of the worst food crises in recent years.
With the onset of conflict, new levels of vulnerability have emerged in South Sudan. The UN has already given firm warning that the country will be engulfed in a severe famine due to food shortages caused by the conflict. Furthermore, weather forecasts project low rainfall or severe flooding in some parts leading to low yields in coming months. These factors indicate that South Sudan will encounter one of the worst food crises in recent years.

It is estimated that over 50,000 children could die from malnutrition and disease outbreaks. Livestock epidemics could devastating livelihoods of vulnerable communities. It is evident that many households did not flee with any food stuffs, many have not planted and the host communities have not planted as much as they would otherwise as some of their land is occupied by the internally displaced.

The conflict displaced many households. In the process they lost livelihoods, assets, and dignity. The looming famine and food insecurity will occur at a time when households are vulnerable and disadvantaged. It might lead to a devastating humanitarian catastrophe.  The process of returning 1.8 million IDPs and 392,500 refugees will equally trigger challenges as people return to localities where most lost everything due to conflict.

There is the possibility that food insecurity will lead to new types of violence – marauding groups or bands of military and youth in the guise of finding food for families.  This would greatly inhibit commerce and movements of humanitarian supplies

Inadequate transport infrastructure and insecurity inhibits options for food distribution, further contributing to the food crisis. All aspects of transport in South Sudan – roads, river waterways, and air travel – are inadequately developed. Another factor increasing the effects of the crisis to humanitarian services is the current bureaucracy in obtaining permits and clearance including interrogation of humanitarian personnel at the local level during movement and delivery of aid. Displaced communities are currently in very remote locations where transport infrastructure further lacking.

Should bureaucracy and conditions for clearance and permits for humanitarian services continue; agencies will not be able to deliver much needed aid to IDPs and host communities in time and in levels that address the emergency effectively – risking many lives. By the time peace is fully realized in South Sudan, poverty would have had a major toll on most households. Few well off households will have support neighbour households that are in abject need, and this might drive social wedges and strife at a community level, despite a very resilient sharing culture and social fabric of communities.

Even if peace was effectively in place, the process for return would take approximately 18-30 months in the early onset of returns and resettling. The latter part might take the space of 3-5 years if peace and service delivery holds effectively at the local level.  For localities with severe impact of the conflict this might take longer.

Calls for peace by civil society

Civil society sought to address the issues early on and critical analysis was carried out and shared among agencies for early preparedness to avert crisis
The crises in South Sudan have not been unchallenged. Right from the time the Presidency removed the Vice President and dissolved cabinet in July 2013, the Church was aware that peace was at stake. Emissaries were sent to the President from different levels and at different times on this matter.  Thereafter, a number of Pastoral Letters signed by clergy and prominent citizens were presented to both parties contending in the crises.  Civil society sought to address the issues early on and critical analysis was carried out and shared among agencies for early preparedness to avert crisis.  Much ground had been covered in the efforts prior to the crisis months as was exemplified by the inclusion of the peace theme in the “New Deal Plan for South Sudan”.

With the advent of crisis in South Sudan and the difficult operating context, civil society came together on a platform dubbed Citizens for Peace and Justice in January 2014. This forum was augmented with a follow up conference which sought to identify the modalities for engagement and representation at the peace negotiations, and how to collectively raise crucial issues.  As a result, the Presidency in South Sudan and IGAD have acknowledged the importance of including civil society in the peace negotiations.

Constrained role of civil society in formal negotiations

Civil Society sought to be party in the peace negotiations for South Sudan in Addis Ababa, however, opinion has been divided on what the role of civil society is. As a result inclusion of civil society has been restricted. Members who get included are perceived to be those who hold similar views with the contenting parties or do not strongly challenge them.  Local civil Society in South Sudan is weak and depends on funding partners for resources to mobilize and plan for action.

Despite this, civil society organizations have demonstrated solidarity with the search for peace and presented a memorandum to the peace negotiators in March 2014 in Addis Ababa and key in the memorandum was a call for national reconciliation, justice and healing, and for the government to institute reforms. As part of the response to the calls by civil society the negotiators included in the peace agenda the need for a national reconciliation commission and on that civil society has been accorded room for representation.

In a recent event, activists noted the need for more voices to be included in the peace negotiation as well as in the facilitation of the mediation and post conflict reconstruction. An event supported by USIP had activists call for the inclusion of those without gunsin the search for peace.  All these efforts have contributed to the call for peace and the role of civil society in the process.  The space for civil society on peace is not an easy one, but the opportunities have been used well and documentation on peace processes has been done far much better than during the years of the war on liberation of South Sudan as attested by entities such as the SUDD Institute.

It is anticipated that peace will be realized in the coming months, however, due to pockets of tension and localized skirmishes between the government and opposition forces, the pace towards peace will be slow.  The signing of an agreement between the government and opposition gave the platform for putting in place an interim government. The envisaged process is expected to have a period of preparations and formation of the interim government which will take over, oversee the formulation of a new constitution, prepare and oversee elections and then transition to a popularly elected government.  This process will have its own internal tensions and power brokerage, whose effects might spill out and trigger new types of conflict.

Experts point out that overall to return South Sudan to peace will take time, effort and multiple approaches that leverage on different poles of power and force. The peace discussions in Addis Ababa alone will not resolve all the issues. Inclusivity in the approach to peace will be a crucial factor.  Efforts to broker peace will need to be inclusive of traditional local authorities, the church and civil society.  Efforts towards peace should aim at establishing South Sudan on the path to the process of building a nation.  Such a process will need enormous amounts of effort internally, in the Eastern Africa region and from the international community.  Equally, the effort will require a lot of time and resources to set up and establish.

The post South Sudan: a challenging space for civil society appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 1
Peacebuilder nations in action Fri, 12 Sep 2014 07:30:39 +0000 Gabriela Monica Lucuta examines the recent history of international peacebuilding and looks at the approaches nation states should take in humanitarian intervention.

The post Peacebuilder nations in action appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


Image credit: UN Photo

In the last few years civil conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine have crippled the notion of peace at national and international level. Before our very eyes we have seen violence leave many citizens without a home, without a family, and in some cases even without entire communities.  These are the latest in a series of long and unending international conflicts. A common ground for rebuilding peace and establishing reconciliation is still to be found.

The international community’s efforts to diffuse the violence seem inefficient and weak. Peacebuilder nations have used all diplomatic means – through both international and their own foreign policies – to effectively control the escalation of conflict.

It is a challenging time we live in and the state of the world causes many to look back at the first peacebuilders that realized their goals by applying the right to protect in a practical way. These are the peacebuilders in action as we know them.

Creating an international community of peacebuilders

It all started with a thriving peacebuilding agenda, a decision made during the 2005 World Summit to endorse former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s proposal to “create a peacebuilding commission, support office and fund.” Along the way, 24 governmental and intergovernmental bodies joined this initiative and became active in supporting peacebuilding efforts all around the globe. It became the largest initiative funded by peacemakers from many nations.

Early on a variety of peace programs focused on an agenda that was dedicated to creating stability and security as part of a peace agreement implementation. Other programs focused on building vibrant civil societies and further development, democracy, justice, and the rule of law. Within the initial framework for action the peacebuilding agenda was adopted and applied as a strategic “external intervention intended to reduce the risk that a state will erupt into or return to war.” Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s original formulation was supported by the UN Secretariat as an “action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid relapse into conflict.”  The same techniques that were used to build peace after war could be used to assist societies to avoid war. This was indeed the concept which insisted on a creative solution for conflict prevention and reconciliation by means of diplomatic talks.

Defining peacebuilding

Peacebuilding is the only path to conflict prevention in divided societies and the strategy most nations value as part of their agenda for peace.  Post-conflict resolution is a modified peacebuilding term different from conflict prevention. It is a strategy used in the aftermath of a crisis that was neither visible nor foreseen. Although certain situations and conflict resolution strategies could be used in advance by noticing the social, civil or political turmoil in its incipient phase, many times they arise as a consequence of misunderstanding or lack of communication among parties that struggle with power inequality and inability to be effective participants in the local or national governance. A special consideration must be given to elements of positive peace which is defined by tackling the root causes of conflict in such a way that people do not feel the need to turn to violence.

There are growing calls for reform and setting up a mandate where peacebuilding becomes a synonym for conflict prevention. These interchangeable terms are part of the United Nations Development Programme’s mandate. It uses both peacebuilding and conflict prevention by adopting the definition used by Brahimi Report on Peacekeeping Reform. By all means, peacebuilding complements United Nations’ peacemaking and peacekeeping functions. UN member nations have drafted and accepted different terms according with their own foreign affairs agenda throughout the years.

Peacebuilding activities of nations cover many different areas. They include military intervention, social, economic, developmental and humanitarian efforts, political and diplomatic intervention, and justice. International bodies such as UNDP, the World Bank, and IMF also play a role.

The “liberal model”

Many peacebuilding programs aim to create a liberal state with respect for human rights and the protection of the rule of law. This model is constrained by representative institutions and by vigilant media. The liberal democratic state is known for holding periodic elections and protecting markets, a very westernized model that has been largely accepted as the most functional political form of democracy in the world.

However, lately, this “liberal model” has been criticised since it might not promote a comprehensive peace. Many consider that such model is based on western hegemony and does little to eliminate the root causes for conflict. It in fact allows the conditions for conflict to arise. The critique is that such model is absent of trust, security, and stable institutions, and is too competitive. This discourse creates a controversy about the viability of peacebuilding programs.

Could this be the reason for conflicts and crises that exist in nations like Syria, Iraq, as well as between Russia and Ukraine? Perhaps we should look at the origins of these conflicts to see if competitive structures and institution are the root causes. Certainly, what is mostly desired is a state that can make credible commitments and deliver on those commitments in a reasonably efficient and impartial manner using rational and legal means.  Coercion must only be used as a last resort in instances when local talks and negotiations efforts are unable to bring parties together for reconciliation.

Peacebuilding must be understood as the foundation of a statebuilding. It is essential to build a functional and a capable state where all local governmental, non-governmental, and independent actors are committed to a successful peacebuilding plan. The controversy of agendas versus action must be eliminated in order to gain credibility and allow a transparent course of action to take place.  A stable and secure peace is achieved when states will not return to war years after a peace agreement is implemented. When the centralization of power is dispersed and equally distributed among local agents without leaving in place an authoritarian governance structure the peacebuilding mechanism will succeed.

Peacebuilding is highly institutionalized in many parts of the world. Scholars agree that institutionalization alone emerges from “bureaucratic power and political infighting not empirical analysis.” It is essential for scholars and policymakers to monitor and see which version of peacebuilding is being institutionalized and attempts to ensure that alternative understandings are kept alive.

International intervention

What is the first step that a state should take in aligning its agenda and commitment to become a peacebuilder in all its endeavors? Can a state do this all alone or is there a need for a collective international collaboration in such manner that all elements of peacebuilding are consistently achieved?  When the international peace and security is threatened, collective intervention is the accepted norm that is at the basis of all decided actions during humanitarian crises.

Most recently, we have seen new humanitarian crises in Syria and Ukraine and a lack of coordination of efforts to stop the violence. It seems that a theoretical peacebuilding strategy does not always give the best results on the ground.  “There is a growing acceptance that while sovereign governments have the primary responsibility to protect their own citizens from such catastrophes, when they are unable or unwilling to do so that responsibility should be taken up by the wider international community – with it spanning a continuum involving prevention, response to violence, if necessary, building shattered societies.” [1]

Protection of human rights of a population whose government commits genocide and crimes against humanity is a matter of higher international law applicability.  A collective intervention should substitute the unilateral intervention of a state in such cases under the authority of the UN Security Council and NATO in recent events.

There are different views when it comes to the right to intervene. Article 2(4) of the Charter prohibits “the threat and use of force against the territorial integrity and independence of any state” which represents both a political and a moral statement that recognises that aggression will never be acceptable for humanitarian interventions and its purpose. Authoritarian regimes often use it as their first premise and argument in cases of civil conflict.  If this is the case then all conflicts must be ignored by the international community and left unattended.

It goes back to early 1800s intervention in Greece during the pre-charter doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, Grotius and Emanuel Kant along with other scholars who collectively spoke against the unilateral action of one regime against its own citizens.  Throughout the history, the legality of humanitarian intervention has won many writers and scholars’ attention especially after WWI with only a few rejecting this doctrine.

Mandelstam [2] clearly states that “the victory of the principle of humanitarian intervention over the rigid dogma of non-intervention” compels nations to take an active role in protecting not only its own citizens but the citizens of other nations. “The justifiable use of force for the purpose of protecting the inhabitants of another State from treatment so arbitrary and persistently abusive as to exceed the limits within which the sovereign in presumed to act with reason and justice.”[3]

This is a solid ground on which nation states must recognize that such justifiable intervention is part of the new era where “the right of humanitarian intervention in the name of the Rights of Man trampled upon by a State in the manner offensive to the meaning of humanity. It has been recognized long ago as an integral part of the Law of Nations.”[4]  The purpose of an intervening state is not to become a dominant force within another territory. It is the specific and humanitarian effort to reduce violence and protect innocent civilians at all costs. A nation state that adheres to the right to protect is a peacebuilding and a peacekeeping nation in all its endeavours.  It is a confident, trusted, and creative force that leads the way in its purpose to build a democratic platform of renewed peace and hope among shattered dreams and divided communities.

[1] A More Secure World. Our Shared Responsibility Report on the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change/UN Doc A/59/565 art 56-57, para.201[2004] < [ Hereinafter UN High-Level Report] accessed on March 8, 2013
[2] Mandelstam, ‘La Protection de Minorite’ Hague Academy of International Law 1 Recueil Des Cours 367-391 (1923)
[3] E. Stowell, International Law 348 [1931]
[4] H. Shawcross, Expose Introductif au Process de Nuremberg cited in Jean-Pierre Fontayne, the Customary International Law Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention: Its current validity under the UN Charter’ 226

The post Peacebuilder nations in action appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
Our mission is to save life, not to take it Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:39:29 +0000 This blog is written by a member of The Syrian Civil Defence — a group of volunteer first responders saving lives in the most dangerous place on earth.

The post Our mission is to save life, not to take it appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


My name is Adam II*. I am 21 years old and I am a team leader of a Civil Defense in Idlib, Syria. Before I started saving lives I studied topography at the University — that was another life.

In Civil Defense our goal is protect lives and people see us as the saviours of life. This is all what we work for.
Idlib is is a site for clashes between the FSA and the Syrian state army, which retaliates by bombarding civilians’ neighbourhoods. The destruction is enormous — 60% of infrastructure is destroyed. Shelling also brings the loss of many people’s lives, I have witnessed a massacre where 48 people were killed. it is indescribable — to see 48 people killed and many trapped under the rubble. I see many attacks every day.

In Civil Defense our goal is protect lives and people see us as the saviours of life. This is all what we work for. This what we do every day. When we wake we wake up the morning, we go and check on the places those were hit by the shelling, to rescue as many people as we can. I have to be the first on this as leader. When you go on a rescue mission you see lots of suffering, destruction, grief and panicked children. It is not easy to see all this, but when you save someone’s life you feel wonderful, so you do the best you can to find survivors. I also have to check on the team during and after each mission, to make sure they are safe and protect them from danger; we don’t want them to get hurt as they are the ones who help people. Finally, I secure food for the team.

Civil defence volunteers in Idleb have a great value in peoples’ hearts, and they respect us because of our humanitarian role, we are not fighting or hurting others. When you help people to retain their hope they will never forget what you’ve done for them. It’s easy to kill someone but the most wonderful thing is to rather save lives.

I have a seven year old sister. I worry for her every day. My little sister went to school one day to find out that one of her dear friends wasn’t there anymore. After every incident, she returns home wondering where her friends are, and what’s happening. Our children are experiencing loss of their classmates, at a very young age — living in such circumstances where the boom of explosions are heard continuously. There are children who woke up to find their parents dead, or to find themselves trapped under rubbles. Everything I thought about was playing football or games, children now are just thinking about is playing with weapons or acting as if they carry one. When children grow up in a war zone, war influences them.

I hope what we are doing becomes a message of peace to the entire world and hope that war in Syria ends as soon as possible.
I have this message I would like to tell the world. Syrian people are peaceful and we had no other choice than the war and now many civilians are dying in dreadful circumstances. People think we are extremists but we fight extremism, as we are aware of the bad influence it has on people. We are not bias and we cannot be, — we do our best to save all people we can regardless of their background, our mission is to save lives not to take it. I hope what we are doing becomes a message of peace to the entire world and hope that war in Syria ends as soon as possible. I’m saying this because we lived the war and we know how it changes people.

* Adam II is a pseudonym the writer requested to protect their identity.

Find out more about the White Helmets

The post Our mission is to save life, not to take it appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 1
Post-Conflict Research Center wins Intercultural Innovation Award Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:21:16 +0000 On 28 August 2014, the Sarajevo-based Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC) was awarded first place in the Intercultural Innovation Award. Tim Bidey, Project Manager, describes their winning project, and explains the difference that receiving this prestigious award will make for the organisation.

The post Post-Conflict Research Center wins Intercultural Innovation Award appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


Velma Šarić, Founder of PCRC, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations. Photo credit: Leonard Adam. (08/2014)

Last month, during the 6th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in Bali, our project ‘Ordinary Heroes’ was awarded first prize at the 2014 Intercultural Innovation Award Ceremony by representatives from the UNAOC and the BMW Group.

The award recognises the most innovative grassroots projects that promote intercultural dialogue, understanding, and co-operation around the world. In the words of President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilisations, it provides “an opportunity to celebrate those who believe that a more cohesive and inclusive world is not only possible, but also indispensable.”

Over 600 non-profit organisations from over 100 countries applied for the award, and 11 organisations were ultimately selected as finalists for this year’s forum, which was attended by more than 1,200 participants representing heads of states and governments, foreign ministers, and members of the Alliance Group of Friends.

Upon receiving the award for first place, Velma Šarić, our Founder and Executive Director at Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), gave a moving speech to those in attendance at the forum, stating “Many of you may remember Bosnia as it was 20 years ago—horrific images of war and the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. Today we would like to leave you with a new image of Bosnia in which the intellect and energy of Bosnia’s youth can be seen. Bosnia has gained extensive knowledge from this legacy of war and our country possesses great potential to create projects that can contribute to peace and intercultural understanding at the global level.”

Our submission, ‘Ordinary Heroes’, is a multimedia peacebuilding project that utilises international stories of rescuer behaviour and moral courage to promote reconciliation and interethnic cooperation between Bosnia’s divided citizens and youth. It consists of several components: a series of documentaries promoting themes of rescuer behaviour and interethnic cooperation; ‘Heroes in Training’ youth workshops that focus on developing pro-social behaviour and active bystandership amongst Bosnian youth; and “The Rescuers” travelling photography exhibition, which brings international stories of intercultural cooperation to town squares and local public spaces across Bosnia.

The narratives that underlie each of these components are purposefully multi-faceted: they are drawn from across Bosnia’s three main constituent ethnic groups, and represent the experiences of both men and women, and of rescuers and those they saved. These ordinary heroes come from all walks of life, but they each represent moral courage, compassion, and a love for others that motivated them to risk their own lives to save neighbours, friends, and strangers during times of genocide and mass atrocity.

In focusing on these often overlooked stories of the past, the project seeks to propagate an alternative and more complex interpretation of the Bosnian war – leaving behind any notion of ethnic division as an all encompassing or natural state of existence. In turn, this serves to encourage ordinary people to act positively as heroes and agents of social change in the present, further breaking down barriers of ethnic division in local communities across the country.

Young people are also of central concern to the project, and as such it takes care to give them a rare opportunity to move beyond conceptual learning and become directly involved in the peacebuilding process. In addition to the ‘Heroes in Training’ workshops that engage participants in activities and discussion around thematic issues of transitional justice, group dynamics, discrimination, and active and passive bystandership, it also encourages them to discover, collect, and share stories of interethnic cooperation from their own communities. As Velma remarked upon winning the award: “We have a responsibility to inspire and encourage youth in Bosnia to overcome the legacies that war has left behind. We hope that through this project we can show them that they have the power to change and influence the future for the better.”

Until now, this work has focused on towns and cities across both the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. The Intercultural Innovation Award will allow us to broaden our horizons. In essence, we can now reach more people, expanding our work within Bosnia, extending the project activities to Zagreb, Croatia and Belgrade, Serbia, and developing new materials that can be used by like-minded organisations to replicate the project within their own communities. Furthermore, the documentary films are set to broadcast this autumn on Al Jazeera Balkans’ regional programme ‘Regioscope’, which reaches 500,000 viewers across the Balkans.

These are not the only benefits provided by the award. Along with the other 10 finalists, PCRC is proud to become part of the “World Intercultural Facility for Innovation” (WIFI) – a UNAOC and BMW Group programme designed to help organisations become more efficient and expand. Over the next 12 months, PCRC staff will have access to specialised training to further develop a diverse set of skills including leadership, communications, and financial sustainability, as well as tailored support to encourage the replication of the ‘Ordinary Heroes’ project. Thus, significant opportunities await both PCRC and all of the organisations that made it to the final of the awards, and here at PCRC we are extremely excited about the year to come!

The post Post-Conflict Research Center wins Intercultural Innovation Award appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
Natural resources and violence in Nigeria Mon, 08 Sep 2014 11:28:54 +0000 Adan Suazo looks at how wealth from natural resources is shared in Nigeria, and asks if the the lack of access for the poorest parts of society is a factor in the rise of Boko Haram.

The post Natural resources and violence in Nigeria appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

Image credit: Sosialistisk Ungdom (SU)

Image credit: Sosialistisk Ungdom (SU)

Unsustainable resource exploitation by western oil companies played a role in the development of grievances that subsequently resulted in the creation of rebel groups in Nigeria
There is much to say about the on-going crisis in Nigeria, but little has been mentioned that goes beyond the kidnapping of a group of schoolgirls by the Boko Haram organization and the recent bombing of an Abuja mall. Nigeria has traditionally been a prosperous country in the region, wealth mostly driven by its strong energy industry. It is thus baffling to see the state of Nigeria being brought to its knees by a rebel movement that advocates anti-western discourse. How can such a strong state be so frail in the face of an armed insurgency? What could have brought about the yearning for groups such as Boko Haram to exist as extra-legal entities that defy the established order?

This article will endeavour to answer these questions by analyzing the current state of the country’s extractive practices, and juxtapose it with its delivery of government services. The argument proposed in this article is that unsustainable resource exploitation by western oil companies played a role in the development of grievances that subsequently resulted in the creation of rebel groups in Nigeria. As the country’s economy becomes increasingly specialized around the energy industry, individuals and groups whose livelihoods are dependent on subsistence practices become victims of the environmental effects of resource exploitation, making them more prone to generating grievances.

Nigeria’s reliance on extractive practices is worth noting. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, energy products in Nigeria accounted for nearly 94% of its exports in 2013. Such products are the result of the extraction of non-renewable resources such as crude petroleum, petroleum gas and to a lesser extent, the production of refined petroleum. The energy industry in Nigeria plays a significant role in the generation of overall wealth in the country, accounting for 14% of its GDP in 2013, and producing more than $100 billion in government revenue that same year.

The availability of the Nigerian government’s revenue however does not see itself fully reflected in other economic indicators. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Nigeria’s GDP per Capita has steadily increased from $1,750 in 2005 to $2,135 in 2010, while indicators such as the country’s income index have followed a similar increase from 0.404 to 0.437 during the same period. Similarly, data on government expenditure on public and health services shows a mixed pattern. Between 2005 and 2006, no variation was found in the budget for health and public services (1.9% of GDP). However, a modest 0.5% increase was provided in 2007, an amount that was subsequently unaltered in 2008. Between 2008 and 2010, there is a decreasing pattern of expenditure, whereby budgetary spending was reduced from 2.4% in 2008 to 1.9% in 2010, the same percentage allocated for these services in 2005. While following a generally increasing trend, it is necessary to point out that these surges were modest at best, and that they should be considered only as tendencies of a general, steadfast economic performance, as opposed to determinants of economic well-being at the citizen level. While these indicators point to a healthy availability of resources, they pose serious doubts over the population’s access to them.

In theory, if the availability and accessibility of resources were relatively uniform, serious challenges could be posed to the idea that extra-legal groups in Nigeria, including Boko Haram, have been created in response to sluggish economic performance alone. As follows from the data above, there is a discrepancy between the existence of resources and access to them, whereby government expenditure on public services does not correspond with the revenue generated by sectors such as the energy industry.

There is one last issue that needs further scrutiny, and that is the very nature of Boko Haram as a rebel organization. Unlike other rebel groups, whose raison d’ être is explicitly connected with the improvement of current economic, political and social conditions, Boko Haram’s mandate is devoted to undermining groups that do not have a direct connection with Nigeria’s decision-making apparatuses. Western ideological views and culture permeate Boko Haram’s very reason to exist, which makes them different than other rebel groups, which lead their fights based on domestic and national issues. Furthermore, given that Nigeria’s energy industry is dominated by western companies, it opens additional space for questions to arise.

As environmental factors continue to take the forefront on the generation of organized violence, it is essential for decision-makers to reconceptualise the very idea of why individuals decide to take arms.
Under such a light, and given the heavy burden posed by oil exploration and exploitation on the quality of arable soil and drinking water, it is safe to say that environmental variables do have a causal relationship with the development of anti-western grievances in Nigeria. In an economy where multisectoriality is superseded by a one-industry model, individuals directly involved in the production of subsistence goods rarely benefit from such a model. Considering this trend, combined with the idea that western companies are directly involved in the depletion of the very resources necessary for the development of healthy and wide subsistence networks, it is not too adventurous to conclude that western oil exploitation in Nigeria was a factor in the development of grievances that subsequently led to the creation and growth of organizations such as Boko Haram.

If the argument presented here is true, then what options are left for peacemakers wanting to stop violence in Nigeria? As environmental factors such as climate change, land degradation and resource scarcity continue to take the forefront on the generation of organized violence, it is essential for decision-makers to reconceptualise the very idea of why individuals decide to take arms. Conventional streams of thought that typically phrase causal rationales for war in terms of economic, social or political variables fail to recognize the increasingly crucial role of environmental phenomena in conflict situations. What is perhaps more pressing is the yet-to-be institutionalized belief that we may no longer disassociate the economic, social and political conceptions of life from the environment. If this status quo remains, so will our collective path towards violence.

The post Natural resources and violence in Nigeria appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 0
Community based sociotherapy in Rwanda: healing a post-violent conflict society Wed, 03 Sep 2014 12:03:32 +0000 Jean de Dieu Basabose, Insight on Conflict's Local Correspondent fro Rwanda, looks at how "community based sociotherapy" is being used to heal the wounds of the past and build social cohesion in Rwanda.

The post Community based sociotherapy in Rwanda: healing a post-violent conflict society appeared first on Insight on Conflict.


After the genocide and war that destroyed the social fabric among Rwandans, different approaches have been used to restore hope, heal the wounds of the past and build social cohesion. “Community based sociotherapy” is one of the approaches introduced by the Byumba Anglican Diocese operating in the Northern Province of Rwanda. This article explains the approach and presents its contribution to and effectiveness in building a restorative society.

Sociotherapy is simply understood by Nvunabandi and Ruhorahoza (2008:65), two of the facilitators of the sociotherapy program, as a way to help people come together to overcome or cure their problems. The approach helps people in a group format, whereby group members are given an opportunity to help their companions to overcome problems, as well as solve their own. Community based sociotherapy was first introduced in Rwanda in 2005. The program has been remarkably successful in assisting Rwandans in dealing with the consequences of genocide and war.

The group is used as a therapeutic medium to establish trust and confidence in one another, and open environments for discussion and peer-support structures. The approach has helped bring many people to recognize their mistakes and ask for forgiveness during the time of Gacaca courts in Rwanda and to build up reconciliation and unity in the community. Applying the approach, the Byumba Anglican Diocese has tirelessly contributed to assisting wounded people in dealing with the psychosocial problems unresolved by the Gacaca courts.

The effectiveness of the sociotherapy in Byumba relies on the following principles which are considered as the backbone of the approach:  Interest in people, Equality, Democracy, Here and Now, Responsibility, Participation, and Learning by Doing. In addition, sociotherapy is defined by its practitioners using six conditions or phases (Richters, 2008:36):

  1. Safety: it is necessary to know that the people you look after are safe.
  2. Trust: it is necessary for the people in need to trust the individual who can help, because when there is no trust, those in need cannot move forward.
  3. Care: people who need help need to understand that there are individuals within the socio-group who are able to take care of them.
  4. Respect: people need to know that even after they have shared their problems with the socio-group, they will still have the respect of its members.
  5. New rules: these are the rules set up and agreed upon by group members, thus providing a new start for living in harmony.
  6. Memory of emotions: the participants have the right to remember what happened to them and to be able to live with these memories, developing what is good, and dejecting the bad  and wrongs that took place in the past.

Many testimonies relating the healing impact among the beneficiaries have emerged. Participants have been able to alleviate trauma by finding a space for sharing their hurting memories and wounded emotions. Raped women have been given the opportunity to talk about what has happened to them with individuals who care. Through this approach, affected Rwandans have been able to move forward and give pardon to their abusers. They have learned to trust others and, as a result, realize that their lives can continue with meaning.  The program leaders are making efforts to expand this approach to the entire territory of Rwanda. Currently they are working in the four Provinces of the country in a consortium with two other organizations.  They hope to expand this program throughout the complete Districts of the country.


This sociotherapy approach is a practical example of a restorative process with the aim of building a healed and reconciled Rwandan society. The created groups are becoming restorative circles, and are growing in the ability to heal. Looking at the principles of restorative justice as per Howard Zehr and Harry Mika ( Zehr, 2002:64-69), the sociotherapy approach here described can be qualified as a working and effective restorative practice because:  (i) the victims of the genocide and war, as well as the whole community, have been harmed and are in need of support; (ii) the victims, offenders (genocide perpetrators) and the community are the key stakeholders in this restorative initiative; and (iii) in many cases, the offenders recognise and acknowledge the wrong they committed and, as the result of the sociotherapeutic group works, understand their obligation to make things right as much as possible, commit to playing an active role in a reconciliation process, and work for the welfare of the whole community.

The approach seeks to heal people in their communities and put right the wrongs, as well as restore broken relationships (both intra-personal and interpersonal). The success and effectiveness of this method can be partially attributed to the fact that group relationships and community life are so integral to the Rwandan people.

For further information on the sociotherapy approach applied in Byumba, please contact: BISHOP Emmanuel Ngendahayo ( +250788417655,

Thank you to Jody Ellyne for her help in preparing this article for publication.

The post Community based sociotherapy in Rwanda: healing a post-violent conflict society appeared first on Insight on Conflict.

]]> 2