Insight on Conflict http://www.insightonconflict.org Mapping Local Peacebuilding Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:47:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 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 The changing of the guard: Burkinabé civil society says no to coup by stealth http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/changing-guard-burkinabe-civil-society-says-no-coup-stealth/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/changing-guard-burkinabe-civil-society-says-no-coup-stealth/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 12:55:09 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=42249 Burkina Faso is undergoing political upheaval in the wake of the revolution which deposed Blaise Campaoré from power last year. The influence of Campaoré’s former presidential guard continues to be felt, and there are worrying signs that his allies are looking to take over political life. But civil society is determined that they will not succeed, says Boris Somé.

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Professor Luis Marius Ibrigi

Professor Luis Marius Ibrigi

The RSP: a hangover from Compaoré, and a power struggle at the heart of government

There is still a smell of former President Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso. And it comes from the Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (RSP, Compaoré’s personal guard). Even mentioning the RSP brings to mind the crimes committed in Burkina Faso under Compaoré’s regime, such as the murders of David Ouedraogo and Norbert Zongo.

The RSP is lurking in the shadows of Burkina’s transitional government
The influence of Campaoré continues, with the RSP lurking in the shadows of Burkina’s transitional government. Indeed, it appears that the transitional government is actually under surveillance by the RSP, which remains a significant source of power. Disturbing signs abound: a weekly ministerial meeting was prevented from taking place in early February by some former members of the RSP. This came after a previous meeting was interrupted in December by similar elements, demanding that Prime Minister Yacouba Zida not dissolve the RSP altogether.

The Burkinabé political landscape has become more and more troubled in recent times, and the transition will not succeed if it has to develop within an RSP empire. Is Campaoré preparing his revenge, and does he want to do it by proxy?

A bad start in need of a good ending: the future of the transitional government

The establishment of the transitional government took place in an exceedingly strange manner. The RSP actually took centre stage in managing it. In the immediate aftermath of events last year, Zida – a Colonel and previously second in command at the RSP – suprised everyone and took the side of the people, becoming prime minister of the interm government charged with organising elections in 2015.

Perhaps Zida is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But the current discontent at the heart of the RSP shows that Zida has decided to in  accordance with the transitional charter. He gives the impression of wanting to remove the influence of the RSP and be a true leader of the people. This gives him some credibility among Burkinabé, who must now mobilise to save a republic in dire straits. The actions of the RSP resemble preparations for a coup, and the people must stop this from happening. The transition is potentially in the hands of the army. But Burkinabé society has its own soldiers, who will work tirelessly to prevent a return to the past: the men and women of civil society. And let there be no doubt about the necessity of their work. The transition will not bear fruit if it has to develop within the RSP empire.

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Civil society groups protesting against the continuing influence of former president Blaise Campaoré’s personal security corps

Burkinabé civil society: on high alert

The RSP is powerful and well-equipped, and the events of last year will amount to nothing if Burkina’s people do not keep their guard up. They intend to do so. Days after the events of the 4 February – and 100 days after the departure of Compaoré – a mass demonstration took place in Ouagadougou, protesting against the continuing influence of the RSP. The message was clear: Compaoré has left, and so must his supporters.

The people no longer want to smell Compaoré’s legacy. And for last October’s revolution not merely to be an interruption of business as usual, all Burkinabé – young, old, men, women, political parties and civil society groups – have to continue their mobilisation.

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Martine Yabre

Many are involved, and they are taking the opportunity with both hands. As women’s representative Martine Yabre said at the demonstration: “It is out of the question for women to be at home when men are mobilising for change. Women must be involved in building and safeguarding the future of our country.”

Young Burkinabé will be crucial to progress. Herve Ouattara, of the Collectif Anti-Referendum (CAR, the Anti-Referendum Collective), urged Burkina’s youth to “sleep with one eye open. The battles of yesterday and today will be nothing compared with those of tomorrow, if the RSP is not dismantled.”

We sent Blaise Compaoré to the rubbish heap. But the RSP still stinks
Dr Ra-Sablga Seydou Ouedraogo, from the FREE Afrik Institute, added that “We sent Blaise Compaoré to the rubbish heap. But the RSP still stinks.”

For Dr Ouedraogo, prosecutors should open a file on Compaoré. The difficulties in demilitarising power in Burkina will be great, he said, and society must be vigilant.

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“The RSP is a threat to and puts the Republic in danger. Dissolution without RSP conditions.”

Professor Luis Marius Ibriga – a founding member of the Front de Résistance Citoyenne (FRC, Citizen’s Resistance Front) invoked the transitional charter in reminding people of the popular legitimacy of events last year. He said it was the people who chased out Compaoré, and not the RSP, and that power belonged to them. The RSP must not dictate the law, he added.

Let us hope that there is a dictatorship of good sense
One representative of the Citizen’s Broom movement – a well-known civil society group in Burkina – said that the will of the people cannot be fought. “Better one committed battalion than an army of sheep.” Nonetheless, others are worried. “What scares me most are politicians,” said Samskey Lejah at the protest. “They must not turn young people against one another. They have to avoid all talk of violence, before, during and after the elections.”

For their part, several political parties also attended the protest, signalling their support for the dissolution of the RSP. A spokesperson for the Front Progressiste Sankariste (FPS, the Progressive Sankarist Front), said that doing so would be in line with promises made as far back as 1999. Sixteen years later, it continues to prosper. Should the RSP be dissolved, as civil society wants, or reconstituted into a more useful organisation?

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Herve Outtara

The future of the RSP

Burkinabé should not expect miracles from the transition. But they are entitled to expect progress after the transition. The revolution is not a football match which begins and then ends. It is a long process. But due care should be taken. The threat of violence remains real. And there must be a way to rebuild the RSP into a more useful organisation. It would be a mistake if, drunk on the revolution, Burkinabé confused well-trained and well-intentioned elite members of society with Compaoré’s RSP. A cool analysis and clear vision will allow for a peaceful Burkina, and to take some good from the RSP, despite its dark past. There is a risk of a dictatorship of opinion in Burkina Faso; let us hope that there is instead a dictatorship of good sense.

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We demand the pure and simple dissolution of the RSP as from this day.”

 

 

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Women in Guatemala: survivors yesterday, activists today, peace builders tomorrow http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/women-guatemala-survivors-yesterday-activists-today-peace-builders-tomorrow/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/women-guatemala-survivors-yesterday-activists-today-peace-builders-tomorrow/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 09:02:49 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=42226 Guatemalan women have suffered horrific violence as a result of the country’s civil war and its legacy. But they refuse to be cast solely as victims, and are playing a key role in holding Guatemala’s institutions accountable. Sophie Helle discusses the challenges they face.

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Discussing the situation of women who have suffered from the conflict in Guatemala, at the human rights commission of the Organization of American States. Image credit: OEA - OAS.

Discussing the situation of women who have suffered from the conflict in Guatemala, at the human rights commission of the Organization of American States. Image credit: OEA – OAS.

It has been almost two decades since the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords in Guatemala, which ended the horrific civil war between the Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG).

The people of Guatemala deal everyday with crime: gang activity, drug and human trafficking, child exploitation and violence. Education, employment and health systems are poorly developed, criminal activity is particularly strong in rural areas, and discrimination towards indigenous people is rife. 20 years later, you could be forgiven for wondering: is peace actually being built?

Despite some of these problems, the answer is definitively yes. And women – who have suffered as victims, but are equally agents of change – are vital to solving them. They are playing a key role in the peacebuilding process.

The trouble with being a woman: gender-based violence in Guatemala

Indeed, for the last 20 years, Guatemalan women have suffered from gender-based violence. Indigenas in particular were targeted during the war, being raped, beaten and used as sex slaves. Today, targeted killing of women in general – femicide – is also taking place. Guatemala has experienced a rise of the “intentional murder of women because they are women”. Newspaper articles are published every day about women and girls who have been raped, tortured, mutilated, and killed.

Victims of sexual violence almost never see the perpetrators punished
Their body parts are tied up in garbage bags or abandoned in ditches – “this is Guatemala,” as one report put it. Whilst a lack of effective reporting makes it difficult to measure the scale of this violence, Amnesty International has put pressure on the Guatemalan government by denouncing the failures of investigations led by the authorities; victims of rape and sexual assault almost never see the perpetrators punished, with a conviction rate of less than one in ten. As such, women are victims not only of the violence, but also the delays in securing justice.

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Mayan women in particular were targeted during Guatemala’s civil war. Image credit: World Bank.

Not just victims, not just giving in: the role of women in fighting for change

Yet it would be wrong to see Guatemalan women solely as victims . They are not devoid of resources and they have the energy and dedication to make change.

Indeed, their involvement in the making of Guatemala’s future has been visible throughout its violent history. The National Coordinating Group of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA) illustrates this involvement well.

Founded in 1988, CONAVIGUA launched a struggle against military oppression, impunity and the violation of human rights. The organisation works to strengthen the capacity and mobilisation of women, especially in rural areas. It carries out exhumations and burials of the remains of victims of the conflict in different regions throughout Guatemala.

The Guatemalan Assembly of Civil Society was created to ensure the presence of local voices in peace discussions
In 1996, CONVIGUA was involved in the negotiations around the Peace Accords as part of the Assembly of Civil Society (ASC), which was created to ensure the presence of local voices in ending the country’s conflict. The ASC comprised 10 representatives from 11 social sectors invited to participate, including women’s organisations, and gave indigenous and ladina women their first ever opportunity to work together on gender issues at a national level.

In this context, CONAVIGUA played a key role as a Mayan organisation, bringing together Guatemalan women from all backgrounds and helping to shape the accords. Since then, CONAVIGUA’s work has been an important contributor to peace in the country, through a wide range of activities.

For example, its Justice and Dignity programme has been developed in order to facilitate the aims of the accords. It provides legal, psychological and social support for victims and their relatives, as well as a keeping up the struggle to promote justice. CONAVIGUA is a central actor in the peacebuilding process.

Peace in our time? The continuing challenge for women of making their voices heard

The dual role of Guatemalan women demonstrates their key role. Their mobilisation and involvement in Guatemalan society as a whole is crucial to the evolution of the peacebuilding process. But CONAVIGUA’s members regularly experience serious threats and aggression. In order to deal with these critical security issues, and in order to be able to carry on its work, CONAVIGUA has been accompanied by Peace Brigades International since 2003.

Becoming activists makes women all the more a target; their gender and activities being used by their attackers to justify the violence against them. Both victims and drivers of peace, women are therefore at the heart of the slow peacebuilding process in Guatemala: demonstrating the importance of integrating women into not only peace accords, but also post-conflict policies.

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Healing and conflict resolution through religion http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/healing-conflict-resolution-religion/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/healing-conflict-resolution-religion/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 09:54:23 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=42238 Jean de Dieu Basabose, Peace Direct’s Local Correspondent in Rwanda, discusses an approach to resolving ethnic conflict structured around religious practice.

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Participants at a HWEC workshop session

Participants at a HWEC workshop session

The Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict (HWEC) approach began in Rwanda in September 1994, and aimed to deal with the consequences that the genocide had on the Rwandan people, churches and communities. The approach was developed by Dr Rhiannon Lloyd as an alternative way of solving some of the problems in post-genocide Rwanda. The approach has been applied by a number of different organizations such as ZOA International, African Evangelical Enterprise , and Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance, and is currently being implemented and disseminated by Mercy Ministries International (MMI).

Overview on the approach

HWEC is a biblical based approach which is run in the format of workshops. Its aims are: achieving the revelation of truth that sets people free; creating the opportunity for people to hear each other and express their pain in a safe environment; considering and using the cross as means of healing; enabling people to forgive or ask for forgiveness; discouraging and removing prejudices and judgments, and developing the ability to see the beauty in each other; bringing down dividing walls between ethnic groups and between different denominations; and finally, encouraging church communities to play its role in the healing of the nation.

The people who implement the HWEC approach make efforts to ensure that everyone leaves the workshops with refreshed energy and feeling loved and affirmed. In addition, participants generally leave the workshops with a determination to live out the reconciliation practically in their churches and communities.

The HWEC approach seeks to bring healing and wholeness to communities suffering from ethnic conflict and hatred. This approach appeals to many divided societies and is effective at helping communities that are experiencing ethnic conflicts. The format is used actively by locals in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ivory Coast and other nations. It seeks to bring healing and wholeness to communities suffering from ethnic bitterness and hatred. People from differing ethnic and denominational backgrounds are invited to encounter God and one another. In a safe environment, they are encouraged to experience healing and to develop new perspectives and attitudes. They are also equipped to influence others to demonstrate these new perspectives and attitudes.

Alongside the HWEC workshops, the approach also has a cultural side that takes shape in the form of conferences, drama, and practical displays HWEC’s beneficiaries, songs and artistic displays. A combination of interactive teaching, group sessions, ministry times and participant interaction is used. Each session builds upon previous sessions so full participation is essential.

Celebrating 20 years of the HWEC approach

On 14 November 2014, a celebration of the 20 year anniversary of the HWEC approach was organised by the MMI and took place at Nobleza Hotel, in Kigali City. Joseph Nyamutera, the director of Mercy Ministries International in the Great Lakes region, said this about the HWEC approach while giving a presentation on the impact of the HWEC:

“The baby HWEC grew like a small stream into a big river. It kept growing as it was fed, enriched and contextualized by local leaders in Rwanda and the region. This approach has been very powerful in helping people to experience resurrection. Victims were able to forgive, perpetrators found the grace to ask forgiveness, churches took up the responsibility to be the reconcilers, and families were restored. Other countries experiencing ethnic conflicts have taken HWEC into their own divided communities. So far, 14 countries are using this approach with exciting results.”

A personal story from a beneficiary of the HWEC approach

“I lost my mother during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, and my father and grandmother were killed by the malicious interahamwe while I was hidden in a basket. She was killed by being beaten a big stick with nails called ‘UBUHIRI’. The blood sprayed all over until where I was hidden in the basket full of sorghum. This wounded me so much and I was overwhelmed by exceeding hatred, especially to all Hutus. I have two dairies where I use to write whoever person who could harm me. But during the [HWEC’s] Cross Workshop, by putting my sorrows, pains and anger on the Cross, I was released. I have forgiven all Hutus and including those who killed my relatives, and I have burned my diaries tonight. May the glory be to the living God.” – Jean de Dieu Ntamugabumwe

The continued benefits of the HWEC approach

Looking at the living testimonies from the HWEC beneficiaries from many of the countries mentioned above, and who attended the celebration of 14th November 2014, convincingly suggests that using the substances, resources and infrastructures existing in our communities such as church frameworks can help to heal the wounds of the past and smoothly move societies towards genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace.

For further information on the HWEC approach, please contact: Nyamutera Joseph, +250 788 410 412 / glregion@lerucher.org

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Football over fighting? The role of sport in peacebuilding http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/football-fighting-role-sport-peacebuilding/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/football-fighting-role-sport-peacebuilding/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 11:50:24 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=42133 The Ivory Coast football team won its first major trophy in 20 years this month, sealing victory in the Africa Cup of Nations in a dramatic penalty shoot-out with West African rivals Ghana. At Insight on Conflict, we were delighted to see countries from across the continent participate in Africa’s premier sporting competition, including DR […]

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The Afghanistan team at the 2013 Beach Football World Cup qualifiers, in Qatar. Image credit: Osama Saeed.

The Ivory Coast football team won its first major trophy in 20 years this month, sealing victory in the Africa Cup of Nations in a dramatic penalty shoot-out with West African rivals Ghana.

At Insight on Conflict, we were delighted to see countries from across the continent participate in Africa’s premier sporting competition, including DR Congo, which we know well. But what also caught our eye was the eventual winner.

The Ivory Coast has been at war with itself for more than a decade, and with elections looming later this year, tensions remain high. But after a stormy tournament in which one semi-final was nearly abandoned because of crowd violence, the Ivory Coast’s footballers united on the pitch to win the cup.

Star striker Dider Drogba helped secure a truce during the Ivorian civil war
And they have been trying to create unity off the turf as well. Although best-known for their prowess on the playing field, these national heroes are contributing in other ways at home and abroad. Several of the players support peacebuilding and development initiatives in the Ivory Coast, using their success in Europe and elsewhere to build a more peaceful future for the troubled country.

Most famously, former captain and star striker Didier Drogba helped secure a temporary truce in the middle of the Ivory Coast’s long-running conflict in 2007. It allowed his team to play a qualifying match in opposition-controlled territory. The entire team was later nominated for an award in recognition of their efforts.

Drogba has since set up a foundation to support development projects in the Ivory Coast and elsewhere, and restated his commitment to using football for peace, saying it is the only thing that has united his country in recent years.

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Celebrations at a tournament for internally displaced persons in Darfur. Image credit: United Nations Photo.

The UN mission in the Ivory Coast even set up a league between peacekeepers and local armed forces
Other players have contributed in different ways, such as Kolo Touré, who has worked for the Roll Back Malaria campaign, and urged for calm around Ebola testing last year. And last Sunday’s victorious captain, Yaya Touré, is a UNEP envoy in the fight against ivory poaching, an important issue in West Africa.

This work is part of a growing recognition that sport in general, and football in particular, can play a role in peacebuilding and development. This has been formalised in several initiatives:

  • Fifa’s flagship Football for Hope programme provides funding for football-based development projects around the world, including in conflict-affected societies in Israel-Palestine and the Western Balkans.
  • UNESCO has a dedicated committee working on sport and peacebuilding.
  • There are myriad international groups incorporating sport into their activities, such as Coaches Across Continents and the FHPU.
  • In the Ivory Coast, the UN mission even set up a mini-league between peacekeepers and local armed forces in order to improve relations between the different security services in the country.

Similar initiatives are being implemented across the world by local organisations. They can sometimes be hard to find, but they are doing valuable work, quite literally at the grass roots of peacebuilding activity. On our site we have mapped several groups who use football and sport in all or part of their work.

It has been used to help young people in the DRC and Kenya, support reconciliation in Burundi, and assist a range of projects in Pakistan. Our Local Correspondent in Nigeria, Michael Olufemo Sodipo, has reported for us on the role of sport in development in his country. And we know that there are more schemes out there.

We will continue to work to find them, using our network of local correspondents around the world. Even if – as Michael notes – sport will not change the world on its own, maybe harmony on the pitch can contribute to harmony off it.

As this year’s cup of nations demonstrates, football can inflame passions and lead to violent incidents. But as the work of the Ivory Coast and others also shows, football and sport can play a role in promoting long-term unity. We must work for more of the latter and less of the former.

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War affects all: why peace is important to the people of Galilee http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/war-affects-peace-important-people-galilee/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/war-affects-peace-important-people-galilee/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 10:17:33 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=41707 Whilst volunteering in a village in northern Israel Tori Curbelo saw that many people were not seeking vengeance despite being badly affected by conflict, and that they only desired peace. Unfortunately, war has the ability to reach those who did not intend to participate.

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Farmers harvest olives in Galilee. Image credit Jabalna

Farmers harvest olives in Galilee. Image credit Jabalna

As the saying goes, ‘there are two sides to every story’. There is a tendency for onlookers to see those involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as either, ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Palestine’. But after visiting Eilaboun, a small village in the north of Israel, I have realized that there can also be a third side.

Although many view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as primarily a battle between Muslim Palestine and Jewish Israel, there are many who do not fall into either category. These people, be they Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, are still affected by the conflict. Indeed, one of the consequences of armed conflict is that civilians are often caught in the crossfire, regardless of whether they choose to be involved.

The village of Eilaboun is unique in that it has a majority Christian population. The village has seen its share of conflict. The events the Eilaboun Massacre are unbeknown to many, yet remain imprinted on the memory and hearts of those in the community. On 30 October 1948, the Israeli Defence Force captured Eliaboun. Soldiers forced several men from their homes and killed them in front of the entire community. The rest of the village was forced to flee to Lebanon, where they lived as refugees. Only when this was brought to the attention of the United Nations were the refugees allowed to return to their homes.

Eilaboun 2

The village of Eilaboun. Image credit: Tori Curbelo

I have heard this story time and time again from members of the village. Some were first-hand accounts, others were passed down. During my time in Eilaboun, I stayed with a family from the village, and the grandmother of the house recounted how she had to leave her baby on the side of the road. I was not only interested in the stories the community had to tell, but also in their overall sentiment.

Hopes for peace in Eilaboun

Despite listening to the hardships of the massacre from various villagers, what was most surprising for me is that many did not appear to be vengeful.
Despite listening to the hardships of the massacre from various villagers, what was most surprising for me is that many did not appear to be vengeful. Instead, they spoke about their hope and their desire for peace for the community.

One resident of Eilaboun told me that he did not want a Palestinian state, but that he simply wanted to be considered equal in the eyes of his country. Some of the parents only desired a safe environment for their children to grow up in, and for them to not have to worry about the future. My conversations with community members highlighted how war does not discriminate and that individuals cannot always opt out of participation. Innocent civilians have often been dragged into the conflict, independent of their feelings and personal beliefs.

Not only are there those who want no part in the conflict, but there are people who are actively creating a brighter future for Eilaboun. I volunteered with Jabalna, a local non-profit organisation that supports various social programs and development activities in Eilaboun and across Galilee. Volunteers participate in a number of projects including the assistance of the rebuilding of a cultural centre, facilitating activities in a local school, and planting olive trees. During my visit, I assisted with several community development projects around the village, but I was most involved with was the reconstruction of the cultural centre in Eilaboun. The project offered the opportunity for villagers and volunteers from around the world to come together and enhance community pride within the village.

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Image credit: Tori Curbelo

One of Jabalna’s biggest initiatives is the ‘Olive Trees of the Galilee’ project, one of the many ways in which the organization engages in community building. The project sets out to support hundreds of farmers in Galilee by providing them with small olive trees. Although farmers have long depended on the olive tree crop for their livelihoods, the land is becoming infertile and farmers are having difficulty cultivating these trees. By supporting the cultivation of olive trees, farmers and their families will be able to have a reliable source of income from the land that they already own.

The message of hope from the community was solidified by my experience with Jabalna.  Their projects illustrate that instead of focusing on the conflict of the past, many in the village are interested in building a strong future.

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The rise of Boko Haram and the response of civil society http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/boko-haram-civil-society-nigeria/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/boko-haram-civil-society-nigeria/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 09:27:03 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=42062 Recent attacks by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria are perhaps the deadliest in the insurgent group’s history. Peace Direct's Local Correspondent for Nigeria, Michael Olufemi Sodipo, examines the issues behind the conflict, the response of civil society, and what can be done to end the violence.

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Kano, capital of Northern Nigeria. Photo credit: pjotter05

Kano, Northern Nigeria. Photo credit: pjotter05

Recent attacks by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria are perhaps the deadliest in the insurgent group’s history. Dozens of villages and towns, and the military base of a multinational force deployed to fight them, are now under the control of Boko Haram.

At the beginning of January, rampaging insurgents stormed Baga and 16 other towns leaving behind a trail of sorrow, tears and blood. Hundreds of people were massacred and over 35,000 people displaced. Many drowned in Lake Chad while escaping the Boko Haram onslaught. The insurgents abducted women and young people, and destroyed property  worth millions of Naira. During this same period, Boko Haram carried out several coordinated suicide missions, deploying teenage girls to carry out the attacks.

The spate of recent deadly attacks by Boko Haram comes at a time of political uncertainty and tension in Nigeria. General elections due in February have been postponed due to the security challenges in northeast. Unhealthy rivalry, political realignments and violent electioneering campaigns by political parties are adding to existing tensions. It is imperative that the forthcoming election is free, fair, credible and non-violent.

Regional implications

The insurgency in northern Nigeria is a security concern not just for Nigeria but for the broader Sub-Saharan region and the international community. Nigeria’s strategic importance in Africa cannot be underestimated. With a population of over 160 million, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and home to the continent’s largest economy.

Unless Nigeria and its partners can address the growing radicalization of Nigeria’s youth and the festering ethnic and religious tensions, many poor and marginalized Nigerians will continue to gravitate toward extremist groups, turning the country into a hub of insecurity. This, in turn, has security and economic implications for the wider region.

The rise of Boko Haram

Extremist groups have been able to tap into grievances over widespread poverty, and ethnic and religious divides, to assert their ideology
Armed violence, distrust and politicization of ethnic identity have eroded the fabric of the Nigerian state since independence in 1960. The challenge is how to make ‘unity in diversity’ not only meaningful but also workable. Extremist groups have been able to tap into grievances over widespread poverty, and ethnic and religious divides, to assert their ideology. Boko Haram grew its ranks by taking advantage of widespread anger and resentment in northern Nigeria over the country’s wealth gap, and exploited religious rhetoric to justify its violence.

Meanwhile the military’s efforts at countering armed violence have been continually undercut by low troop morale, sabotage by Boko Haram sympathizers, and alleged human rights abuses by the security forces which alienate local support.

Civil society response

Civil society in Nigeria has been vocal in response to the insecurity and insurgency. There is an abundance of activities to increase community engagement, social healing, and a culture of peace in Nigeria. Among the many examples:

  • The Bring Back Our Girls Movement is a diverse group of citizens advocating for the search and rescue of the 200 girls abducted in April 2014 and for a rapid containment and quelling of insurgency in Nigeria.
  • The Voice and Accountability Platform organises awareness campaigns and town hall meetings with emphasis on non-violence and the need to strengthen good governance and democracy.
  • A group of Nigerian organisations have petitioned the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situations and mass atrocities committed by Boko Haram.

More than military might

Addressing the challenges of radicalization in northern Nigeria requires measures that transcend simply crushing Boko Haram and other radical groups through military means.
Addressing the challenges of radicalization in northern Nigeria requires measures that transcend simply crushing Boko Haram and other radical groups through military means. Redressing insurgency in Nigeria will require interventions at every stage, from the measured use of force, to proactive development investments to alleviate social and economic grievances, and countering extremist ideologies:

  • Intelligence-driven operations and continuous engagement of local community are key to solving the prevailing security challenges. These would include dealing with extremist training locations, sources of funding and the presence of foreign fighters.
  • Demonstrable commitments to drastic reduction of poverty and fuller enrolment in public education are crucial strategic steps for eliminating violent radicalism. Citizens need to be empowered to acquire the basic education and vocational skills that will prepare them to be functional members of society and participate actively. Government and local civil society organisations have critical roles to play in this.
  • The authorities need to provide more space for moderate Muslims in northern Nigeria the protection from being silenced. Government and civil society groups should encourage and facilitate public discourse and transformative dialogue between Muslims, Christians and the security forces operatives to foster interfaith harmony and development.
  • Government should address other factors that have created a fertile ground for violent extremism in Nigeria, such as endemic government corruption and impunity.

In these ways, the Nigerian government can address the underlying causes of ongoing ethnic and religious tensions.

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The Malian malaise: Daniel Ozoukou talks peacebuilding in Mali http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/malian-malaise-daniel-ozoukou-talks-peacebuilding-mali/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/malian-malaise-daniel-ozoukou-talks-peacebuilding-mali/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 09:40:46 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=40679 Daniel Ozoukou discusses peacebuilding with Abdoul Aziz Ag Alwaly, Programmes Coordinator at the Malian NGO TASSAGHT.

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A Beninese peacekeeper from the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA. Image credit: UN Photos.

A Beninese peacekeeper from the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA. Image credit: UN Photos.

Daniel Ozoukou, Peace Direct’s Local Correspondent for Mali and the Ivory Coast, recently spoke to Abdoul Aziz Ag Alwaly, the Programmes Coordinator at Malian peacebuilding organisation TASSAGHT. They discussed TASSAGHT’s work, the current situation in Mali, and what needs to happen for a lasting peace in the country.

Please could you give us an overview of who you are and what you do.

My name is Abdoul Aziz Ag Alwaly, and I’m the Programmes Coordinator at TASSAGHT. We were founded in 1988; many people in Mali speak Tamasheq, and tassaght is a Tamasheq word meaning “link” or “connection.” We were the first national NGO to establish an office in Northern Mali, which is in Gao. We believe that without peace there can be no development

How did TASSAGHT come into being?

It was created as an association by several young Malian graduates in 1985, to help rural communities in northern Mali affected by drought the year before. These young people had previously volunteered with organisations including SECAMA (Caritas, today) and World Vision International. In 1988, this organisations was registered as an NGO with the help of SECAMA and the Malian state, who had taken note of our commitment to contribute to local development in Mali.

You recently organised a large peace and reconciliation campaign in Gao. What kind of impact has it had?

This project worked to bring conflicting groups and communities together. It organised and conducted meetings between and among different communities, with discussion groups taking place about local sources of tensions, in particular over local resource use. Preparations were also made to support the establishment of monitoring bodies to follow up on the meetings. In general, this has helped to restore confidence among those who took part. Incidences of violence have decreased and we are working on shared resource development projects.

How did TASSAGHT respond in the aftermath of the eruption of violence in Mali in April 2012?

We immediately helped raise awareness of how local community members could help calm the situation down. We worked to bring groups together and remind them of their common social ties, and tried wherever possible to bring groups which were fighting to the negotiating table to help prevent further violence.

What challenges do you and others face in trying to reconcile communities in the areas occupied by the rebels in northern Mali in particular, and in the country in general?

Restoring social and community cohesion is the main problem. Reestablishing social ties and justice will take a long time. We must privilege social justice based around pre-existing links, and the similarities, not differences, between producers of different products, between communities and between different ethnic groups. Traditional conflict prevention and management mechanisms should be strengthened. To this end, we continually raise awareness of and advocate for the importance of peacefully resolving disputes across Mali. This is the core of what we do. To that end, we have organised intercommunity meetings in Itillit and Tinhamma, which helped end two conflicts between nomadic communities. We have also helped develop and implement several local resource management agreements in the Gao region.

The famous mud Mosque at Djenne, in Mali. Image credit: Carsten ten Brink.

The famous mud Mosque at Djenne, in eastern Mali. Image credit: Carsten ten Brink.

What do you think of the peace negotiations currently taking place in Algiers?

They have the potential to reach an agreement shared by all and applicable by all, as civil society wanted. If it is signed, it could bring a lasting peace to Mali, if both parties respect their commitments towards implementing it and involving civil society. Local people consider social cohesion to be indispensable to all their development plans.

What must local peacebuilding NGOs take into account?

 

  • A commitment to sitting down and analysing the roots of a conflict;
  • An understanding of the human factor – local social relations and their impact:
  • Impartiality;
  • Local credibility and the need to be anchored in a region;
  • The ability to follow up on and consolidate peace gains.

Restoring trust is the best way to create impact. Doing that in different areas has allowed us to help people and goods to move freely, and coexist despite the conflict which continues around us.

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Brothers in arms http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/brothers-in-arms-ajoka-london/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/brothers-in-arms-ajoka-london/#comments Sat, 07 Feb 2015 12:40:47 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=41806 What can a power struggle between two brothers in Mughal India tell us about religious conflicts in today’s world? A great deal, when the storytellers are Pakistan's Ajoka Theatre Company.

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Zubin Varla playing the role of Dara. Credit: Ellie Kurttz

Zubin Varla playing the role of Dara. Credit: Ellie Kurttz

For over 30 years, the Lahore-based Ajoka Theatre company has produced theatre that aims to contribute to a just and egalitarian Pakistan. They have established their name nationally whilst collaborating with theatres and NGOs around the world. They are running a ‘Theatre for Peace’ programme with like-minded theatres and groups in India and Pakistan. And now it is London theatre-goers who have the chance to see what Ajoka can do with their play ‘Dara’ having been adapted by and now running at the National Theatre. The original play was performed in Urdu.

‘Dara’ focuses on the story of the battle for succession between two sons of Muhgal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Elder brother Dara Shikok is a Sufi and keen to draw wisdom for other religions. He offers the prospect of a tolerant empire that respects all religions.

His brother Aurangzeb instead wants to impose his Salafi-leaning version of Islam on all subjects of the empire. The scene is set for a struggle that will have implications for the empire and beyond.

Though the story of Dara and Aurangzeb might be new for many in London, the structure of a play as an epic struggle is familiar and the focus on the personalities and arguments means viewers don’t get too lost in the intricacies of the Mughal court.

The contemporary resonances are clear. As the executive producer Anwar Akhtar says, “It is a view amongst some historians and writers in South Asia that particular seeds for the later violent partition of Pakistan from India were laid during the events of Dara’s life.” Meanwhile the struggle between different visions of Islam, and how religions more broadly tolerate other viewpoints, is brilliantly brought to life, in particular during an unforgettable court scene when Dara defends himself from charges of apostasy.

Dara  Vincent Ebrahim Dara and Prasanna Puwanarajah as Prosecutor Talib and the company of Dara (credit Ellie Kurttz)

Dara Vincent Ebrahim Dara and Prasanna Puwanarajah as Prosecutor Talib and the company of Dara (credit Ellie Kurttz)

Ajoka are a political theatre company (they won the Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre in 2012) and Dara is a political play. However, the politics do not overwhelm what is also an incredibly enjoyable and energetic play. The performances from the actors (in particular Zubin Varla in the title role) are superb and the staging is mesmerising. I suspect that one of the reasons that the play has such dynamism is the strength of feeling of the people behind the play. Producer Anwar cites as motivation for the play “the need to separate Islam – the religion of love and peace, the religion of Dara, and also my own family, all orthodox practising Muslims – from the corruption of religion by those who seek power, empire, wealth and territory”.

London is of course a centre for theatre from around the world, but it is particularly gratifying to have a Pakistani theatre company have the opportunity to showcase their work at the prestigious National Theatre. Lovers of theatre with an interest in the role of religion in our lives are recommended to seize this opportunity to sample Ajoka’s work before the run ends on 4 April.

‘Dara’ runs at the National Theatre, London until 4 April 2015.

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Climate change, ecological restoration and conflict resolution http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/climate-change-ecological-restoration-conflict-resolution/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/climate-change-ecological-restoration-conflict-resolution/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 11:52:15 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=41805 Adan Suazo explores the serious challenges climate change presents to peacebuilding and asks if this requires novel methods of conflict resolution.

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Image credit: UNHCR/ACNUR Américas

Image credit: UNHCR/ACNUR Américas

Environmentally-based solutions, such as ecological restoration, may alleviate the stress in which peacemakers must operate
It is difficult to deny the on-going and increasingly damaging effect that climate change is waging on our daily lives. As our societies move deeper into the challenges of the 21st century, climatic factors are continuously shifting the apportionment of natural resources, giving and taking at will. These are truths that find strong support in the literature, but that bring forth legitimate concerns to the field of conflict resolution. This article is a brief exploration of how the impending truths of climate change may pose serious obstacles to peace operations, and how environmentally-based solutions, such as ecological restoration, may alleviate the stress in which peacemakers must operate.

Whether economic, political, social or environmental in nature, conflicts in general are caused by discrepancies in the way resources are being distributed in society. If mechanisms for an adequate distribution of resources is not yet in existence, violence may be seen as being the only channel through which disenfranchised individuals and groups may sway resource redistribution in their favour. The role of peacemakers in this respect is to convince warring groups that, by negotiating a new distribution of resources with the opposing side, they would be benefiting more than if they were to wage war. The adequate existence of resources, in this respect, permits its redistribution.

Climate change alters this dynamic significantly, as it has a negative effect on the supply of natural resources at a juncture where population growth and its subsequent consumer needs are increasing their demand.

In a conflict situation, resource scarcity may push warring groups to try and maximize their gains through war, dissuading them from negotiating peacefully for a shared, albeit smaller, apportionment of a shrinking resource. Climate-based resource scarcity therefore threatens the ability of peacemakers to convince warring groups that peaceful negotiations are favourable.

General understanding has been reached that climate change has altered, and will continue to alter, current paradigms of human sustenance. Questions however arise as to what actions need to be initiated in view of the negative effects of current climatic trends. Climate change adaptation scholars such as Javeline argue that frameworks for adaptation must be created to reduce our systemic vulnerabilities “through the protection of coasts, cities, water supplies, public health, ecosystems, and infrastructures”.

Similar views are expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which defines the idea of adaptation as an “adjustment in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impact”. While these measures may help societies cope with climate change, they do not facilitate an improvement in the availability of natural resources, an issue that proves to be problematic in a conflict situation.

The issue at stake in a peace process, as mentioned above, is a reconceptualization of resource distribution schemes . This however may not be attainable if the resource being disputed does not exist in adequate volumes. To set adaptation goals is necessary, but is not enough. Mechanisms to modify the provision of natural resources, and their inherent ability to generate goods and services, needs to be put forth in conjunction with climate change adaptation solutions. An example of one such mechanism is ecological restoration.

Ecological restoration is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration as “an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability”. As such, ecological restoration takes an opposing view to that of climate change adaptation literature, in that human beings are capable of reversing the effects imposed by climate change.

If resource scarcity is in fact a phenomenon that humans are capable of thwarting, and subsequently reversing, then one may see a place for ecological restoration strategies within larger conflict resolution frameworks.
If resource scarcity is in fact a phenomenon that humans are capable of thwarting, and subsequently reversing, then one may see a place for ecological restoration strategies within larger conflict resolution frameworks. If societies were capable of regenerating a sufficient and acceptable volume of a desired natural resource, policymakers would be better equipped to navigate through a bargaining process with warring groups, therefore enhancing the probabilities of achieving peace.

To adopt ecological restoration mechanisms as part of a peace agenda would not come without its own set of challenges. Within ecological studies circles, doubts still loom over the effectiveness of restoration projects, which some say are currently too regionally concentrated in North America and Australia. This regional bias in research may call into question their application and replicability in other parts (and contexts) of the world.

Furthermore, ecological restoration projects do not yield immediate results, requiring prolonged periods of time to reignite the state of their targeted ecosystems. Nevertheless, successful results have already been documented that suggest the efficiency and feasibility of restoration projects.

By modifying the natural resource supply and demand paradigm in conflict situations, opportunities may arise for individuals and groups-at-war to increase the space with which they are able to bargain. In addition to this, third parties acting as peace brokers may also be better equipped to facilitate a peace process in view of an adequate availability of resources.

To take these statements as undeniable truths is still a premature effort. This article does however highlight one important point: more research needs to be conducted on the intersections between climate change, ecology and conflict resolution practices, for solutions to conventional problems may arise as a result of such an exploration.

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Civil conflict, civil society: a history of political and social change in Burkina Faso http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/civil-conflict-civil-society-history-political-social-change-burkina-faso/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2015/02/civil-conflict-civil-society-history-political-social-change-burkina-faso/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 10:16:05 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=41706 There is a long history of civil society groups working to achieve social change in Burkina Faso. These will be crucial as the country starts to rebuild following the removal of longstanding president Blaise Compaoré from power last year, according to a former US Ambassador in West Africa, Herman J. Cohen.

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A market in Burkina Faso

Image credit: Carsten ten Brink

What differentiated Burkina Faso’s public life after independence was the richness of its civil society.
The West African nation of Burkina Faso has enjoyed relative stability since gaining independence from France in 1960. Like a number of other young African countries, Burkina has evolved politically, from multiparty democracy to military rule and back again several times over half a century.  What differentiated Burkina Faso’s public life after independence was the richness of its civil society.  Regardless of the regime in place, opposition political parties, the press, and a variety of active organisations covering youth, the legal profession, women, human rights, farmers and labour unions maintained a lively presence throughout.

Sankara and the 1983 coup

The country’s most significant change in governance took place in 1983 when a group of young military officers took power, espousing a revolutionary doctrine.  In effect, they claimed they wanted to rid the country of corruption and install modern, clean, and progressive government.  They changed the country’s colonial name, Upper Volta, to Burkina Faso, meaning “the land of proud and honest people.”

The perpetrator of the 1983 coup was Captain Thomas Sankara, a charismatic leader who electrified the populations of several neighbouring French-speaking countries as well as his own. He travelled around the region preaching revolution. I remember visiting the capital city Ouagadougou in 1987 and seeing banners praising the Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and other international revolutionaries. Needless to say, Sankara’s behaviour frightened the other heads of state who sought to isolate him.

Burkina Faso under Campaoré

In late 1987, Sankara’s Vice President Captain Blaise Campaoré organised a coup that ousted and assassinated his boss. Campaoré argued that Sankara’s revolutionary preaching was causing the country to become isolated in West Africa.  Campaoré took over, remaining as president for the 27 years until October 31, 2014. Campaoré’s regime was considered “semi-authoritarian” in that he allowed a relatively free press and opposition political groupings, but arranged things so that he could not be defeated in regular presidential elections. Potential opposing candidates were intimidated into withdrawing.

Campaoré’s big mistake was his tendency to concentrate on manipulating events in neighbouring countries, rather than on the economic wellbeing of his own people. Between 1990 and 1997, Campaoré provided the main support for Charles Taylor’s insurgency in Liberia that resulted in a major humanitarian disaster in that country.  Between 1999 and 2011, Campaoré supported a major rebellion and civil war in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire that ousted the ruling regime of President Laurent Gbagbo and installed the current President, Alassane Ouattara.

While concentrating on destabilising neighbouring governments, Campaoré neglected his own people, who made no progress in economic development. Indeed, scarce resources that should have been utilised internally were diverted to his external adventures. By 2010, he had become quite unpopular.  A new constitution had been adopted in 2005 that limited the president to two mandates. This provided hope that he would not be in power indefinitely.

Facing the end of his second mandate in 2015, Campaoré decided to ask his rubber-stamp national assembly to amend the constitution to allow him to run again. He was warned not to do this by tribal elders and religious leaders who had the pulse of the population. In September 2014, there were small public demonstrations against the possibility of a change in the constitution.  Nevertheless, on October 31, 2014, the proposal to change the constitution was officially introduced in the National Assembly.  This action unleashed spontaneous demonstrations in all of the major cities, including the capital Ouagadougou where one hundred thousand people came into the streets.  They went to the parliament building where the constitutional amendment was being debated and set it on fire.  The President managed to escape in a French military helicopter to neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire.

The role of civil society in preventing violence

What was most significant about the events of October 31 was the absence of major violence except for the burning of the parliament building.
What was most significant about the events of October 31 was the absence of major violence except for the burning of the parliament building.  The military, especially the elite presidential guard, did not use violence against the demonstrators.  This was not an accident.

As soon as it became clear that the citizenry, especially the demographic under age 30, were determined to force the President to uphold the two-term limit, civil society mobilised to head off confrontation. The Burkina Faso Youth League was especially effective in working with the military hierarchy to prevent the use of force against the demonstrators, and the Burkina bar association mediated between the army, the opposition political parties, and the tribal elders to work out a transitional governmental arrangement that brought in distinguished, apolitical Burkina citizens to run the government through a cooling off period and a new election.

The Burkina Faso experience of internal conflict management serves as an example to other countries of the importance and value of a vibrant civil society, regardless of the nature of the regime. It is unfortunate that neither Liberia nor Côte d’Ivoire were able to withstand Campaoré’s destabilisation activities in the same manner.

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