Insight on Conflict http://www.insightonconflict.org Mapping Local Peacebuilding Fri, 24 Oct 2014 14:24:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Copyright © Insight on Conflict 2011 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 clean Terrorism in the Sahel: fighting the enemy within, from within http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/terrorism-sahel-fighting-enemy-within-within/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/terrorism-sahel-fighting-enemy-within-within/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 09:55:02 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38849 Oumarou Gado argues that it will be impossible to fight terrorism in the Sahel region without taking harnessing the role of local leaders

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Image credit: Alessandro Vannucci

Image credit: Alessandro Vannucci

Meeting in the Nigerien capital Niamey last month, the presidents of Chad, Nigeria, and Benin and the defence minister of Cameroon came together as representatives of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

On their agenda: terrorism, in particular the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon. The objective of the meeting was to reflect on recent violence in the region and decide how best to re-establish peace and security. They came to an agreement to undertake joint action to combat Boko Haram, and have already agreed to meet again in Cameroon in order to prepare a resolution to present at the UN Security Council. On the ground, they have decided to deploy troops along their borders in order to try and deal with the problem.

Nigerien president Issoufou Mahamadou said that terrorism is a greater threat than ever for the countries of the Sahel, and those in the Lake Chad Basin and their neighbours in particular, all of whom are facing attacks on the democratic states which they are trying to build, their territorial integrity and the peace and security of their populations who aspire to well-being. Terrorism, Issoufou said, has no borders; its ambition is to reach everywhere.

Fighting terrorism is not a war against a formal enemy, with well-defined positions and insignia
But, at first glance, the conclusion of this summit failed to take into account the potentially key role that local actors could play, in particular traditional and tribal leaders. Fighting terrorism is not a war against a formal enemy, with well-defined positions and insignia, but against a diverse adversary, spread amongst populations and which recruits locally in the areas where it operates.

In addition, terrorist elements are highly mobile and can cross porous local borders very easily. So the war against terrorism in the Sahel and the Sahara is very much an asymmetrical one. And this new form of conflict cannot be resolved without involving local and tribal leaders. In effect, they have always been present – in one way or another, trying both to prevent and resolve problems – because such leaders do not decide, they reconcile. Their status and role means that they enjoy the confidence of local populations; they have huge patience and deep local knowledge.

All these qualities make traditional leaders excellent messengers for peace. It follows that states threatened by terrorist activity must empower them to help ensure the cooperation of local populations which, if properly integrated into peacebuilding efforts, may help to identify potential terrorist elements before they merge into the local citizenry.

We must accept that the fight against terrorism is not a fight that any one state can lead on its own. As elsewhere in the world, the collective efforts of all neighbouring countries and others are indispensable. We must also recognise that jihadists and actors like Boko Haram who hide behind Islam will not be defeated in a society with strong Islamic connections without the help and blessing of traditional leaders and local populations.

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The role of social media in the South Sudan crisis http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/role-social-media-south-sudan-crisis/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/role-social-media-south-sudan-crisis/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:14:17 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38842 A study of social media use during the recent crisis in South Sudan suggests the social media was instrumental in facilitating violence. Peace Direct’s Local Correspondent in South Sudan, Khamis Cosmas, shares the findings of the study.

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Edmund Yanaki, the Executive Director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a South Sudanese peacebuilding organisation, recently spoke with South Sudanese journalists about a survey of Facebook use during the recent crisis in the country. The violence that began in December 2013 affected many parts of South Sudan and had a disproportionate impact in Juba, Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal. In light of the political crisis, the survey shows how the Internet, and social media in particular, was instrumental in facilitating the violence.

Yakani described how the South Sudan conflict has fostered a dialogue about the role of social media and networking as a tool for political mobilization towards regime change and pro-democracy movement. Yet despite the hopes that social media could be a force for peace, in this case social media was used to mobilise human suffering between ethnic groups.

CEPO’s study revealed that the majority of South Sudanese Facebook users at the height of the violence chose to describe the crisis as being based on ethnicity more than competition over political power. Facebook users looked at in the survey spread false information among communities, which had the effect of creating fear and panic, and may have led to violence. Three quarters of the accounts that were researched were found to be deeply involved in misinforming the public through fabricating facts.

Media was also manipulated to paint a false picture of events, for example an image of an Ugandan soldier believed to have been killed in Somalia was instead said to have been killed in Bor. A photo demonstrating the Lord Resistance Army killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo was fabricated to be a killing in Juba residential areas.

Despite this level of misinformation and negative campaigning there were active pro-peace voices making themselves heard on Facebook. When the two sides interacted directly it was often the pro-peace voices that outnumbered the pro-violence users.

Throughout the study, it was realized that much of the individuals who are pro-violence were mainly individuals with no direct political connection to the factions involved in the South Sudan crisis.

As the violence died down and efforts turned toward mediation, the majority of the users who were involved in instigating violence through Facebook began to withdraw from this activity and instead focused on justifying the facts and events that took place in the country – why did the crisis start, and who was to blame.
Yakani lamented that the results of the survey suggests that Facebook has done less in promoting peace among South Sudanese, and much more to promote violence. While many social media users could have acted as ambassadors of peace, the survey showed that many chose instigating violence.

Yakani called on social media users to recognize the importance of Facebook and other social media, and that it needs to be used in a way that does not fuel or instigate violence. More help is needed to help people and communities better use social media, so that it becomes a promoter of peace instead of a driver of violence.

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Revisiting resource redistribution in conflicts over water http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/water-conflicts-redistribution/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/water-conflicts-redistribution/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:06:22 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38794 Climate change and population growth is predicted to decrease availability of water. Adan E Suazo explains what this means for traditional means of resolving conflicts over water.

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uganda-river-15221077961-blog

Water is by far the most precious resource available to humans.  Our very existence and subsistence as a species is directly contingent upon the adequate availability and accessibility to water.  While this is the undeniable biological imperative that governs our very ability to draw breath, it is worth noting that this perception has not always been the defining variable in matters of war and peace.  This article, which draws research questions from a larger project, is the result of a period of pondering, where the importance of water conflicts arose as a theme of exploration.  Specifically, concerns pertaining to the relevance of conflicts over water, and the place they hold in the echelons of conflict resolution policy will be investigated.

It is safe to say that traditional wisdom on conflict resolution strategies has generally been informed by the economic, social and political dimensions of warring groups’ foundations of war.  When such variables push warring parties to take arms, it is vital to consider alternative avenues of resource redistribution.  For the purposes of this article, resource redistribution will be considered as a strategy initiated and moderated by third parties to allow warring groups to have an increased access to the resources being disputed.  The ultimate goal of resource redistribution is to create an environment where warring parties may regard their new allocation of resources as being favourable enough to halt hostilities.  The possibilities of attaining long-term peace are further enhanced when third parties offer incentives as a way to influence the direction of negotiations.

Under the above-mentioned conditions, conflict resolution policy geared towards thwarting economically, socially and/or politically driven violence assumes that resource redistribution is attainable as long as warring groups are persuaded to believe that such redistribution is beneficial to their members.  It also assumes that the resources being disputed exist in sufficient numbers.  Redistribution, under this mindset, becomes an exercise to concede resources already in existence.

While resource redistribution is a strategy that seems to work well, it is ill-equipped to resolve conflicts over resources whose availability and accessibility are becoming increasingly scarce, such as water.  In their study on water availability, Gleditsch et al. found that the global per capita availability of water decreased from an annual 40,000 m³ in 1800 to 6,840 m³ in 1995.  This view is supported by Gerten et al., who found that water availability will be severely reduced in several regions of the world, to the point that hunger alleviation strategies will not be sufficient to cater for the planet’s increasing population.  In face of a rapidly-depleting resource, individuals that would have otherwise been peaceful actors will regard access to water as a zero-sum, survival exercise, and may not be as easily persuaded to believe that a negotiated redistribution of resources would be beneficial.

If the allocation of resources in a peace negotiation is contingent upon their very existence, a long-term redistribution scheme in a water conflict situation would inevitably fail, unless policymakers address the background causes for resource scarcity.  This, in many cases, is a goal that necessitates the cooperation of a number of different local, national and international actors, which may pose challenges in terms of alignment of interests and consensus-building.  Nevertheless, by focusing on the background issue of resource scarcity, one follows the belief that a resource can only be disputed and eventually redistributed if it in fact exists in sufficient volumes.  To assume that conventional conflict resolution mechanisms will work in the face of a depleting resource not only defies the realities faced by societies on a global scale, it defies common sense.

Bearing in mind the undeniably ominous status quo (and future) of water availability in the world, it is crucial for policymakers to rethink conflict resolution policy.  One may no longer regard war over water as being new or as being something that will only concern future generations.  Water conflicts are already happening, and their frequency only continues to rise with devastating effects in our societies.  According to data from the Pacific Institute, instances of hydrological warfare increased from nine cases in the 1970s to 78 in the 2010s, which bears witness of how often access to water has triggered violence, and how this trend does not seem to relent.

In view of the constant depletion of water resources and the rise of hydrological violence, how can resource redistribution work favourably for the purposes of peace?  Furthermore, how can policymakers remain active and relevant parties in conflict resolution frameworks amidst water-based hostilities?  These are pressing questions that deserve a primordial place in conflict resolution circles, and whose answers will shape the state of the world in years to come.

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Clans, conflicts and devolution in Mandera, Kenya http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/clans-conflicts-devolution-mandera-finding-durable-solution-conflict-degodia-garre/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/clans-conflicts-devolution-mandera-finding-durable-solution-conflict-degodia-garre/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 14:25:44 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38813 Aden Abdi argues that a mixture of robust conflict management, good governance and addressing historical injustices are key to a durable solution, not just in Mandera but also across the whole of northern Kenya.

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Away from the media’s focus on Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya, a deadly conflict involving two Somali clans, Degodia and Garre, has been raging in Mandera County in North Eastern Kenya. While clan conflicts are not new to the area, the intensity of the latest flare up (including deliberate targeting of children and women in violation of Somali social norms in clan wars) raises fundamental questions about the newly devolved system of county governance and its impact on conflict dynamics and peacebuilding architecture in northern Kenya. The Mandera conflict comes on the heels of another conflict in neighbouring Marsabit in early 2014. The control of large budgets and political influence that comes with parliamentary and county government posts has turned competitive politics in the region into a zero sum game. The indigenous conflict management mechanisms have neither the experience nor the capacity to deal with political conflicts. The new county governments and the political and economic largesse that comes with them are, if not managed equitably, likely to further exacerbate existing conflicts in the poor and conflict-prone counties of northern Kenya.

Mandera-kenya

Mandera is in Kenya near the borders with Ethiopia and Somalia.

The Degodia and Garre clans have a long history of conflict and violence that are documented even in colonial records. The current conflict, however, began in 2008 following the election of Abdikadir Mohamed from the Degodia clan as the Member of Parliament for Mandera Central Constituency. Mr Mohamed unseated Billow Kerow (current senator for Mandera county) from the Garre clan, the majority clan in Mandera and previous occupants of this seat. This election result had wider ramifications on the politics of Mandera: the political domination of the Garre clan was broken; and the political presence of the Degodia clan was felt.

This win-lose mentality is rooted in a “resident-migrant” dynamic that has shaped politics in Mandera for a long time
This win-lose mentality is rooted in a “resident-migrant” dynamic that has shaped politics in Mandera for a long time. The Garre and Murule clans were considered the “resident clans” and the rest of the Somali clans, due to their “minority” or “migrant status” (the Degodia are neither of these), were clustered into an alliance called “corner tribes”. This distinction had a major influence on the conduct of politics in the area: the “resident clans” have historically won the parliamentary seats (two for Garre and one for Murule) and the majority of the local council seats. The election of Abdikadir Mohamed (Degodia) as the Member of Parliament for Mandera Central Constituency in the 2007 election was seen to be going against this unwritten rule.

With the underlying causes of the 2008 conflict unaddressed and with higher political stakes in the 2013 elections – more powerful elective posts under the new county governments as well as the creation of an additional three parliamentary seats following a review of the electoral boundaries in 2010 – it was only a matter of time before a new cycle of violence erupted. Unsurprisingly, the election campaigning was characterised by hate messages, displacement of voters, formation of inter and intra clan alliances and the magnification of resident-migrant dynamics including a political pact between the Garre and Murule clans (these two clans have a history of conflict and this pact was meant to temporarily address this.) Subsequently, the Garre clan not only regained the Mandera Central parliamentary seat, but also won an overwhelming majority of political seats in Mandera including the key posts of Governor and Senator. They also surprisingly won – and this was the main trigger for the current conflict – the new Mandera North constituency in the largely Degodia-dominated areas.

Beyond the clan rivalries and exclusionary politics, the current Mandera conflict also comes against a backdrop of changing peacebuilding architecture in the region. The long history of clan conflicts and the neglect by the state have led to the evolution of innovative and effective local “hybrid” conflict management mechanisms based on the mostly Somali and Islamic traditions of the local communities. The national government and its security institutions have over time become accustomed to the existence and usefulness of these mechanisms. But with the creation of the county governments and the changing nature of conflicts, the effectiveness and impartiality of these local peace structures have been questioned. For example, in the current Mandera conflict, the local peace committees were at best unsure of how to respond to the conflict or at most became hostage to the interests of their clans and political elites. A new national peace policy that harmonises the existing peace infrastructures with the new county governance structures is yet to be fully implemented.

The conflict systems in the region are further complicated by the emergence of new forms of conflict such as terrorism and the problem of radicalisation. The Mandera conflict comes at a time when the attention of the Kenyan state is focused on countering terror attacks from the Somali-based terror group, Al-Shabaab. Clan clashes and communal violence are treated as secondary issues by the security forces, as shown by their slow response to the Mandera clashes. But fears that these clan clashes may pose a threat to the security of the state (and statements by local leaders that Al-Shabaab was involved in the latest clashes in Rhamu are meant to play into these fears) may lead to more violent responses from the security forces.

A sustainable peace in northern Kenya requires a multiple, sustained and complementary efforts at the national, regional and local levels. At the national level, the government needs to urgently implement the National Policy on Peace-building and Conflict Management drafted by the National Steering Committee for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding (NSC) in December 2011. The policy takes a comprehensive approach to peacebuilding in Kenya and recommends new institutional and legal frameworks at national and county levels.

Since militias and arms flows from the neighbouring countries are part of the conflict system in northern Kenya, there is a need for co-ordination of national and county peacebuilding architectures and initiatives with regional ones. These includes IGAD’s Conflict and Early Warning and Response Network (CEWARN), Kenyan military intervention in Somalia, repatriation plans for the Somali refugees and Kenyan-facilitated peace talks in the Somali region of Ethiopia (Ogaden).

At the local level, the President’s appointment of an external mediation team is a welcome move. The mandate of this committee needs to go beyond addressing immediate issues of the conflict. There is also a need to support local capacities for peace deal with political conflicts. Civic education programmes focusing on the rights and responsibilities of communities and civic groups in the county governments should be supported. This should promote practical mechanisms for accountability and redress for communities such as courts, recall of elected leaders, participation in budgetary and audit processes, use of county assembly (“local parliament”) channels among others. This could go a long way towards fostering alternative, multi-clan and non-violent avenues for advancing community interests.

Equally, addressing the realities of conflict and marginalisation in northern Kenya cannot succeed without dealing with the past. It’s the failure to deal with the past abuses and violations that are fuelling new abuses such as those witnessed in the Eastleigh security operation as well as Marsabit and Mandera conflicts. The implementation of the recommendations of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report will be key to this. In its absence (the report is pending with President Kenyatta since May 2013), other short-term mechanisms need to be put in place. One such avenue is the empowerment of the newly constituted Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA). The Commission investigated and found glaring omissions in the security operation in Eastleigh. The IPOA recommendations on Eastleigh should be immediately implemented and be used as a guideline for future security operations in northern Kenya (as well as the rest of Kenya.)

The northern region has lagged behind the rest of Kenya in the last fifty years due to conflict, poverty and marginalisation. Devolution offers a real chance to address these issues, but conflicts such as those in Mandera and Marsabit represent a risk to real development in the region. A paradigm shift in conflict management and governance is needed for this region to realise the full benefits of devolution.

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Would a peacebuilding strategy respond to Nigeria’s unanswered questions? http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/peacebuilding-strategy-nigeria/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/peacebuilding-strategy-nigeria/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 11:24:02 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38804 Charles Kwuelum calls for a comprehensive strategy for building peace and reconciliation in Nigeria – and which puts local voices at the centre.

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Image credit: shawnleishman

Image credit: shawnleishman

With 175 million inhabitants, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. Although richly endowed with both human and natural resources, they are unevenly distributed and badly managed, and the country is still evolving quickly, from colonialism through militarism to democracy.

With society currently organised through a federal system of government, emerging trends in Nigeria reveal the lack of indigenous involvement in its political structures. Nigeria’s current transformations must take into account its ethnic as well as structural diversity. In order to build a lasting stable society, different governance and cultural perspectives must be integrated through comprehensive, cross-cutting peacebuilding initiatives, including humanitarian assistance and development, as well as protecting lives and providing psychosocial support and trauma healing to citizens affected by violence. Education should play a key role in this, transforming world views and creating the understanding among the varying forms of identity, justice and leadership in Nigeria.

Indeed, the nation’s religious divides and inter-ethnic violence and conflict have historically been characterised by reprisals, hatred and suspicion, with religious identities and influences attributed to ethnicity. It has therefore been inevitable that institutions and systems have divided rather than united people. Prior to the issue of Boko Haram coming to the fore, religious intolerance and misunderstanding, together with ethnic intimidation and unequal representation, resulted in repeated cycles of violence. These dynamics remain visible in Nigeria’s political life and its citizens’ worldview. Peacebuilding initiatives which create safe space for the divides to be bridged, increasing social cohesion through human and structural development, are vital to bringing together Nigeria’s different groups.

The contribution of different nations, institutions and agencies, including USAID, DFID, CIDA, WB and ADB in confronting violent extremism – in particular Boko Haram – is very welcome. But monitoring the dynamics of these recurring conflicts is important. The Boko Haram saga is not inter-ethnic, and the seemingly religious conflicts which appear to have become a trait of Nigeria’s geographical divide (with a Muslim north and Christian south) are complicated. Focusing too much on Boko Haram could lead to not paying sufficient attention to the need for a proactive scheme for the prevention and mitigation of ethno-religious and ethnic conflicts that might well emerge in consequence.

Inevitably, there would be questions – would combating Boko Haram solve Nigeria’s problems? Would it reduce and prevent the emergence of militias and vigilantes? Would it prevent reprisals from inter-ethnic and religious squabbles? Is there a possibility for solving the numerous constitutional problems in relation to fundamental human rights of worship, expression and citizenship?

The destruction of and lack of respect for places of worship, greatest in the north, at the slightest event of misunderstanding and provocation, should also not be forgotten. Revoking ownership rights for land dedicated to worship tends to impede religious tolerance and understanding. There has also been the infringement of rights to education, truncated by existing cultural and societal norms in the proliferation of the ‘Almajiri’ system.

There should also be a constitutional concern for dialogue on citizen and indigenous interests; most inter-ethnic violence in the north has been instigated on such grounds. The autonomy of state governors in Nigeria’s political structures is unchecked, and there are excesses and personal bias against national unity and the potential for peaceful coexistence. The implementation of Shari’a Law in some of Nigeria’s northern states, and the excessive spending of the federal government on both Christian and Muslim religious pilgrimages, are indicators of the institutionalisation of religion in governance. The attitude of the political class, and its disregard for the constitutional notion that no one should be above the law, implies that Nigeria is yet to own its process of nationhood through responsible patriotism.

In trying to combat the enormous corruption in Nigeria’s governance, peacebuilding initiatives and diplomatic support to Nigeria should have the capacity for the full integration of and engagement with primary and secondary stakeholders at all levels of society, including civil society organisations, indigenous and community-based organisation and grassroots actors.

In sum, and building on lessons from a recently concluded national conference, there must be a serious attempt to implement the above factors, including forming a committee to rule on how such a comprehensive strategy will be implemented and monitored. But it should also be open to involving development and peacebuilding partnerships wherever possible, in order to build capacity, empower local people and give a voice to the grassroots. Doing so will help transform Nigeria’s political culture, building on Nigeria’s existing capacity for peace in a proactive manner.

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Finding peace for Nagorno-Karabakh http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/peace-nagorno-karabakh/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/peace-nagorno-karabakh/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 11:15:17 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38799 The conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azebaijan, is one of the bloodiest and most intractable to emerge from the breakup of the Soviet Union. Tugce Ercetin looks at how peacebuilding is being approached in the region.

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A ruined building in the Agdam – the town was abandoned due to the fighting.  Image credit: Marco Fieber

A ruined building in the Agdam – the town was abandoned due to the fighting. Image credit: Marco Fieber

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh – a region claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan – has existed since the end of the WWI, but it was after the collapse of the USSR that the conflict turned violent, with war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1992. This has gained Nagorno-Karabakh international attention as countries in the region have an active stake in the solution of the conflict. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan became the one of the bloodiest and most intractable clashes to emerge from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is the greatest obstacle to security and stability in the South Caucasus and the involved parties did not resolve it. Bilateral conflict relations have not stabilised the region, as there are many third party interests at play, often overshadowing national interests. For instance, Nagorno-Karabakh is influential in relations between Armenia and Turkey, while Turkey shares a closer relationship with Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is within the international borders of Azerbaijan over a total area of 4,800 square kilometres. For countless ethnic groups, the territory has been a transit and settlement zone for thousands of years, resulting in innumerable territorial conflicts, campaigns of conquest and ethnic dislocations. Both the Azeris and Armenians claim ownership of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Various immigrations and mutual attacks have often resulted in negotiations reaching a deadlock. Consequently, both sides claim legitimacy due to fear that they would be an ethnic minority within the region.

Between 1992 and 1994 Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The dispute has been characterized by violence and is based on frozen interethnic issues in the Caucasus region. Nagorno-Karabakh conflict still potentially dangerous and negotiations continue, but a solution has not been found yet. Mutual dehumanisation of the enemy makes confidence-building and improving relations difficult. Enhancing cooperative agreements and encouraging attempts of second track diplomacy can ameliorate the lack of economic, cultural and social contact between the two communities.

The Caucasus Research Resource Centre identified the current views on a resolution between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. They found that 23% of the Armenian people and 10% of the Azeri think that the issue will never be resolved. The study indicates that the prospects of conflict are becoming an integral part of their country and have increased since the ceasefire agreement in May 1994.

The main problem arises from political and historical assertions that have emphasised ethnicity and the shifting sovereignty of Karabakh. According to Armenian perception of history, the Albanians were converted to Christianity and “Armenianised” at a very early stage. Azerbaijan argues that the region is Islamised and originates from a Turkish population from Azerbaijan. Within the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the population is predominately Armenian, and is governed by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, an independent but not internationally recognised state.

Economic and cultural perspectives deepen the conflict by entrenching hostile beliefs about the other side. Armenia is one of the most isolated countries in the region, making it considerably weaker and poorer than its neighbours. The area’s strategic importance is dependent on the extraction and export of Caspian oil, often exacerbating regional polarisation.

For relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Analytical Centre on Globalization Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) plays a key role, and therefore Programme Manager Hasmik Grigoryan responded to my questions explaining the region, issues, and recommendations. She helped to identify the situation and discussed their activities as peacebuilders.

What is the main primary focus of your institution?

Established in 2002, ACGRC works as both a think-tank and an advocacy group, promoting democratic values, strengthening civil society and the rule of law in Armenia, development of free market economy, regional integration and peaceful resolution of regional conflicts. ACGRC supports public sector reforms and development of good practices in local governance, disseminates knowledge on legal issues, produces expert assessments and analysis of conflict transformation and regional cooperation issues. It also supports initiatives that aim towards forming an atmosphere of trust and stable peace in the South Caucasus.

Could you please give some details regarding your projects? What areas do you focus on generally?

ACGRC focuses on different areas. One of them is European integration, political situation in post-Soviet territory, Eastern Partnership, raising awareness of European values, Armenia-NATO relations, conflict resolution and trust building. Further areas are: Armenian-Turkish relations; Armenian-Azerbaijani relations; and trilateral cooperation between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. ACGRC works in these fields through organising conferences, workshops for students, through publications.

This interview aims to illustrate efforts on reconciliation and peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh question. Therefore, can you explain what kind of projects and organisations are included?

ACGRC has organised a number of workshops between the youth of Armenia and Azerbaijan and also organised conferences between historians of Armenia and Azerbaijan. ACGRC has published books analysing history textbooks of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The main aim of these projects is trust-building, hearing each other and constructing cooperation.

Did you notice any kind of change in terms of peace and reconciliation between both communities after they have been involved in the outlined projects?

By engaging in the projects a large number of people, from both sides, developed better connections with each other and networks of peace were enlarged. Participants made joint statements and spoke on TV or wrote in media calling to solve conflict through peace and compromise. Also the participants of the projects try to show their opinion and common results of the meetings to the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments and international actors.

The crucial part relies on ACGRC highlighting the definition and reason for the conflict to both local and international peacebuilding parties. It is important that tolerance and interactions foster peace, helping to create possible awareness and changing perceptions. Conflict between both countries is defined as lack of trust and tolerance, lack of connections and interaction, tensions on the border. No people-to-people contacts. No will to understand each other and go for compromises. Though it is a frozen conflict but with civil and military victims and injured people.

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is still significant as it influences neighbouring countries and security in the region. It seems that dialogue between conflicting communities can overcome misperceptions and if people can interact with each other, it can be the beginning of peaceful approach. Civil society is much more beneficial when national interests are looking for humanity and safety.

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Tossamaidan: a peaceful resolution of a Himalayan conflict http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/tossamaidan-peaceful-resolution-himalayan-conflict/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/tossamaidan-peaceful-resolution-himalayan-conflict/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 09:09:53 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38733 Tossamaidain is a picturesque meadow in the Kashmir Himalayas. Up until March this year it was used by the army as a firing range. Peace Direct's Local Correspondent in Kashmir, Ashima Kaul, reports on how local people have campaigned to return the area to peaceful uses.

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Image credit: sandeepachetan.com travel photography

Image credit: sandeepachetan.com travel photography

Jeshn-e-Tossamaidan ( Celebrating Tossamaidan ) Rural Voice, ‘Save the Tossamaidan Front’ Movement, the Panchayt Association Budgam and Tossamaidan Development Forum organized a two-day Festival at Tossamaidan Meadow to celebrate the people’s victory of reclaiming this beautiful site for peaceful use.

All those who were part of the struggle, directly and indirectly, and who supported and inspired the reclamation efforts were invited to attend the celebration. “My request to all is to ensure your participation and grace the occasion,” commented Dr. Shaikh Gulaam Rasool, chairperson of the event. “We have reclaimed Tossamaidan peacefully through a movement supported by the people,” said a joyous Dr. Shaikh.

Tossamaidain is a picturesque meadow in the Kashmir Himalayas. Up until March this year it was used by the army as a firing range. The lease between the Himalayan government and the army was to be renewed in April 2014. “We did not even know that there was a lease which was required to be renewed every 10 years. When we filed the Right to Information (RTI), we learned about the lease. After that, our focus was to prevent the government from renewing the lease,” shared Nazir Ahmed Lone, a businessman and RTI activist in Shanglipora, one of the worst affected villages from the firing and shelling in Tossamaidan.

King of Meadows, located in central district Budgam around 51 kilometers from Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley, was a simmering conflict between the local villagers, the army and the government. Tossamaidan was leased out to the army in 1964, with the stipulation for lease renewal every 10 years. In 1974, a sheep herder tending to his flock in the meadow died from a shell that accidently exploded when he picked it up. Since then, 64 people have died from related accidents in the area. The worst statistics of death and loss of limbs comes from Shanglipora, Drang, Bhatpora, Zogu, Chhil, Khailpora, Suhailpather, Sitaharan, Lassipora and Habaer. There are 43 recorded cases of disability and approximately 16 villages have been directly affected by the noise, shelling and firing.

Forty five year old Gulshan Begum, who lost her husband Abdul Lateef Lone in 2008, survives on zakat (charity) offered by villagers. She has six children. Even though she approached the District Social Welfare Office three times, her case was not registered. On the other hand, Zaiba who lost her husband Abdul Kokkar in 2009 merely gets Rs. 200 per month. She too has six children. “Most of the cases have not been registered and no first information reports have been charged,” says Mohammad Akram Sheikh, Sarpanch from Haber, Lassipora. Claiming that 43 people have died from his village he added, “After I became Sarpanch in 2011, I took up the case with the local administration and demanded that firing be stopped in Tossamaidan. We also urged for compensation for the victims. But no one has listened to our pleas.” Akram, as vice chairperson of Save the Tossamaidan Front (which included 49 villages and 45 Sarpanches), made it very clear that their struggle was not against the army but against the actual firing and the government’s decision to lease the land to the army. “We raised our voice at different forums and took memorandums to the district collector and police,” noted Akram. Hence, when their communications and peaceful protests were not addressed, the entire group of villages boycotted the recent Parliamentary election. We were aware and awakened, and through a poll boycott we wanted to send a strong message to the politicians and the government that we were not going to accept their silence.”

Strategically, a deliberate movement was started by a group of RTI activists, who have remained the backbone of the movement ever since. Narrating the history of the movement and how it all started, Nazir Ahmed Lone said that a team of RTI activists arrived in 2010. “We became active members of that group. Later in 2013, a meeting was organized in Silgram, Arizaal in Khansahib constituency. That is where the idea of Tossamaidan Bachao (Save) Front took birth,” shared Lone.

For peace and conflict resolution practitioners, Tossamaidan is an exemplary case of how people’s movements have the potential and possibility to resolve conflicts peacefully. Using a unique leadership and methodology to keep the movement apolitical, several tiers were built for effective management of the various groups involved.

“We elected Sarpanch Mohammad Maqbool Magrey as the chairman of the Front and the vice chairman was elected under him. Covering the entire population of 7,000 people into Shanglipora A and B, a total 60 members (30 from each segment) were included. Thus the Tossamaidan Deh Committee was formed. All 28 Panchayat bodies became members of the Front. It included organizers and coordinators, along with a secretary,” said Lone, who was appointed the overall Front coordinator. “It wass then, in a coordinated manner, that we organized our first protest program in Shanglipora. Almost 500 members participated in the protest.”

Dr. Shaikh, actively involved and mentoring the movement, advocated and educated various stakeholders, including the government and army, about the fragile ecosystem, the environment and wildlife dependent on the region. This perhaps remains the biggest strength of the movement – its ability to engage in dialogue with stakeholders and peaceful means to protest. “This place has huge economic benefits for the local people,” said Dr. Shaikh. Therefore the people have faith toward the movement and are firmly attached to the fact that once Tossamaidan is free from firing exercises it will be developed as a tourist spot, which will potentially provide employment opportunities to local individuals, as well as their children. “If tourism comes, our children will have a livelihood option,” said Zooni. She lost her son at Tossamaidan, while her husband, Abdul Salam Tantray, later died of grief. “We all know how this movement started and we are indebted to it,” commented Zooni. “I acknowledge that this movement has helped stop the firing, but it can never bring back my son. I pray that my tragedy should not befall any other mother or father.”

The Indian Army has several firing ranges; however, they are short on space for the required number of ranges. They are facing the people’s resistance as the population increases and the ranges have become a security issue for the locals.  In addition, modern guns, tanks or artillery have longer ranges, which mean existing ranges like Babina in Uttar Pradesh are already short on space. The Mahajan range in Rajasthan and Deolali in Maharashtra in Western India, Gamrala in Arunachal Pradesh in the East and Hema and Bircha in Madhya Pradesh in Central India are other problem ranges. “The bigger guns made it unlivable for the people,” says Dr. Shaikh. “Even Kargil in Kashmir does not have adequate space for appropriate weapons firing.”

However, the situation in Kashmir Valley cannot be compared with the rest of the country. In Kashmir, there is always a danger of issues being politicized and polarized either along communal, sectarian, or separatist and nationalist lines. In fact, the ruling National Conference and Hurriyat leaders did attempt to gain political mileage out of the conflict. People were alert and did not fall into the trap. The conflict could also have snowballed into another confrontation between the people and the state or state government and army; but the Tossamaidan movement remained primarily a humanitarian issue. The  people who were leading the movement or those at the grassroots level involved in it did not allow it to be hijacked by any of the typical external forces. Strategically because the movement’s approach was pro-humanitarian, environmental and ecological, rather than anti-army or governmental, it allowed the stakeholders to negotiate the conflict peacefully.  The constructive and positive contours of the people’s movement, with no political agenda attached, enabled it to rise above the myopic benefits and therefore achieve its objectives peacefully.

April 16, 2014 was the deadline for the lease to be renewed. It was not. However, the people were still not satisfied. They wanted a written and public declaration that the government would not renew the lease and the land would never be used as a firing range again. Finally, the chief minister announced that Tossamaidan would not be further used as a firing range – and the people decided to celebrate their victory.

Truly a peoples’ victory, Tossamaidan will remain a classic example of how conflicts can be resolved peacefully. “Our priority is to get the area cleared of unexploded shells and get compensation for the victims,” said  Dr. Shaikh   “Even as the army has started the clearing operation demonstrating their commitment for the safety of the locals, people are trekking up to the meadow to enjoy the beauty of the landscape.” Tossamaidan can now be returned to its natural habitat, to be enjoyed by many generations for years to come . . . and that’s something to celebrate!

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October 2014 http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/october-2014/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/10/october-2014/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 08:05:50 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38713 A monthly selection of the best new research and resources on local peacebuilding worldwide, as chosen by Insight on Conflict. This month’s edition features articles on examples of locally-led development, resilience and peacebuilding, and more. Sign up here to receive the newsletter by email each month.

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Politically smart, locally led development

Politically smart, locally led approaches are not mainstream practice, but neither are they rocket science. They have much in common with good policy-making anywhere; indeed it is a measure of how detached the aid business has become from everyday reality that we should consider any of the seven cases remarkable.

Politically smart, locally led development, from the Overseas Development Institute, presents seven examples of where aid donors have used “politically smart” and locally-led approaches to development. The examples show how this approach can often achieve better results than more traditional ways of working.

Beyond bandaids: Rebuilding market systems amidst catastrophe in South Sudan

Market-based interventions that support these local systems will significantly expand the reach of the current humanitarian response. If implemented robustly and correctly, these interventions can help mitigate the food security crisis, maximize cost efficiency of assistance dollars, and lay the foundations for early recovery.

Beyond bandaids, from Mercy Corps, argues that the international response to the possibility of famine in South Sudan is insufficient and not doing enough top avert the crisis. Instead of short term, direct delivery aid, the paper calls for interventions that re-stimulates local markets.

Creating spaces for effective CVE approaches

Understanding why individuals engage in violent extremism is critical not only to developing effective and appropriate strategies to counter potential violence but also to promoting the empathy needed to provide openings for these measures.

Creating spaces for effective CVE approaches, from USIP, looks at strategies for preventing violent extremism and radicalisation. Using Kenya as an example the paper stresses the importance of empathy and understanding when dealing with young people at risk of joining violent groups.

Women, peace and security in Afghanistan: looking back to move forward

What emerges are strong cross-cutting themes regarding the ways in which communities in Afghanistan can develop the capacity for resilience and the challenges and opportunities for women to play an active and vital role in the peace and reintegration processes. Participants outlined a strong need to ensure that peace processes are not merely political but community-based and community-led, with sufficient mechanisms for civil society and population consultation and oversight.

Women, peace and security in Afghanistan, from Equality for Peace and Development (an Afghan peacebuilding organisation) examines the role of women in Afghanistan’s peace process. Based on a series of consultations with female leaders and community members, the report recommends a greater role for the grassroots.

USIP Insights newsletter: Resilience

With an emphasis on the strength and capabilities of local communities, prevention planning and early warning, and focus on risk and community response, the concept of resilience is gaining sway in the peacebuilding community. There is a growing sense that strengthening communities’ capacity to overcome violent shocks opens up new possibilities both for conflict prevention and for more sustainable post-conflict community recovery.

Insights is a regular publication from USIP which examines major questions in the theory and practice of peacebuilding. The latest edition looks at the concept of resilience and how the idea is applied to peacebuilding. The paper includes an introduction to the concept, and examples of how it is used in practice.

From the blog

Canada as a peacemaker in action

By Gabriela Monica Lucuta: Canada’s role in developing “‘responsibility to protect” and the for wider inclusion of the concept in peacekeeping and peacebuilding Read more »

Peacebuilding with local citizens

By Stacey L. Connaughton Ph.D, Grace Yeanay Mayson and Kai Kuang: How Liberia’s motorcycle taxi drivers are becoming part of efforts to minimize the likelihood of political violence. Read more »

War, peace and the second term of Colombia’s President Santos

By Hasan Dodwell: What the reelection on President Santos means for the peace process in Colombia. Read more »

GDELT Global Dashboard: Big data for conflict resolution and peacebuilding

By Charles Martin Shields: The GDELT Global Dashboard is a new tool for visualising conflict and protest events on a global scale.Read more »

South Sudan: a challenging space for civil society

By Kisuke Ndiku: The challenges facing South Sudan as the country searches for peace. Read more »

Peacebuilder nations in action

By Gabriela Monica Lucuta: Recent history of international peacebuilding and approaches to humanitarian intervention. Read more »

Our mission is to save life, not to take it

By The Syrian Civil Defense: The Syrian Civil Defence is a group of volunteer first responders saving lives in the most dangerous place on earth. Here, one of them tells his story. Read more »

Post-Conflict Research Center wins Intercultural Innovation Award

By Tim Bidey: Tim Bidey, from Post-Conflict Research Center, explains the difference that receiving the Intercultural Innovation Award will make for the organisation. Read more »

Natural resources and violence in Nigeria

By Adan E. Suazo: Is unequal access to Nigeria’s mineral wealth partly to blame for the rise of Boko Haram? Read more »

Community based sociotherapy in Rwanda: healing a post-violent conflict society

By Jean de Dieu Basabose: How “community based sociotherapy” is being used to heal the wounds of the past and build social cohesion in Rwanda. Read more »

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Canada as a peacemaker in action http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/09/canada-as-a-peacemaker-in-action/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/09/canada-as-a-peacemaker-in-action/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 09:09:13 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38691 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.’

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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 that characterised 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 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.

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Peacebuilding with local citizens http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/09/peacebuilding-local-citizens/ http://www.insightonconflict.org/2014/09/peacebuilding-local-citizens/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:52:41 +0000 http://www.insightonconflict.org/?p=38680 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.

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liberia-motorcycle-taxis-6042862743

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.

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