Insight on Conflict Mapping Local Peacebuilding Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:57:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Copyright © Insight on Conflict 2011 (Insight on Conflict) (Insight on Conflict) 1440 Insight on Conflict 144 144 Insight on Conflict is a resource on local peacebuilders in conflict areas. You’ll find information on how local people are working to resolve some of the longest and bloodiest conflicts around the world. Insight on Conflict is a resource on local peacebuilders in conflict areas. You’ll find information on how local people are working to resolve some of the longest and bloodiest conflicts around the world. peace, peacebuilding, conflict, war Insight on Conflict Insight on Conflict no clean Conflict in Ukraine: Evidencing the need for local intervention Fri, 21 Nov 2014 10:17:44 +0000 As the conflict in Ukraine shows worrying signs of further escalation, Richard Reed argues for the need to support local efforts to build peace.

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Image credit: Sasha Maksymenko

Image credit: Sasha Maksymenko

There have been worrying signs this past week that a conflict that has precipitated the worst crisis in West-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War is on the verge of a new escalation. Renewed violence in and around Donetsk and rumours of more Russian tanks rumbling over the border have prompted a heated exchange of words, with President Poroshenko declaring a willingness to engage in a ‘total war’ and Putin making his most explicit commitment yet to arming the pro-Russian rebels.

This political posturing is rather starkly juxtaposed with another development in eastern Ukraine this week – the return of Dutch investigators to the MH17 crash site. Now, just as then, the wreckage-strewn fields just outside Grabovo stand as a poignant reminder of the human costs of conflict. It was a contrast most visible during the speeches made by the Dutch and Australian foreign ministers at the UN Security Council days after the crash; carefully crafted vignettes of intimate suffering and pain that etched a fine-grained, human narrative into the geopolitical horse-trading that had dominated debates in the chamber to that point.

Coming to terms with the ‘human’ factors

To really understand and counter the violence in Ukraine peacemaking efforts need to be situated at the interface between the macro and the micro
The contrast is also instructive for the task of understanding and addressing the causes and dynamics of the conflict. Much of this work has focused on the interplay of geopolitical powers and interests, a quite understandable and appropriate tendency given the influence wielded by state actors in any conflict, particularly where international trade and security blocs are implicated. A focus on the big picture also helps peacemakers to translate the messy and complex reality of conflict into meaningful, concrete action.

But giving too much weight to macro factors can risk painting the conflict as a rather abstract affair that glosses over the horror and the suffering of those whose lives it touches. In any case, to really understand and counter the violence in Ukraine peacemaking efforts need to be situated at the interface between the macro and the micro, where political realities intersect with the complex web of identities, emotions and loyalties of the protagonists on the front line. Political settlements are crucial, but peace in Ukraine will be impossible without the intervention of peacemakers versed in the local conditions and human factors that have helped to escalate and perpetuate the violence.

The power of fear

For me, the critical role of civil society and local peacemakers in delivering peace in Ukraine becomes apparent once we begin to think about the way one of the most powerful ‘human’ drivers of conflict has worked in Ukraine – the pervasive sentiments of fear and insecurity.

For most of human history, fear has played an essential evolutionary role. But in conflict scenarios fear has a sort of deadly, spiral logic. We tend to respond to fear and insecurity by seeking out safety in numbers and making aggressive shows of strength to reassure unsettled allies and to ward off potential aggressors. History suggests we’re also more likely to countenance repressive moves to either eliminate or sufficiently disarm the source of threat.

The problem is that such moves are invariably self-reinforcing, because when we mobilise, or engage in ‘aggressive defence’, our actions tend to exacerbate the sense of fear in our rivals, encouraging ever greater mobilisation and ever louder expressions of solidarity – a sort of social arms race, if you will. As the level of fear increases, gestures of détente, conciliation and compromise are increasingly seen as threats to the fragile sense of security, or as first steps on the path to defeat and, ultimately, annihilation.

Fear also has a tendency to be self-fulfilling, because attempts to alleviate the sense of fear often prompt, in turn, feelings of injustice, anger, or fear among rivals that bring the realisation of the anticipated threat ever closer. As a conflict situation escalates the middle ground is increasingly ceded to militants and extremists who appear to offer two commodities the moderates cannot – security and revenge – but that also fulfil the expectations of rival groups in a way that appears to legitimise initial acts of aggression.

Escalation in Ukraine

It’s not difficult to find evidence of these dynamics playing out in Ukraine. What began as a peaceful public protest against the Yanukovych adminstration’s decision to turn its back on an agreement with the EU unravelled quickly after government ministers, fearful of the movement’s consequences, ordered security forces to clear the Maidan of protestors in late November. The move prompted greater militancy and mobilisation among the protestors; surveys conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation tracking the motivations of Maidan protestors revealed that 70 per cent of the protestors had joined in response to the brutal dispersion of protestors on November 30.

Image credit: Sasha Maksymenko

Image credit: Sasha Maksymenko

Journalistic narratives, such as those of Kyiv-based journalist Kristina Berdinskikh, flesh out these statistics, revealing that for many the police intervention had been ‘a point of no return’ when Maidan ‘became a personal matter to everyone’. Some protestors felt less vulnerable on the streets than at home, evidence of the capacity of solidarity to overcome individual fears. One protestor summed up the collective sentiment when he told Berdinskikh: “Of course I am [scared]. Each normal person would be scared. But if you make one step back, your enemies will make two steps forward. There is no way to retreat.”

Much the same recurred a month later, when an increasingly desperate government introduced the infamous ‘Black Sunday’ anti-protest laws, only to intensify the resistance further still. As fear and distrust of the government increased, right-wing extremists were increasingly able to paint themselves as ‘defenders of the people’ enjoying an unprecedented upsurge in popularity. The public emergence of hardline ‘bandarite’ nationalists among the protests inevitably fuelled the sense of fear among pro-Russians, a fear adroitly harnessed by the Kremlin-backed pro-Russian media to deepen anti-Ukrainian and, by proxy, anti-western sentiments.

Both sides, in the depth of their fear, had played up to the crude stereotypes each side drew of the other, acting in ways that appeared to justify aggression
The contagious spiral of fear seemed to infect all in its path. After the police moved decisively against the protestors, some of the more militant groups began making direct threats and attacks against Berkut officers and their families, moves that according to interviews in the Russian media inspired the aggression of some individual Berkut officers. And when Yanukovych did fall, in an attempt to secure its position and stave off Russian influence, the new government disbanded the Berkut unit and threatened inflammatory laws restricting minority language rights.

Now on the other side of this equation, pro-Russians fearful of their future in the new administration took to the streets in ever-greater numbers and, as the protests became more violent and widespread, called on Moscow for protection. Pro-unity Ukrainians, on the other hand, responded by enlisting the support of the ultra-nationalist ‘ultras’. Both sides, in the depth of their fear, had played up to the crude stereotypes each side drew of the other, acting in ways that appeared to justify aggression on the other side and therefore intensifying, rather than relieving, the endemic insecurity.

Paranoia and hysteria prevailed: Russian banks and businesses were attacked in Ukraine on the basis of alleged support for ‘terrorist’ organisations; pro-Russian mobs chanted ‘fascists’ at those who stood against the pro-Russian insurgency; many pro-Unity Ukrainians became convinced that pro-Russian groups were infiltrated by Russian Cossacks, Transdnistrian irregulars, ‘followers of Stalin and lovers of the ‘czar-father’…Orthodox fanatics, nostalgic-Brezhnevite grandmothers, and fighters against juvenile justice, gay marriage, and flu shots’. That some have even interpreted the symbolism adopted by the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic (which includes the ‘Berkut’ eagle) as a deliberate attempt to intimidate pro-unity Ukrainians is further evidence of just how deeply fear has embedded itself into the lived experience of the conflict.

The importance of civil society and local actors

Though we sometimes like to think of states as rational actors immune to such dynamics, the Ukraine crisis shows just how intimately the major geopolitical powers have themselves been caught up in this spiral. Russian, Ukrainian and western leaders have all been guilty of sponsoring (and sometimes authoring) divisive narratives that articulate – but also fuel – the feelings of insecurity felt by those on the frontline.

Image credit: Sasha Maksymenko

Image credit: Sasha Maksymenko

The new Kyiv government has consistently sought to undermine the legitimacy of pro-Russian demands by dismissing the militias as ‘terrorists’, a word with particular resonance, of course, for its western allies, who have been relatively quick to reach for Cold War stereotypes and to label Putin as a dangerous imperialist.  The Russian government, for its part, has deliberately framed events in Ukraine as part of a broader, Slavic struggle against the western forces of fascism. Such simplistic narratives elide nuance and difference, heightening the sense of a massed, unified ‘other’ and obscuring present-day grievances and concerns behind the veil of historic mistrust.

One reason states have engaged in such unhelpful practices is because state leaders are uniquely placed to profit from such narratives. In Kyiv, firm resistance to Russian provocation has helped to secure the new government’s legitimacy and political support in the wealthy, pro-European western oblasts. In Russia, Putin’s popularity has often surged whenever he has been seen to defy the West’s interests and wishes. Obama too feels the pinch; the White House’s foreign policy is inevitably shaped by the powerful influence over sectors of the electorate exercised by cold warriors like John McCain, while the US might also see international dividends from being seen to fulfil its treaty obligations vis-à-vis insecure NATO partners in Eastern Europe.

This fatal implication of state leaders in the dynamics of fear inevitably limits their capacity to drive peace in Ukraine other than as legal guarantors of any peace settlement, placing great onus on civil society to drive the delivery of peace on the ground. Under such conditions local actors become critical too – not only because they possess intimate knowledge and insights into the relationships of the protagonists at the frontline, but also because of the trust and authority they enjoy within combatant communities; assets worth their weight in gold in contexts of spiralling distrust and insecurity.

Conflict resolution practice

Once we understand the spiralling power of fear, we can also see the value of a number of areas of good conflict resolution and peacebuilding practice. Since every act of violence and response serves to deepen and entrench collective feelings of fear and insecurity, rapid or even pre-emptive responses, in the manner of the preventive diplomacy practiced by the UN and other peacemaking bodies, become absolutely imperative.

Once violence has broken out, as in Ukraine, bringing it to an end means halting and regressing the spiral of fear.
Once violence has broken out, as in Ukraine, bringing it to an end means halting and regressing the spiral of fear. This requires peacemakers to create an atmosphere of mutual security as an absolute priority, placing efforts to build trust and demobilise oppositional mindsets and narratives ahead of resolving questions of restorative justice or legacy work. The effectiveness of such work might be further enhanced by raising awareness of the cyclical nature of violence, demonstrating how violence is deeply counter-productive to the search for security.

Once the violence has been stopped, peacebuilding involves not only dealing with political grievances but also addressing the underlying emotional drivers. This means building mutual recognition of the legitimacy of opposing identities and political projects – for just as actions born of insecurity can become mutually reinforcing, so too can those which begin to emerge where opposing groups are feeling more secure and confident about their own prospects. The contribution made by public narratives to the escalatory dynamic also highlights the extreme importance of countering misinformation and propaganda campaigns in any attempt at bottom-up conflict resolution.

Finally, understanding how fear binds people together and increases the salience of singular ‘conflict identities’ helps us to see that among the most important and urgent tasks of the peacemaker is that of raising the credibility and support for alternative identities. Coming to terms with the complexity of identity inevitably means questioning the simplistic narratives that encourage both sides to see their opponents as an overwhelming, monstrous threat. Ukraine, a country with a rich history of intercultural exchange, has no shortage of capacity and need for such work.

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Overcoming the stigma of sexual violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina Wed, 19 Nov 2014 06:35:20 +0000 Upto 50,000 women were raped during the the civil war in Bosnia. The stigma and silence around sexual violence means that their suffering has continued long after the end of the conflict. A joint initiative by the British embassy and civil society hopes to change this.

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Image credit: Midhat Poturović

Today sees the launch of a week of activity in cities across Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), aimed at increasing widespread awareness of the ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’. The initiative is working to replace the culture of impunity for crimes of sexual violence in conflict with one of deterrence, and was launched in 2012 by the former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie.

Many women are too afraid to come forward and seek professional support, forcing them to endure alone the effects of the crimes perpetrated against them.
Bosnia is a country that has long borne witness to such crime. An estimated 20,000-50,000 Bosniak, Serb, and Croat women were raped during the 1992-95 war. However, the cessation of hostilities did little to ease victims’ suffering. To this day, publicly identifying oneself as either a victim or survivor of sexual violence continues to carry such a high social stigma that admission to can cause family abandonment, isolation, and economic and social marginalization. As such, many women are too afraid to come forward and seek professional support, forcing them to endure alone the effects of the crimes perpetrated against them.

It’s within this context that the British Embassy in Sarajevo, the OSCE Mission to BiH, the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), the Peace Support Operations Training Centre, Medica Zenica, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), and others, have planned a public awareness week. It aims to respond to the landscape of stigma and silence, and comes in the wake of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was held in London last June. The week will bring representatives together from key public institutions, civil society organisations, academia, and the media to increase awareness of the prevention and consequences of sexual violence in conflict, as well as the need to support survivors effectively.

The beginning of the week is marked by today’s launch of the ‘International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict’ in BiH. Funded by the UK government, and the product of two years’ work by a range of experts, the document was presented at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in June 2014, and is seen as an essential step towards achieving the Initiative’s aims. By introducing international standards for the documentation and investigation of sexual violence, in addition to the support of survivors, the Protocol aims to strengthen the prosecution of sexual violence in conflicts, thus increasing the prospects of successful convictions. As such, it provides practical advice on preventing, documenting, and responding to sexual violence, including checklists, templates for data collection, and sample questions for fieldworkers.

The week will bring representatives together from key public institutions, civil society organisations, academia, and the media to increase awareness of the prevention and consequences of sexual violence in conflict, as well as the need to support survivors effectively.
With such a strong focus within the protocol on developing the capacity of local individuals, organisations, and institutions, a focal point of the launch event in the Parliament of BiH will be the official presentation of three separate training modules by local experts. The future delivery of these modules will serve as the basis for improving the work of judges and prosecutors, war crimes investigators, and the armed forces in BiH, and are intended to help them overcome some of the many challenges that they face in preventing and responding to sexual violence as a crime under international law.

An emphasis on encouraging and developing local ownership of the protocol will also see the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), Medica Zenica, and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) host a series of local events in Mostar, Banja Luka, Brčko, and Zenica over the course of the awareness week. At each of these events, a representative of the British Embassy will introduce how the protocol can be of use to local organisations, following which there will be a film screening and an accompanying panel discussion amongst survivors, local victim associations, NGOs working on the issue of sexual violence. Organisations from surrounding areas of each location will also have the opportunity to promote their work and engage with the vide variety of stakeholders in attendance.

Such involvement of grassroots actors is of obvious necessity to the Protocol’s long-term aim of strengthening local organisations’ capacity to work with victims of sexual violence in conflict, but of equal importance is the wider engagement of the general public. The silence that surrounds these issues in Bosnia is such that they are rarely discussed either amongst communities or through the media, leaving most people uninformed about the experiences of those who suffered sexual crimes in conflict and the lack of support that they have since endured. Indeed, despite the initiative shining a spotlight on these issues within BiH earlier this year, public awareness remains particularly low. The devastating floods that swept through the region in May hindered much of the work planned with local communities in advance of the Global Summit.

Thus, in addition to careful co-ordination with media agencies across BiH, a series of outreach activities throughout the PSVI week will attempt to inform, involve and change the attitudes of the wider public. For example, the photographic exhibition “My Body: A War Zone”, created by PROOF: Media for Social Justice in collaboration with PCRC, featuring the stories and portraits of women survivors of rape from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Colombia, will be unveiled in Sarajevo and at each of the local events.

PCRC and Kriterion Cinema will also host a Women’s Film Series in Sarajevo, featuring a variety of films that explore survivors’ experiences of sexual violence in conflict, the stigmatism and socio-economic challenges that they’ve faced since, and the shortcomings and challenges of existing responses. The film series will include screenings of “I Came to Testify” and “War Redefined” of PBS’ Women War and Peace documentary series; Unprotected and Uspomene 677 produced by PCRC; Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey; and Duhovi Proslosti produced by the ICTY. The photographic exhibition “The Story of Hasija” by Velija Hasanbegović, which features one Bosnian woman’s plight after surviving rape camp detainment, will also be unveiled as a part of the film series event.

The ‘International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict’ will be launched in the Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina on 19th November 2014. The Protocol will also be presented in the following cities over the course of the PSVI awareness week: Mostar on 21 November; Banja Luka on 24 November; Brčko on 26 November; and Zenica on 28 November.

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Horn of Africa: the linkages between food insecurity, migration and conflict Fri, 14 Nov 2014 09:05:03 +0000 Kisuke Ndiku explores the causes of food insecurity, migration and conflict in the Horn of Africa – and the consequences for local communities.

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Image credit: CIAT

Image credit: CIAT

Of the 160 million people living in the Horn of Africa, 70 million live in areas prone to extreme food shortages. 60% of the land is home to 22 million pastoralists. More than 40% of the population in the region is undernourished due to food insecurity and inadequate livelihoods.  During the 2010-2011 droughts malnutrition was as high as 30%.

Over the past 30 years, frequent famine – every five to seven years – and frequent conflicts have made this region one of the most food-insecure in the world.  Urban poverty was the third greatest contributor to food insecurity in the region.  Livelihoods and food security, therefore, are priority aspects of peace and development in this region. This has been difficult to achieve because of natural and man-made disasters including, human migration and conflict.

The Horn of Africa has a long history of conflicts at the local community level and across borders between communities of different countries. Conflicts disrupt households and their support networks in livelihoods, community social life, food and livestock production, human movement, and commerce; leading to displacement of populations raising vulnerability factors at households adding to exposure to more risks.

The context of conflict has taken different dimensions in the Horn region in the last ten years.  Apart from internal conflict, piracy, terrorism and political violence have brought new facets to conflict.  In addition, the migratory lifestyle of pastoralists has been under threat and instability caused by conflict, change in governance and administration systems, climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters.

Conflict and instability can severely affect socio-cultural, political and power relations. Conflict exacerbates the vulnerability of poor people, displacing them from their homes and depleting their assets. It makes emergency relief operations directed towards IDPs or refugees difficult and dangerous for those involved and has a much more negative impact on long-term development, diverting scarce resources away from development objective into war.

In this article, human migration is taken to mean the movement of human populations to settle in other geographic locations, due to any other cause other than intended and voluntary movement.  In this regard, movement associated with disaster, conflict, or forced migration will be perceived to constitute human migration.  Nomadic movement of communities will not be regarded as part of human migration as it does not in itself constitute an intention for settling.  However, where some factors or forces associated with nomadic lifestyles enforce desire to flee or settle away from particular locations to avoid conflict, or attain safety; such migration will be categorized as part of trans-human movement and will be part of human migration.

In the Horn of Africa region, a number of factors have led to human migration. These include factors as wide ranging as natural disasters, conflict, poor governance, and lifestyle changes.

Effects on livelihoods and food security

Conflict and human migration within the Horn of Africa brings with it a myriad of consequences for communities. The key consequences include:

  • Increased causes of food insecurity for migrant groups, host communities and informal urban households
  • Increase in new types of vulnerabilities, disadvantage and risks
  • Reduced coping mechanisms among migrants and host communities
  • Inadequate living conditions as relates to incomes; access to services and opportunities
  • Low human and land productivity for lack of productive know-how, inputs and tools
  • Increased pressure on local resources – land and spaces for shelter, basic services, shared resources, such as water, sanitation, schools, health services and sources of food.
  • Opportunities for employment, whether formal or informal, are stressed with increased competition.
  • Over-reliance on humanitarian support – Communities like pastoralists, fisher folk and informal urban households are forced to turn and be depended on humanitarian relief
  • Barriers of access to land and water, e.g. land allocated to IDPs and refugees aare often not the best for production.
  • Denied opportunities for production or work – local authorities impose barriers such as forms and levels of taxation, determining types of business or locations where IDPs and refugees can conduct their business.
  • Resistance by host communities –  host communities perceive unfair competition or lack of sufficient market for produce due to competition from refugees and IDPs
  • Strained relations and transactions between migrants and host communities; or local authorities and informal land settlements

Conflict and Human migration cause food insecurity and, periodically, famine to the lives of a large proportion of the population of the Horn of Africa. Instability makes life intrinsically difficult with a shrinking and degraded resource base. Combined with population pressures, climate change and limited coping capacities, human lives are threatened. These challenges notwithstanding, resources like water and land continue to offer opportunities if utilized better in the region.

It is clear that the problem of livelihoods and food insecurity is complex and multifaceted one in which investments are needed focusing know-how for developing systems, education, health, energy and infrastructure to provide the framework that allows people to broaden livelihoods options that create long-term food security opportunities.

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Trading places: capturing the reality of cross border conflict Wed, 12 Nov 2014 09:51:57 +0000 Ordinary people lived extraordinary lives during The Troubles. Conor McGale is helping to record their stories and the significance of borders in the Northern Irish conflict

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Our exciting EU PEACE III funded storytelling project, Border Lives, has produced six short films capturing people’s lives and experiences along the border region of Northern Ireland, from the Troubles to the present day.

L-R: Project Manager, Conor McGale; Sarah Bryden, Research & Social Media Officer; Joe Byrne, Northern Ireland Assembly Member; Lorraine McCourt, Special EU Programmes Body.

The Border Lives project is run by the Tyrone Donegal Partnership and funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by Pobal.

The project’s aim is to ensure that the stories and experiences of those living in the Border Region during the Northern Ireland Conflict are captured, replicated and shared in innovative ways that are accessible to both new and wider audiences locally, regionally and internationally.


Filming in Glasnevin

The project tells the everyday stories of how people adapted their daily lives and routines amidst the violence, fear, isolation, and uncertainty of the conflict, but also shows the humour, friendships, and community spirit that existed. In short, it shows ordinary people telling stories of extraordinary times. This project captures life away from the headlines and the TV news bulletins, where people lived their lives quietly while one of the most deeply entrenched conflicts in western European history unfolded around them. The films make for essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand the reality of life in the border areas during The Troubles and beyond.

90 people took part in the six films. Among them include a woman who talks poignantly of watching a soldier dying outside her home, a retired RUC officer who speaks of never wanting to have to use his gun, an IRA member’s memories of growing up amidst the turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and a part-time UDR member explaining how him and his family’s life was under threat 24/7. But mostly the interviews reflect ordinary life lived around extraordinary circumstances – the humour, pathos, loneliness and hope for the future.

Garrison4 edit

Each of the six films focuses on a different location along the border and gathers a breadth of perspectives and stories from local people.  36 public events were also held highlighting the project and its work.

The project has developed:

Six 30 minute documentaries of how the Northern Ireland Troubles impacted on border communities;

  • 20 extended Interviews with participants explaining life in the area during this conflict;
  • A purpose built website,, that contains these films and interviews, along with maps detailing the local area as well as an interactive timeline about the development of the Northern Ireland Border, and a blog detailing how the project was delivered;
  • A free app for iPhone and Android that allows students to access these films on the move;
  • Facebook & Twitter feeds which highlight the work of the project and its social media campaigns to date, as well as encouraging public comments, feedback and sharing of the project’s promotional material;
  • A YouTube page that allows people to view and share preview clips and infographics about the project on a variety of social media platforms.

The project has also devised an e-learning course, based on the footage gathered from our 90 participants. Our Course,, is free and features four modules: Restart, Remembering, Renewal and Reconstruction. The modules feature video clips, external links, questions and key learning points throughout the course and covers topics such as the role of narrative in conflict and moving forwards, the role of a border in conflict, identities in conflict, the Iceberg model of conflict, and Border Impact Stories. The course features 18 video clips and case studies of people interviewed for the project who talk about life during the conflict as well as how it has changed during the post conflict reconstruction phase.

All of Border Lives’ resources are free and readily available to institutions involved in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and oral history. We are particularly keen to raise the availability of these products and the project internationally.

For more information on the project, contact Conor McGale, Project Manager, at

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A religious fanatic turned peace advocate Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:57:45 +0000 During Lebanon’s civil war Assad Shaftari fought as part of a Christian militia, driven by a hatred of Muslims. Now he preaches peace to persuade young Lebanese not to follow his pate. In this interview with Sawssan Abou-Zahr, Peace Direct’s Local Correspondent for Lebanon, Assad talks about his journey.

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“It is not enough to say I am sorry, you should do something about it”, says Assad Shaftari. This public servant, as he describes himself, had a long rocky path to walk to become the preacher of peace and reconciliation he is today. Once a young twenty-year-old engineering student on the eve of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975, he joined a telecommunications unit in a Christian armed group and later took an artillery course.

Raised in a Christian school and studying later at a Christian university, he had many stereotyped concepts about fellow Muslim citizens. Many Christian leaders at the time believed Muslims were second class citizens. He has also learned to hate the Palestinians, armed Muslims who had made Lebanon their headquarters.

“I was a wrong believer, a bad believer”, Shaftari tells me. He was led to believe, and he did believe, that by fighting Muslims and Palestinians, he was defending his community, the country, the Pope, Christ, the cause. “What cause?”, he asks himself. It was all wrong.

But back then it all sounded right. He kept going to the Sunday Mass. He had his conscience clear. In his words, he did not kill civilians but armed men, whether Palestinians or people involved in attacks in Christians areas. He did not steal or loot, he believed what he got himself involved in was a simple act of self-defense. And as the war got bigger, so did he. He became second in command of the Intelligence Unit in his group.

He says he acted “like a small god”. It was up to him to rule over the fate of captives, whether killed or exchanged for others or used to bridge intelligence gaps. He said: “I was not conscious of what I was doing, I was just keeping score… I had lost my sense of humanity”.

When I asked him a question that sure is a cliché, “do you how many persons you have killed”, he quoted a verse in the Koran, that the killing of one person is equivalent to the killing of mankind. Yes he did quote the Muslim holy book, and he admits that if he had known more about Islam in his youth, he wouldn’t have become the religious fanatic he was.

What was his wake up call? In 1988 his wife attended a meeting with the Initiatives for Change movement. She was excited about it, but he was skeptical and kept looking for a hidden agenda. He was invited to a meeting and got introduced to the four absolutes one should build inside. Honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. He thought he had them all. Little by little, he started wondering, was he really on the side of God? Only then he realized he had a bloody path and past.

What came next was not easy. He tells me, “imagine introducing light into a dark room, you thought it was clean but you discover it was full of dirt”. Shaftari had to clean his room, his life. “The biggest Jihad (struggle) is with oneself”, once more I listen to him echoing a famous Islamic principle.

He was ridiculed and received death threats. His former fellow fighters doubted his intentions. He says they only believed him when he published his famous apology letter in 2000. He acknowledged he wasn’t practicing the “true Christianity which is about loving others”. But even then, he was told, “why go first, couldn’t you have waited for Muslims to come forward?”

He later decided to address the victims privately. “Many people didn’t know I was behind their sufferings. I can’t take many out of my mind. I had to take responsibility for my wrongs to be able to redeem myself. I visited a lot of my victims’ families”. He pauses so I ask about their reaction. “There was pain and bitterness, but many forgave me. They were in pain, and so was I”.  He joined efforts with some of them to reveal the fate of their relatives, the “disappeared”.

Other countries, mainly in Africa, have held truth commissions and encouraged former combatants to step forward with any information they might have about other fighters and civilian victims. This wasn’t the case in Lebanon. The war was officially over with the Taef agreement and legal amnesty was granted. Shaftari points that the law didn’t specify that amnesty was not to be repeated, and it didn’t put the fighters in a rehab process through community service. Ironically, many warlords became acclaimed politicians, members of parliament and consecutive governments. Some were Shaftari’s allies.

He insists he has no political aspirations but works to prevent new wars. “We are living in a hidden civil war, it has been the case since 2005″, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. Cold hostilities occasionally flare up into violence, only now it is between Muslims themselves, Sunnis and Shiites, or Sunnis and Alawites. It happened in Beirut in May 2008 and in Tripoli, Northern Lebanon, over and over in the last few years.

Wherever he goes in Lebanon, he sees angry young men. “I can almost visualize their death, their becoming a picture on a wall”, he says. In Nabatiye, a stronghold of Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon, he recently listened to students wanting to fight fellow Lebanese supporting the “Islamic State” (IS) terrorist group. Shaftari told them quietly they should consider another approach, to cut what they call “the others” links to IS, to find them decent jobs and try to understand the roots of their fundamentalism. He argued it was totally unacceptable for a Lebanese to hold arms against a fellow citizen, “a brother”, in his words.

He tells me the director of the school spoke as aggressively as the students. It worries him to witness the fears the Shiite youth have nowadays, to see “a Lebanese sect getting afraid after long being feared”.

A Christian audience would show distrust to Muslims, whether Sunnis or Shiites. Young Christians want to get armed to protect their neighborhoods from Muslims and Syrian refugees. It rings a bell. So Shaftari would simply recite the story of his life and add his new conviction. In face of religious fundamentalism, only moderate Muslims would defend Christians.

In Tripoli which he visited several times last year, his work was much harder, “because they live in an actual war”.  It was dangerous for Alawite young men to get to the city from its sidelines, yet there was still hope, they were unarmed. This approach does not work though with those who fight, they are similar to his old comrades. All need psychological decontamination, to be cleansed from the burden of violence. This is a cause very dear to Shaftari’s heart and he works for it with 12 volunteers through a newly established organization, Fighters for Peace.

To me and almost everyone who interviewed him over the years, Assaad Shaftari is a sincere repentant. It shows in his eyes and words. He admits he still struggles with himself in search for inner peace, “I do need to remind myself of who I am now so my old version never comes back”.

I ask him if he would hold arms again, he answers firmly, “never, not even to defend myself”. I keep asking, what if the Lebanese army facing IS and the Syrian Jabhet An-Nousra calls all capable men to volunteer in defending the country. “There are other means for me to answer that call. I will not be armed again”.

Shaftari defines himself as “a human being first, then a Christian respecting other religions”. He believes Jesus “didn’t come to earth to establish a Christian state or a Christian society but to touch the hearts of humans. So it does not really matter if the Christians’ presence diminishes in Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Lebanon. Christianity is about hearts not lands”. Who would have thought this comes from a once religious fanatic who took himself for a crusader?

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Blurred lines in South Sudan Thu, 06 Nov 2014 14:10:23 +0000 A new bill passing through the South Sudanese parliament gives the country’s security services wide-ranging powers – powers which they have repeatedly abused. Flora McCrone reports on worrying developments for human rights in the country

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South Sudan’s civil war is nearly a year old. Image credit: Steve Evans

Those following South Sudan’s politics will likely have become aware in recent weeks of a controversial new bill relating to the National Security Service (NSS). The process of the bill’s passing through parliament and its impending sign-off by the President has been the subject of substantial news coverage and vocal public debate.

The NSS operates in a country where massacres, genocidal violence, widespread rape and other atrocities committed by the state army and opposition forces have been well documented since the civil war broke out in December 2013. Viewed in this context, the activities of one relatively small security organ may seem to many observers like a drop in the ocean. Moreover, for those who have spent time in South Sudan prior to this most recent wave of violent conflict, the NSS’s abuse of power will seem like old news.

National security service or ministry of torture?

Eighteen months ago, when I first visited South Sudan, I came to hear about the activities of the NSS straight away, on the drive from Juba airport to my lodgings. In a city that largely resembles a dusty, sprawling building site of one- and two-storey buildings, the NSS headquarters certainly stands out. A hulking box, not unlike an overgrown piece of Lego, the grey and blue building looms ominously in the distance, oddly juxtaposed with its surroundings – clusters of mud and straw tukul huts, and shacks of corrugated iron and UN plastic sheeting. On approach, as the building came into closer view through the car window I was told: ‘That’s the National Security building… but everyone here calls it the Ministry of Torture. Can you see that it doesn’t really have proper windows?’ Subsequently, it became apparent through private conversations over dinner that the goings-on within the NSS were Juba’s worst kept secret. Stories ranging from spying and detention without charge to extreme torture have instilled immense fear in the city’s residents.

As somebody visiting the country with the purpose of researching issues of human rights and justice, the NSS went straight to the top of the list of things I wanted to talk about. However, when it came to carrying out my research, during interviews within the offices of South Sudanese NGOs, lawyers, activists and journalists, as well as international workers, my broaching of the issue was invariably met with evasive or mumbled responses, and most often the swift changing of the subject. The candour of my behind-closed-doors discussions was not reflected in my official interviews. Nobody wanted to talk to me about the NSS. In the context of these experiences, the public outcry surrounding this new NSS bill is striking.

Actions speak louder than words – overstepping constitutional boundaries

South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution sets out the role of the NSS.  It states that the NSS ‘shall be professional and its mandate shall focus on information gathering, analysis and advice,’ and that it must ‘respect the will of the people, the rule of law, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Evidently the service strayed early on from its initial mandate. However, the new NSS bill is an almost exact replica of Sudan’s security laws, and would grant the service’s agents entirely unfettered power to spy on private communications, search and seize property without a warrant, arrest and detain innocent people without explanation, and use physical force – in other words, torture. All of these would be completely legal.

One could respond that the NSS was already doing these things anyway, so what difference would the bill make? In reality, allowing the NSS to act without judicial oversight would have significiant and wide-ranging consequences. Firstly, the prevalence and gravity of their abuses would almost certainly increase, potentially rendering South Sudan a police state. Secondly, we can anticipate that this shift will have a detrimental trickle-down effect on the conduct of the country’s other state and security services, including the police and army, as well as non-state armed groups. Thirdly, the bill ensures that the already narrow window through which a citizen could attempt to seek justice and redress for abuses committed against them by the NSS is shut completely. Fourthly, the bill violates key international law and human rights norms, as well as South Sudan’s own constitution – in other words, one could read the bill as an explicit demonstration that the rule of law, and indeed the very social contract upon which South Sudan’s nascent statehood was built, are effectively null and void. Finally, the bill could place even greater strain on the country’s relationship with the international agencies and donors on whom it is heavily reliant for its survival. The NSS is already known to target international aid and development organisations and corporations, as well as the media.

Pressuring the President 

One day, the current conflict will come to an end and the country will enter a new chapter. What will a future South Sudan look like if laws like these are in place? It is for all of these reasons that South Sudanese and international human rights organisations, foreign diplomats and others are urging President Salva Kiir not to sign the bill into law. They are calling for the bill to be revised considerably in order to bring it into line with the constitution and human rights norms. Within parliament, the bill has generated heated divisions, with the key rival party to the current leadership, the SPLM-DC, walking out of a parliamentary hearing in protest against the bill. In response, the ruling government has accused the SPLM-DC of ‘an act of incitement’. Reportedly a further 20 MPs also questioned the parliamentary proceedings and before leaving the House.

At the time of writing, the President has not yet signed the bill. Here we see a narrow sliver of opportunity to alter the course of South Sudan’s political future, and it is the task of all those within the government, within the country, and beyond to exert whatever influence they have in order to safeguard the people of South Sudan against further suffering and injustice.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author

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Lebanon, land of dialogue and opportunity Tue, 04 Nov 2014 16:51:15 +0000 Sawssan Abou-Zahr outlines a new initiative to promote inter-faith and inter-cultural understanding in Lebanon, drawing on the country’s historical diversity.

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The steering committee of the LDC, and former Lebanese President Michel Sleiman (fifth from left)

 In summer 2013 an ambitious new initiative began in Lebanon: “Lebanon: Land of Dialogue Among Civilizations and Cultures” (LDC).

Founded by Lebanese businessmen and academics, its goal is to achieve UN recognition of Lebanon as a place where people and ideas meet. It is inspired by the address of former Lebanese president Michel Sleiman to the UN General Assembly in 2008, in which he said that the “the philosophy of the Lebanese entity is based on dialogue, reconciliation and coexistence”. He declared that the Lebanese people would like their country to “become an international center for the management of the dialogue of civilizations and cultures, and consequently a global laboratory for that inter-entity dialogue”.

Sleiman took his motivation from a similar declaration made 11 years earlier by Pope John Paul II, who said that Lebanon was “more than a country.” It is a mission of love and conviviality. Much of this vision has also been articulated in the writings of the late Muslim scholar, Ayatollah Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddine. And in September 2012, religious leaders at a Muslim-Christian summit at the Lebanese Maronite Patriarchate at Bkerke called for the designation of Lebanon as “space of dialogue among civilizations based on peace and diversity”.

The initiative, housed at Notre Dame University-Louaize, is being implemented by the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (CRVP), an international academic NGO based in Washington.

So far, it has reached out to the UN in New York and Unesco in Paris, calling for Lebanon to be officially designated as a Land of Dialogue, as well as to the Lebanese people, both in Lebanon and abroad, especially in Latin America. The next stage will be to secure the support of expatriate Lebanese in the US, Canada, Australia, the Arab Gulf countries, Europe and Africa.

With Notre Dame, the initiative has organised conferences on religion, civil society and interreligious dialogue. In December 2013, it co-sponsored an international conference in Sao Paulo:”the dialogue of civilizations, emphasis on Lebanon”. A second conference is scheduled for November 2014 in the Brazilian city.

This follows up on a previous meeting to honour the Nigerian novelist and poet Chinua Achebe, which focused on the links and common ground between the Nigerian and Lebanese people, in particular the religious diversity of both countries and the lessons they have learned from civil wars.

The LDC also plans to reach out to the Vatican as part of its long-term mission to gain permanent observer status at the UN.

Ultimately, its objective is to become a permanent forum for dialogue among and between cultures, faiths and civilizations, building a centre which would host a Church, a Mosque and a Synagogue. This would be a unique centre in the Middle East, combining all three faiths to provide a platform to promote peace and reconciliation.

It would host international seminars and research workshops as well as supporting a wide range of religious, ethnic, racial and cultural dialogue activities, including those of other local, regional and international organisations that promote dialogue.

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November 2014 Mon, 03 Nov 2014 16:49:13 +0000 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 violent extremism in Kenya, conflict prevention, and more. Sign up here to receive the newsletter by email each month.

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Research this month

Conflicts of the future (Building Peace, issue 4)

The articles in this issue provide a guide to understanding, probing, and predicting world events. It is natural to feel despair when following the news today as headlines continue to highlight escalating conflicts and crises across the globe. But what if we can turn despair into knowledge, action, and prevention?

Building Peace is a regular publication from the Alliance for Peacebuilding which looks at some of the most pressing issues facing peacebuilding. The latest issue focuses on how to foresee and prevent future conflicts. It includes articles on peacebuilding technology, conflict minerals, and crime.

The relative calm achieved during the 2013 general elections has increased complacency about the risk of political violence in Kenya—particularly among international actors. The fear that drove people’s vigilance, restraint, and withdrawal from potential trigger situations in 2013 is likely to dissipate, as the 2007–08 postelection violence becomes a more distant memory.

Rhetoric or reality? Putting affected people at the centre of humanitarian action

Examples from the Philippines, Syria, and other places showed that people are communicating and organising themselves and that many aid agencies are still playing ‘catch-up’ to the discussions and racing to meet expectations and explain their approaches, given the access to information and social media that many people affected by crises now have.

Rhetoric or reality, from ALNAP, discusses current approaches and methods of putting local voices, experiences, and capacity at the centre of humanitarian action. The paper looks at some best practices and challenges for engaging with local people.

Women and inclusive peacebuilding in Afghanistan

Those working on governance programmes in fragile contexts should be aware that ‘civil society’ is not homogenous, that groups may not always share the same interests and perspectives, and that there may be a need to actively foster solidarity and co-operation between them.

Women and inclusive peacebuilding in Afghanistan, from Oxfam, looks at Oxfam’s “Within and without the state” programme, building the capacity of civil society in Afghanistan to promote participation of marginalised groups. The report shares the key learnings from the project.

Stealing the revolution: violence and predation in Libya

Conscious of both the state’s structural weaknesses and the perils that threaten their interests, tribes have been quick to equip themselves with armed militias while jihadist groups have simultaneously been expanding.

Stealing the revolution, from NOREF, examines what is driving the escalation of violence and the proliferation of armed groups in Libya. The paper finds that a key cause of violence are various groups seeking to secure territory and resources in the absence of a functional state.

Social cohesion and community based protection mechanisms in Chad and Burundi

Both country studies offer a first hand view of community-level groups, their organization and representation, and child protection practices. A hands-on approach is important in understanding how social cohesion is achieved (or not) in communities and whether or how this has local, national, or global significance for child protection practice.

Social cohesion and community based protection mechanisms in Chad and Burundi, from the North-South Institute, examines the linkages between social cohesion, child protection mechanisms and peacebuilding. The research is drawn from case studies of communities in Chad and Burundi.

From the blog

Time for real democracy for Bosnia?

By Tim Bidey: Bosnia’s complicated constitutional setup is a hindrance to change. Reforming it would help the country secure its future. Read more »

Terrorism in the Sahel: fighting the enemy within, from within

By Oumarou Gado: Incorporating informal leadership structures into dialogue is vital to building peace in the Sahara Read more »

The role of social media in the South Sudan crisis

By Khamis Cosmas: To what extent did social media fuel the recent violence in South Sudan? Read more »

Revisiting resource redistribution in conflicts over water

By Adan E. Suazo: What does the decreasing availability of water mean for peacebuilding?Read more »

Clans, conflicts and devolution in Mandera, Kenya

By Aden Abdi: A mixture of robust conflict management, good governance and addressing historical injustices are key to a durable solution, not just in Mandera but across the whole of northern Kenya. Read more »

Would a peacebuilding strategy respond to Nigeria’s unanswered questions?

By Charles Kwuelum: Why Nigeria needs a comprehensive strategy for building peace and reconciliation that puts local voices at the centre. Read more »

Finding peace for Nagorno-Karabakh

By Tugce Ercetin: How is peacebuilding being approached in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Read more »

Tossamaidan: a peaceful resolution of a Himalayan conflict

By Ashima Kaul: How local people in the Kashmir Himalayas shut down an army firing range. Read more »

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Time for real democracy for Bosnia? Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:10:28 +0000 Bosnia’s constitutional structure remains a fundamental stumbling block in bringing about change in the country. Tim Bidey spoke with Koalicija 143, a civic coalition advocating for constitutional reform, about their proposal for the future.

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Last week, Bosnia held its seventh set of elections since the end of the 1992-1995 war. Set against a background of continued social, economic, and political stagnation, and in the aftermath of widespread social protests in February, such an event should have presented the citizens of Bosnia with an ideal opportunity for change. Yet, as the votes were counted by the Central Elections Commission, one thing became readily apparent: of the 54% of citizens that had chosen to exercise their democratic right, the majority had – wittingly or unwittingly – voted for more of the same.

Kurt Bassuener, Senior Associate for the Sarajevo-based Democratization Policy Council and advisor to K-143, explains that this is hardly surprising. It’s not the citizens who are at fault, but the system: “citizens have given up on elections as vehicles for change”. Whilst opposition parties increased their share of the vote, exceeding the ruling majority on all levels, it looks far from likely that they will be able to overcome their differences and form working coalitions. Bassuener explains that “nobody’s an irrational actor in this system… it’s just that perverse incentives trump the good ones”.

Such criticism of the electoral system is not new to Bosnia. Both the Council of Europe and the international community as a whole have long criticised Bosnia’s discriminatory constitution, which forbids individuals from minority groups from running for elected office. Over the past five years, no progress has been made on the associated Sejdić-Finci case, and it remains one of the main obstacles for both the Bosnian democratic system and the country’s path to European Union accession; the latter of which is often touted as essential to long-term stability.

In Bassuener’s view, this lack of progress “underscores the reality that you can’t change the system through the system”, an idea that lies at the very heart of his involvement with Koalicija 143 (Coalition 143). Such a view is supported by his colleague Jasmina Colic, Acting Coordinator at K-143. She says that “to date, incremental steps of reform have stayed at the lower levels and have not had any impact on the constitution”. In her view, any change to Bosnia’s democratic system must deal first and foremost with constitutional reform, “otherwise you cannot expect it to be followed”.

Therein lies the heart of K-143, a civic coalition that has launched a model for constitutional reform that Bassuener and Colic believe will help to build “lasting peace”. Led by the Center for Civic Cooperation in Livno and the Center for Constitutional and Governance Studies, the coalition of NGOs is advocating a model of ‘municipalisation’. The proposed solution would see a complete shift away from the current multi-level governance system towards that of a two-level structure: a single national government at the state level, and 143 municipalities at the local level. A number of powers from the abolished middle layers of government – cantons and entities – would be devolved downwards, whilst the rest would be pushed upwards to the state.

Bassuener explains that the whole idea is premised on the belief that within Bosnia “there is a vast, atomized potential constituency for a very different kind of country” – the everyday citizens who suffer equally, regardless of ethnic identity, under the present system. Ultimately the goal is to create a culture of decision-making within the political sphere that is based on “rational self-interest rather than ethnicity-based constraints”, as well as to increase the efficiency, transparency, and thus accountability of governance.

Unsurprisingly, a solution so radical in nature has come under criticism – not least for how it intends to inspire a process of wide-sweeping constitutional and institutional change within such a delicate context. In addition, several critics have questioned just how K-143 intends to advance a system of change that requires the mandate of the very elites that it seeks to curtail.

However, Colic explains that the vision behind such a project is not necessarily one of immediate, dramatic change, and certainly not one that involves any sense of imposition. Indeed, K-143 is seeking to build a state-wide civic constituency. Its plan is to approach the problem from multiple angles, seeking the bottom-up support of local communities, mayors and municipality level politicians, whilst simultaneously working with the international community to increase pressure from above. The hope is that actors within the current political system will be compelled towards incremental change, though Bassuener and Colic acknowledge that this will inevitably take time. In their own words, “It could be 20 years or longer. This is the reality”.

Bassuener elucidates that such strategy necessitates “a labour-intensive, door-to door approach”. Indeed, the desire to engage local communities on a personal level is also intended to help assuage people’s fears regarding fundamental change, allowing K143 to make clear the mechanisms of ethnic protection that have been incorporated into the reforms. As such, K-143 aims to visit each of Bosnia’s 143 municipalities over the coming year to identify local individuals, organisations, and agents of change who are willing to support the movement. Looking ahead to 2015-16, K-143 plans to use this support to run a model simulation of its proposed parliament, intended to “demonstrate that issues considered unsolvable within the current system could be solvable within the new framework”.

The path ahead is far from simple for K-143, especially when considering some of the setbacks it has experienced since its inception – which range from funding, to bureaucratic obstacles. Bassuener admits that there’s “no guarantee of success”. However, both he and Colic remain driven by the positive support that they’ve received through their outreach work and their awareness of citizens’ increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Behind all of their efforts is the knowledge that present-day, ethno-territorially divided Bosnia is a country “living on borrowed time”.

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Terrorism in the Sahel: fighting the enemy within, from within Thu, 23 Oct 2014 09:55:02 +0000 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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