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AJCR | 2011/2

Foreword

By  13 May 2011

In the field of dealing with conflict, as probably in most other fields, there is always an interplay between established methods and innovative ones. On the one hand, there are the approaches and practices that have a mostly undocumented but long history behind them. We take it for granted that from the time of our remotest ancestors there were differences and rivalries – and resulting quarrels and fights. We have indications, however, from which we infer that among our ancestors there were those who discovered the value of talking things out instead of fighting them out. On the other hand, there are the bright ideas and updated methods of the present. Time-proven traditions are modified to meet current needs – as for instance, gender balance. Basic procedures of negotiation and mediation are refined – for instance, in light of our current insights into dialogue and communication skills – and supplemented – for instance, by recently conceptualised specialisation in peacemaking and peacebuilding.

When dealing with conflict situations in our present world, we can therefore be guided by old guidelines, or by new ones, or by both. Whether the conflict concerned appears to be a relatively simple interpersonal one or a highly complicated international one, there will probably be elements of basic human interaction and factors of complex contemporary issues. It is our responsibility, therefore, to have as much knowledge and experience as possible of both conventional methodology and novel pioneering.

The articles appearing in this issue can enhance our expertise in these two directions. In the first article (Onuoha), the tradition of consensus building is approached from a new perspective. The method of encouraging parties with conflicting opinions to work towards a sufficient degree of agreement obviously remains one that can generally be recommended. But in situations where self-interested politicians are wielding power, consensus (thinking and feeling with each other) may be brutally overruled or subtly overturned. In such a context it will be futile to fix idealistic hopes on merely propagating consensus. What the article recommends instead, is nothing less than a reformed state and a virile civil society. A nationalist ideology should be re-invented, which could empower the population and scale down the state from its appropriated absolute autonomy to its actual relative autonomy.

In the second article (Isike and Okeke Uzodike) another tradition is revisited – indigenous methods of peacebuilding, and particularly, the way in which women ‘have always been at the centre of peace processes across different pre-colonial African societies’. The questions are asked how and why women have become ‘passive observers of politics and peacebuilding in neo-colonial Africa’. The article then points the way towards appreciating the extremely valuable contribution of women to restoring and building peace and social harmony.

The next article (Mayer and Boness) turns our attention to the current education of youth in a cross-cultural context. Here tradition and innovation meet in a different way. Children grow up with the cultural traditions of the group to whom they happen to belong almost unconsciously but firmly embedded in them. When youngsters of one group interact with those of a group moulded into a different pattern, both sides experience shocks, tensions and conflicts. New and ongoing research is therefore recommended into ways of improving the general views and specific insights of educational professionals in order to equip themselves better to prevent or deal with cross-cultural conflicts among their learners/students.

The last two articles (Warfield and Sentongo, and Gariba) are focused on transformational political leadership at all levels from local to national. Encouraging examples from two countries are explored. Warfield and Sentongo discuss the ways in which traditional indigenous processes are used in Rwanda on its course towards reconciliation. But they highlight a crucial contemporary need among leaders and communities: democratic capacity building. They urgently recommend that reconciliation and stability be pursued through justice, decentralisation and the empowerment of women. Gariba takes the example of Liberia where, under its new, female president, capacity building is taking place, but where more can be done. What he strongly recommends are good governance, security sector reform, ongoing development, and comprehensive capacity building.

Following the articles, the first book review is on a book which, on a similar dual wavelength, presents a ‘systematic evaluation of traditional and modern principles, methods and approaches to conflict resolution’.

As we are sending out this issue, we trust that readers will not only find enough ad hoc insights and suggestions, but also an overall message of remaining loyal to long-standing traditional methods and becoming committed to transformational approaches needed today. There is indeed very good reason for the recurring emphasis on reform and on women. Reformational undertakings should not be regarded as foreign imports threatening our established traditions. In an ever-changing world, traditions should be upheld and updated. And women should not be regarded (by narrow-minded men) as outsiders who now suddenly have to be included. They have all the time been a perfectly natural, normal and interrelated component of humanity. They are insiders – ready to work together so that the quality and effectiveness of our work can be built upon the mutually complementary contributions of both genders.

When we are on the job of dealing with conflict, let us then constantly be aware of traditions and innovations, and be ready to make the relevant choices or combinations. Such decisions may be needed when initially planning an appropriate procedure, and also when at a later stage of the process surprising moves or possibilities call for adaptations.

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