AJCR 2005/1

Foreword

Keywords: Democracy

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After our previous edition (4.2), which was a special one on Electoral systems, Elections and Conflict Mitigation in Southern Africa, this edition (5.1) is a regular one again, but it happens to have a theme too. Although no topic was suggested to authors or used to select material, the articles and even the book reviews included in this issue appear to be interrelated around the theme of interrelatedness.

One can of course dismiss this as a mere coincidence. But one can also give it a second thought, and realise that interrelatedness is such a crucial element in the field of dealing with conflict that focused attention on it can serve a very good and relevant purpose.

In dealing with conflict, whether in a professional or an everyday context, we continually have to take interconnectedness seriously. The parties in a conflict situation find themselves in some sort of relationship – otherwise they would not have been in conflict with each other. The cause of a conflict is usually no stand-alone matter, but something intertwined with histories, cultures, identities or other complexities. Talks about a conflict can seldom be kept simple. They have to include all the backgrounds, parties, positions, purposes, interests and needs related to the situation.

Therefore, the more insight we gain into interrelatedness, the better equipped we become to prevent, manage, resolve or transform conflict situations. We trust that the articles included in this edition will stimulate our thinking about interrelated people and matters, and improve our preparedness to deal with any conflict, and especially with more complex conflict situations.

The two middle articles are about the interlinkages between conflict resolution and development. In one of them the further link between development and democracy is also explored. From the data and the discussions two inferences seem to emerge, however. Firstly, there are clear indications of links between democracy and development, between democracy and peace, and between development and peace. Secondly, however, no conclusions can be drawn about guaranteed shortcuts to conflict resolution.

Where a satisfactory degree of political and socio-economic democratisation and development has taken place, there should be a favourable climate for dealing with conflicts and resolving them. Where there are prospects of ongoing improvement in democracy and especially in development, the situation may become even more conducive to dealing with conflicts appropriately and satisfactorily. It can never be assumed, however, that conflict resolution will always manifest itself as a by-product of democracy and development.

After all, there are versions of both democracy and development that do not satisfy the people concerned. In the old South Africa, for example, there was a ‘democracy’ which only included the privileged minority. And when the minority government of that deplorable era inflicted apartheid on the majority of South Africans, it used the euphemistic ‘rationale’ of ‘separate development’! As South Africans, we are obviously ashamed of those fallacies and disasters, but we are in a position to remember and share what we have learnt.

The two articles on these interlinkages can therefore make us aware of opportunities and challenges, but they can also make us wary of optimistic illusions. Growth in democracy and development can improve the prospects of peace and security, but automatic, straightforward results should not be expected.

The other two articles provide us with valuable perspectives on fellow-human interrelatedness. The first one prompts our thinking (and imagining) about problems and possibilities around the phenomenon of our belongingness. As social human beings we do sense and experience that we belong to the groups into which we have been born. Such intra-group and intra-ethnic belongingness is self-evident and justifiable. What should also be self-evident, however, is that any monopolising of the right to belong is grossly unfair. People who happen to be born into other cultural groups have the right to belong to those groups.

This insight is an important first step in becoming liberated from a restricted, exclusive sense of belonging. The major step, however, is the break-through to real inclusiveness. Then a legitimate but limited intra-group belonging can grow into a wider-ranging inter-group experience. Diversity can be duly recognised and can even be genuinely embraced. Differences, which are inevitable, can be approached non-violently and their underlying problems solved satisfactorily. Interrelatedness can become a lived reality.

Finally, the fourth article serves as a fitting practical conclusion. If conflicts are indeed between interrelated people and about interrelated issues, a participatory approach seems to be the most appropriate way of dealing with them. In the article such an approach is propagated with regard to a specific conflictual area, but its applicability in any situation is obvious.

What has to be remembered and taken seriously, however, is that participatory rhetoric cannot simply be used to disguise a unilateral agenda or a top-down mentality. A genuine participatory approach is no show or scheme. It is based upon a mindset of inclusive interrelatedness. It is inspired by a fellow-human attitude, which is not disheartened by the complexities of diversity and differences. It is adopted by people who are not afraid of the tensions and problems of human co-existence, but are committed to live a fascinating life of interrelating both with our fellow-humans and our entire environment.

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