AJCR 2008/1



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Following our special issue on identity and cultural diversity in conflict resolution in Africa (Volume 7, Number 2, 2007), this issue of the African Journal on Conflict Resolution addresses various problems from diverse conflict resolution perspectives. Despite the broad range of issues covered, however, the articles and the book review in this issue reveal a striking common focus on diversity and the restoration of relationships.

Jonah Leff discusses the fact that one of the most urgent tasks in a post-war situation is the rehumanising one. Ex-combatants are not just military puppets that have to be disarmed and demobilised; they are members of families and communities. After, but also during, the formal work of disentangling them from military units and belligerent networks, there is the crucially important task of reintegrating former combatants into their fellow-human networks. They should restore and rebuild relationships with partners, parents, children, relatives, neighbours and communities. There are also the more general relationships that usually have to be repaired or improved after a war – those, for instance, that cross the lines between ethnic, religious, income and gender groups. Human relationships are of such value that they are aptly regarded as a key component of social capital. The Sierra Leonean case study provides recommendations for an internationally supported but local community-focused approach to the reintegration of ex-combatants and the transformative rebuilding of war-torn communities.

Claude-Hélène Mayer, Christian Boness and Lynette Louw have focused their research on encounters between individuals from different cultures (Tanzanian and European) during which orientations to different values caused conflict. The authors analyse feedback from respondents and discuss the value domains and dimensions represented. Particular attention is paid to the value-orientations that seem to be most prone to lead to conflict, and to approaches that individuals, groups and mediators may adopt to resolve such conflict and avoid repetitions of similar incidents. The authors provide recommendations, that are particularly relevant for education institutions, cross-cultural trainers, consultants and researchers, and which are about cross-cultural awareness, knowledge, sensitivity, empathy and understanding.

Mark Davidheiser and Aniuska Luna have studied the history of intergroup relations between sedentary, agricultural farmers and more nomadic pastoralists in West Africa (using case studies from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon). In the more remote past these two groups apparently managed – generally speaking – to coexist in a complementary and cooperative relationship. In the more recent past, however, this relationship has been disrupted by demographic changes and environmental degradation, and especially by international development projects. However well-intentioned, the top-down importation of Western models of ‘development’ and ‘production’ systems proved to be incompatible with the time-proven custom of mutually beneficial symbiosis. Recommendations are therefore given for restoring the traditional relationship between farmers and herders as far as possible although current circumstances and population figures are very different. Instead of formal and retributive approaches, bottom-up methods of land management and conflict resolution can be promoted.

In the last article, David McCoy emphasises the prevalence of inequalities between groups as a root cause of conflict, not only in Africa but also in the rest of the world. He stresses the crucial importance of this insight when, after a protracted intra-state war, efforts are undertaken to rebuild a peaceful and stable society. In such a process, superficial restorative measures cannot be of real and lasting effect. Nothing less is necessary than effectively addressing the root cause behind the conflict in a way that satisfies all the parties concerned, but particularly, of course, the group that has suffered most under inequalities. Obviously, the particular types and levels of inequality differ from situation to situation, and accordingly different key concepts may be most appropriate in each case. Very often the focus of a conflict is on ethnicity or poverty, or on greed as a major cause of poverty or discrimination. In so many cases, however, the basic problem proves to be nothing other than inequality between groups who are convinced that they can justifiably claim equality. In this article, case studies of Mali and Rwanda are used and lessons are recommended for resolving conflicts by eliminating inequalities or reducing them as far as possible. Wrongdoing can be admitted – even by a government. Groups discriminated against can be included and granted access to citizenship rights or property rights, or they may be granted decentralised self-determination. Priority may be given to poverty reduction and national reconciliation.

The reviewed book, Sudan: The Elusive Quest for Peace by Ruth Iyob and Gilbert M. Khadiagala, highlights the complexity of ethnic, religious and political identities, of cultural and economic diversities, and of the spate of violent conflicts that has seriously marred the first fifty years of independence in Sudan. The authors show how peace agreements came to nothing due to the breaking of promises and trust. The book emphasises that a future of reconciliation is possible, but would require the political will to acknowledge the injustices of the past, accept the equality and dignity of all Sudanese, and become committed to mutual respect and accommodation.

We are glad that in this issue we can share more perspectives on identity and cultural diversity with our readers. As usual, we do not expect readers to agree with everything in the articles we publish, but we are sure that there will be enough agreement about the relevance of exploring human interactions and relations across the divides in human society. There should also be sufficient agreement about the need to come up with courageous recommendations on putting appropriate theories into practice, and propagating locally proven solutions for wider use.

Something else we wish to share with our readers, is a semantically-based relational experience we had when editing these articles. We were struck by all the important words beginning with one of two key prefixes we have inherited from Latin. The first one is ‘re-‘, which adds the notion of ‘again’ to what follows. ‘Reintegration’ means again making a separated person or thing part of an integrated whole that used to exist. ‘Reconciliation’ means to make friends again. So as we read about restoring and rebuilding relationships, we can form a mental picture of an interrelatedness that used to be there and that might be put into place again as far as possible – if the erstwhile bonds cannot even become stronger after having been disrupted. The other prefix is ‘co-‘, which communicates ‘together’, ‘jointly’ or ‘equally’. When we read about cooperating and coexisting, we can feel the thrill of our ubuntu-togetherness and be inspired to contribute to greater social cohesion. At the same time, however, we may remember that ‘con-‘ also means ‘together’ and that ‘conflict’ is a matter of ‘hitting together’. But, as stated in the concluding article, ‘conflict should not be viewed as something intrinsically negative’. Conflict may indeed serve the legitimate purpose of exposing and removing inequalities and working towards the best attainable level of coexistence.

We therefore see this issue of the Journal as articulating the idea that peacemakers should identify socio-politico-economic injustices, acknowledge cross-cultural and other diversities, and promote approaches, mindsets and methods that restore relationships and build coexistence.