Conflict Trends | 2006/1

Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation In Divided Societies

Book Review

Reviewed By  2 Nov 2009

John Paul Lederach, a seminal figure in the academic and practical field of conflict resolution, provides foundational and important ideas and strategies for peace-building and reconciliation in his book, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. The innovative ideas and practical suggestions for building peace in deeply divided societies are timeless and applicable across various conflict contexts and cultures. The book emphasises the need to move beyond traditional diplomacy with top-level leaders and short-term objectives to holistic and integrated approaches emphasising multiple levels of actors, long-term objectives, and the healing of relationships and people. An integrated framework for sustained peace-building and reconciliation is thus provided.

Building Peace is divided into two parts. Part one is an introduction to understanding contemporary armed conflict including defining current conflicts as identity-based and locating them more internally (intra-state) than internationally, with diffuse power and weakened central authority characteristics. Conflicts are protracted because they become lodged in long-standing relationships and are characterised by social-psychological perceptions, emotions, and subjective and cultural experiences. International and traditional diplomacy alone is deemed inadequate for dealing with the root causes of conflicts as such interventions involve authority figures and empowers few people only, largely encourages military capacities, solutions are sought within a framework of compromise, and the focus tends to be on substantive issues of territory and governance only and not necessarily on building relationships and addressing the socio-psychological issues that render conflicts intractable.

Part two, the substantive part of the book, therefore addresses the need for a comprehensive, integrated, and strategic approach to the transformation of deep-rooted conflicts. As such a conceptual framework for peace-building and sustained reconciliation, composed of the interdependent components of structure, process, reconciliation, resources and coordination is presented and explained in detail.

Reconciliation: Building relationships, with the focus on emotional and psychological aspects of conflict, is central to conflict transformation. Lederach introduces the concept of “reconciliation-as-encounter,” that is, the need to provide space and opportunity for encounters between conflicting parties at various levels to articulate past pain (acknowledgement) and envision an interdependent (shared) future. The underlying challenges of reconciliation, that is, the paradoxes of truth, mercy, peace, and justice are also explained. In deeply divided societies, reconciliation is often hampered by the tensions of promoting truth around past actions while also encouraging healing through merciful amnesties and forgiveness, as well as encouraging peace and opportunities for all (including perpetrators) while also implementing mechanisms for justice and impunity. These paradoxes of reconciliation define the practical challenges many post-conflict countries experience as they attempt to move forward peacefully and address past human rights abuses and injustices. Building Peace therefore maintains that reconciliation occurs in the space where these tensions are validated, for example, through truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC’s). Dialogue is also important for embracing paradoxes and achieving reconciliation.

Structure: Effective leadership is a crucial aspect of conflict transformation and reconciliation. Top, middle and grassroots levels of leadership are congruent with top, middle and grassroots approaches for interventions.

  1. Top-level leadership (high status, power, authority) = Top-down approach: goal is negotiated settlement and cease-fire.
  2. Middle-level leadership (civil society) = Middleout approach: located to build peace infrastructure, problem-solving workshops, trainings and peace commissions.
  3. Grassroots-level leadership (the masses) = Bottom-up approach: pressure from the masses, more indigenous and traditional interventions in communities. Middle level leaders are ideally situated as they are connected to people at the top and grassroots but not necessarily constrained by either. Leaders at this level are more suited to execute the co-ordination and implementation of holistic peace-building plans and programmes. The middle level approach to interventions is therefore also considered ideal for peace-building and reconciliation.

Process: Transforming conflicts and addressing the root causes must be concerned with the long-term nature and progression of conflicts. Conflicts are not static but expressive, dynamic, dialectical and progress through stages from unpeaceful to peaceful. Contemporary conflicts tend to be locked in a cycle of confrontation, negotiations and ceasefires, which are not enough to sustain reconciliation. Conflict transformation must consist of multiple interventions, roles, and functions depending on the stage of conflict being addressed. The book lists and explains a number of these roles and functions. Peace-building as process is therefore based on conflict as progression (ceasefires or negotiations are not enough for peace).

Integration: An integrated framework for building peace and sustained reconciliation needs to reconceptualise time frames for planning and action, and link ‘structure’ with ‘process.’ There needs to be a long-term view of conflict progression, which recognises the distinction between the time-frame needed for responding to humanitarian disasters and that needed for building peace. Any immediate intervention must be connected to movement toward the longer term goal of sustainable peace. In order to transform conflicts short-term efforts at resolving conflicts (cease-fires) must be informed by long-term vision and implications (sustained peace). The aim is not to find quick-fixes that manage conflict temporarily, but to heal and rebuild relationships in the long term. Peace-building must therefore be based on ‘decade-thinking approaches’ that link the immediate crisis experience with a better future in which such crises can be prevented.

In an integrated peace-building infrastructure:

  1. Social change is designed in time-units of decades and crisis management is linked with future visions.
  2. Crisis issues are connected to systemic roots so that conflict resolution approaches are anchored within relationships and subsystems.
  3. The integrative potential of middle-range leaders is recognised.

Resources and Coordination: Financial support is essential for effective peacebuilding, but people, organisations and cultural mechanisms must also be recognised as resources. It is important to empower the people and practices within the conflict context. In addition, mechanisms to improve coordination, communication and collaboration between people, organisations and interventions, internally and externally, must be a part of the peace-building plan.

In the final chapters Lederach provides useful tools for conflict resolution practitioners by applying the peace-building framework to conflict resolution trainings and providing information on the evaluation of peace-building programmes. Training is a process of strategic capacity and relationship building. The transformative approach suggests that it is less about the transfer of information than it is about creating a dynamic process for people to come together and dialogue. Useful techniques for training, such as dilemma framing and reflection-inaction are discussed. Evaluation is an intrinsic part of peace-building and practical tips for designing appropriate peace-building evaluations are provided.

Although Building Peace draws on multiple models and the diagrams presented can seem complex and overwhelming, the theoretical and foundational ideas discussed are grounded in practice and have significant application for the transformation of contemporary conflicts. Indeed the book concludes with the application of these foundational peace-building ideas to four conflict case studies in Africa: Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia. Transforming conflicts in deeply divided societies, through peacebuilding and sustained reconciliation, is the ultimate goal of conflict analyses and resolution programmes. In Building Peace Lederach provides foundational ideas and innovative practical tips for achieving this.

  • Psychology
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