Peace by peaceNepal requires a bottom-up, intentional and integrated approach to peace
My quest for sustainable peace took me to Rolpa, western Nepal and Geneva, Switzerland last month. It began in Rolpa, the district from where the decade-long civil war had begun, with a mission to foster social cohesion and reconciliation through community dialogue.
The experience then took me to Geneva, where I participated in the 10th Senior Level Peacebuilding Course organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, in partnership with Interpeace and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), on behalf of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. These two explorations—with a short transit in Kathmandu for some high-level meetings—became expedient in interlinking local versus global concepts, practices and other agendas of sustaining peace.
We dwell in a world of burgeoning challenges posed by threats of violence. Post-conflict states seem to be relapsing into conflicts again and again. How do we get rid of what scholars Paul Collier and Nicholas Sambanis term the ‘Conflict Trap’? How do we build and sustain peace?
Thinking of a society without conflict is too utopian. Philosopher Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander the Great and the disciple of the great philosopher Plato in the 4th century BC said, ‘We make war that we may live in peace’. The statement conveys the message that sometimes conflicts are inevitable in the process of altering the status-quo for the greater good. However, such change is also possible without resorting to violence. Therefore, the most crucial aspect of peacebuilding—as has been identified lately—is to strengthen the capacities of the societies to manage conflicts in nonviolent ways.
Peacebuilding from Peace
In conflict-related studies, we often do not learn from peaceful approaches. This is a major missing link in peace academia. Peace and conflict are not mutually exclusive concepts; perceiving them as dichotomous has always impeded resilient peacebuilding. In both theory and practice, peacebuilding is often seen as significant exclusively to settings where conflict is manifest or proximate. However, peace can only be sustained by reinforcing conflict-avoidance structures, attitudes and institutions in peacetime. Therefore, we should map not only the drivers of conflicts but also of peace.
What Santosh Subedi, the Rolpa District Secretary of Nepal Communist Party led by Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplav’ said in Rolpa was relevant in Geneva too. Santosh had insisted that societies can be designed scientifically for peace and prosperity. To apply a fitting metaphor: even though we have the hardware of these ideal societies, we still lack their software that actively binds each individual together as an equal and sovereign member of a larger entity. The societies can yield what Norwegian social scientist Johan Galtung has identified as ‘positive peace’ or a society with an absence of structural violence, only when such software has been properly installed. Santosh does not seem to believe that such societies can be formed using non-violent means. In the same token, the government does not seem to believe that conflict can be managed non-violently without coercion. Making communities resilient to violence and sustaining peace should rather be a public good with high-state priority fulfilled through national policies. For sustaining peace, we should focus on the process but not on impositions that have already determined end results. Bringing differing parties onto the same table of discussion and addressing their causes and demands is a key approach to nonviolent conflict resolution.
In his book, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, John Paul Lederach proposed the idea of the ‘Peacebuilding Pyramid,’ where he maintains that peacebuilding should be conducted through three different levels of leadership. At the top is ‘Track I Diplomacy’ which focuses on interventions from the government. ‘Track II’ is the involvement of informal intermediaries or influential non-state actors. The final tier consists of grassroots-level leaders whose interactions are referred to as ‘Track Three Diplomacy.’ Even though this early disintegration of actors involved in peacebuilding processes in three tracks has now evolved further to nine, lessons during reconciliation efforts in Rolpa during community dialogue sessions still resembled the same old model. Conflict victims have always felt that they have been neglected by the state and by leaders of different sectors. A vertical approach to interaction was rarely executed. In order for peacebuilding approaches to have resounding effects, it is vital to ensure that it is multisectoral and cuts across various dimensions of human association—from interpersonal to societal. Therefore, it should follow an integrated approach and not an isolated one with distinct tracks.
An eminent peace organisation named Interpeace has modeled an inclusive ‘Track six’ approach by combining Tracks I, II and III. They claim that the government, civil society and people work more effectively together than as separate units.
Inclusion is key
International Peace Institute’s Senior Advisor, Youssef Mahmoud, a mentor in my course in Geneva, averred that it is very important to analyse the DNA of peaceful states by not only charting their conflict history, but by studying what factors enabled them to remain in peace. The common features of such countries show high levels of citizen participation, transparency, accountability and capacity building. Let’s take Tunisia as an example. Mahmoud contends that the relative peace in his country, Tunisia, following the Arab Spring, is because of the nation’s investment in women’s education and women’s leadership. Women constitute 50.6 percent of the country’s total population but 85 percent of women and 75 percent of men are enrolled in secondary schools. Women comprise around 60 percent of the total dentists, 40 percent of those enter the judiciary and 47 percent enter their local government.
This is a major reason why Tunisia hasn’t burst despite economic stagnation, high level of unemployment, widespread corruption and terrorism threats.Empirical studies have revealed that gender equality and women’s empowerment largely supports peace and stability. The book Sex and World Peace, published by Columbia University Press in 2012 has evidenced that gender equality is a better predictor of peace than GDP, democracy and religion. By now, we also have a historic 40 percent inclusion of women in the local government of Nepal, which will have positive implications for peace in our fragmented society.
Building and sustaining peace involves several courses of action to be undertaken right at the time of peace. It needs to grow organically from communities; meaning domestic and international actors should focus on doing less and enabling more as well as strengthening and fostering instead of exercising.
The approach of sustaining peace, therefore, should be bottom-up. Sustainable peace is possible only when we have education, empowerment, inclusivity, integrated dialogues and social trust at the community level.
Senchurey serves as the Executive Director of the South Asia Institute for Research and Development. He tweets at @RSenchurey)