Can a New ‘Social Peace’ Approach Resolve the Continent’s Conflicts?
When experts and activists gathered recently to advance a different approach to conflict resolution in Africa, they found their host nation of Burundi to be a fitting backdrop.
“No one knows what the devastation of war is all about like the people here in this region,” Frederic Gateretse-Ngoga said. “This is a region which has known genocides, so we know what it means.”
Ngoga has the credentials to help improve the peacebuilding process with an approach known as “social peace.”
Ngoga heads the Early Warning and Conflict Prevention Division in the African Union’s Peace and Security Department and served as a senior officer for the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
He’s also a member of the International Commission on Inclusive Peace (ICIP), which hosted a three-day seminar in Ngoga’s hometown of Bujumbura, Burundi, from November 22 to 24.
The ICIP is developing its Principles for Peace initiative to redefine and restructure how countries engage in peacebuilding. The objective is to create new standards for sustainable peace, greater accountability and oversight of long-term processes.
Historic conflicts in East Africa provided plenty of material for seminar participants as the region has seen peace agreements fail in Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
The ongoing crisis of extremist and militia violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, just 17 kilometers west of Bujumbura, was referenced frequently.
In an age of tension and polarization, it’s no surprise that political violence and military takeovers are increasing and that extremist, ethnic, interstate and hybrid warfare occur more frequently on the continent.
Some peace agreements have ended violence but still fallen short of sustainable, positive peace.
Desiré Yamuremye, a Jesuit priest who was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Burundi, spoke during the seminar and said most peace agreements made in the wake of conflicts do not reflect realities on the ground.
They do not consider the economic damage and psychological trauma of the people.
“For a conflict to be transformed into full peace, there must be economic progress that is seen to be open to all,” Yamuremye said. “Social peace is more important than a politically negotiated settlement.
“The absence of war does not necessarily mean peace.”
According to the ICIP, the Principles of Peace initiative takes a broader approach to peacemaking that requires inclusivity, adaptability and sustained engagement to build legitimacy with civilians.
It seeks to transform state-society relations from “inclusion as representation” toward a genuinely pluralist discourse with outcomes and relationships based on respect for diversity in political, social and economic life.
A social peace approach can provide solutions to conflicts and disputes that are unique among various national and regional segments of society.
During the seminar, some expressed concern that using a social approach to achieving peace would not be possible until security is offered
“There needs to be a minimum level of conditions, an atmosphere of security for any of these other things to happen,” head of the ICIP secretariat Hiba Qasas said. “You can’t build the pluralistic society and you can’t really achieve legitimacy of a peace process without having basic security.”
But prioritizing security cannot translate to violence against civilians by the state’s security apparatus. Citing examples of oppressive security, Qasas said there must be accountability and oversight at the heart of the social contract.
Instead of dwelling on the past, however, ICIP members and the seminar’s participants agreed on the importance of looking forward with optimism.
“We have figured out what is missing,” Ngoga said. “What we need is how do we amplify those voices? We need noisemakers.”
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