1) Peace negotiations are, for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of the necessity of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?
Healing and reconciliation is essential to the rebuilding of societies after protracted periods of conflict, however, recent peace processes tend to focus more on political and governance issues than the aforementioned. Wars and internal conflicts derives from the breakdown in relationship and communal structures, hence resolving said conflicts need to focus primarily on the process of healing, relations and community building.
No nation can be revived from the madness of war and conflict without dealing with the deeper and often unseen issues that led to the conflict in the first place. Perceptions, prejudices and aged old issues of injustices must be addressed in order for genuine reconciliation to take place. An old Liberian adage, “a wound can never heal without thorough cleaning”.
If I must expand on the Liberian adage a bit more, “the thorough” cleaning in most instances will take the form of in depth analysis and truth telling about the situation. Over the last few decades the in depth analysis and truth telling of many conflicts have taken the forms of “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, these institutions are set up by international bodies to begin the process of national healing after protracted periods of conflict, however, these processes have proven over time to be ineffective for two key reasons.
- They are externally imposed and driven – Truth and Reconciliation processes can only be effective if it is derived from the communities. It process that involves talking over a very painful issue can only be successful if those involved request for such a process.
- Little or no awareness on how the process will evolve. The process of engaging communities is flawed and there is little or no awareness raising about the TRC activities to the population. For example the architect of Liberia’s Truth Commission failed to do in depth awareness creation and sensitization about the process hence for a country of 3 million people and over a million living in the Diasporas only nineteen thousand three hundred and eight (19,308) statements were taken. I firmly believe that if Liberians had been sensitized enough and there was local ownership to the entire process the number of statements would have been more. To sum these points up, “Reconciliation cannot be imposed from outside, nor can anyone else map get us to our destination, it must be our own solution”.
2) What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
A process that is centered on a sense of fairness and justice can only be established if several things occur;
I. Examining the painful past – in order for communities to go through the process of the conflict and people’s perception of what happened in the past. “There will always be what we may be termed historical objective issues (eg. Who killed who or who ruled unjustly). But there will always be subjective perceptions, beliefs, mythologies and interpretation of that history – why someone acted the she did”. Fairness and dignity can only be established if there has been a period of national reflection, with the sole purpose of confronting and examining the past with the aim of rewriting the history.
II. Understanding the motivation of the offenders – this is closely linked to examining the past. In most communities the offenders are often victims of past discrimination and abuse. For example in Liberia, the indigenous people recounts history of abuse at the hands of settlers. In most, cases, there is a history of the oppressor side at one stage being the oppressed side at a particular stage or the victims of one outburst of violence have become the perpetrators of the next.
III. Finding a path to Justice – there is a common saying that “there can be no peace without justice”. While this saying is true, it is the most difficult condition for dignity and fairness to occur after a protracted period of conflict. Structural injustices in the political, legal and economic domain must be addressed. Communities must create conducive climates for human rights and justice issues and there must be willingness among community members to accept responsibility for the past and the future, in other words, “reconciliation must be backed by the essential codes of democracy”.
IV. Finding solutions that are appropriate to the context, history and culture - The way in which a community deals with a violent past is intimately linked to its more general customs and culture. One key element is the way in which the culture influences the system of collective memory. Since cultures provide the atmosphere in which social systems work, they can be powerful forces to help or to hinder the reconciliation process. It is necessary to be culturally sensitive, and to design or adapt the reconciliation process accordingly. Since reconciliation cannot be imposed from outside and must flourish or fail depending on how far the people in a society are able to embrace it as meaningful and in their interests, then it must be culturally appropriate. There available in most cultures, methods and tools for dealing with conflict and reconciliation, however, over the last few years what we have seen is the tendencies of western intervener to impose western tools in most context, hence, these are culturally inappropriate leading to failure and waste of resources and donors funding. It is important to find local solutions to local problems.
3) To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either imply or exclude forgiveness? Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance?
Reconciliation is predominantly concerned with relationships between individuals and entire communities. It is entire communities who have to begin to reorient themselves from the adversarial, antagonistic relations of war to more respect-based relations of cooperation. This form of relationship will be impossible to exist if forgiveness has not been sought after or offered. In my opinion forgiveness the heartbeat of any reconciliation process, in order for true reconciliation to take place, a level of forgiveness must occur. The verse that has a universal significance for me is “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”. This verse I believe if practically applied will curtail some of the conflict that the world is confronted with. Unequal social and power relations are key contributors to the Global conflicts and civil crisis. In many countries where there are natural resources individuals controlling the resources adopt unfair policies that disenfranchise the inhabitants and natives of those areas, hence you have major conflict over natural resource. Typical examples of such situation is Nigeria, Niger Delta, Cabinda, Angola and many other oil rich and diamond rich contexts.
4) Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional?
Repentance from the side of those who forgiveness is being offered is the ideal thing; however, it should not be the condition for offering forgiveness. When an individual is offended by another individual there is a psychological bondage that has taken place between both individuals. This bondage can lead to many physical and emotional trauma and ailments. It also retards personal growth and development. In order to break the bondage and progress, regardless of the depth of the pain and trauma, the offended must offer forgiveness even in the absence of repentance. When this is done the offended is free from the bondage connecting him and the offender. However, if the offender decide to seek forgiveness and the offended figures that he / she is not repentant enough, the offender can be free of the offended especially where he / she is sincere about seeking forgiveness.
5) Based on your experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness what are the structure and activities you would offer for a universal council on reconciliation?
The Structure I would recommend will be a “Supreme council” of individuals known to promote reconciliation and forgiveness that will convene universal gathering and advise the secretariat on key global issues.
Activities I would suggest will be national reconciliation meetings, with key players (war lords and civil society actors) of countries that have signed a peace agreement but are still struggling with post conflict challenges. These meetings should be aimed at setting national reconciliation agenda using both traditional and nontraditional methods as a means of addressing the challenges affiliated with reconciling communities after protracted conflicts.
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