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Cattle_JongleiDeciphering Murle Identity: Peacebuilding and Conflict Mitigation in Jonglei State

By: ANTHONY DiROSA

The politics of ethnic and cultural identity are of major concern to peacebuilders and policymakers when understanding how to stem the risk of armed conflict and mass atrocities in regions plagued by intercommunal violence. According to Diana Felix da Costa at the Norwegian Peacebuilding Center, one such place is Jonglei State, South Sudan, where ethnic cleavages that divide tribes are a major focus for international and national policymakers seeking to specifically target and contain such risk factors. Jonglei State represents a setting where tribal groups are defined by multiple identities but marginalized as a whole for the actions of a few. These inter-group distinctions are significant as the cattle-keeping Murle, who are endemic to the lowlands of Pibor county, embrace a distinct identity compared to the agrarian Murle living in the Boma. Although the Murle share an overarching ethnic identity, it’s hard to view or treat them as a unified group. As the risk of violence and mass atrocities has been escalating in Jonglei recently due to fresh SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army), Yau Yau rebel and Lou Nuer militia fighting, comprehensively understanding the scope of ethnic and tribal identities, specifically within the Murle culture, has never been more crucial to both Juba, the UN and international actors. Doing so may be a crucial ingredient in formulating responsive solutions to both inter-Murle violence and the more widespread fighting between Yau Yau rebels and SPLA/ Lou Nuer forces.

The Murle are an ethnic group that originally migrated from Ethiopia to southeastern Jonglei hundreds of years ago, before moving further north and settling around Pibor. They are a largely pastoralist group that live in the flat open lowlands of Jonglei, while a smaller group of farmers inhabit the Boma Plateau and surrounding areas. According to Diana Felix da Costa’s fieldwork in Pibor County, although these Murle enclaves associate with a larger collective ethnic identity, they are known to associate and dissociate selectively in situations where it may be advantageous or when their collective security is in jeopardy. This makes sense when understanding the differences in lifestyle from the lowland Murle, which is oriented around cattle, and in Boma, where Murle people live an agrarian lifestyle and have no cattle. While cattle raiding lies at the core of much of the violence occurring in Jonglei state, there is no evidence that the largely agrarian Murle near Boma are involved. Regardless of their guiltlessness they are vengefully targeted by rival clans simply because of their Murle identity. Thus, amongst the Boma Murle a new term of self-identification, “Ngalam”, meaning “without cattle”, has been increasingly used as a means of dissociating themselves from the cattle-raiding Murle. The fragmentation and inter-group violence within the Murle community is even more pronounced as Murle from Boma often report incidents of child abductions and rape on behalf of their Murle neighbors from Pibor. On the other hand, Murle from Boma have aided their fellow in-laws from Pibor and Maruwo Hills when these sub-groups faced conflict from rival groups in their areas. Diana Felix da Costa postulates that this may be an example of in-group survival, especially given the sense of marginalization and insecurity the Murle feel within South Sudanese society.

From these examples it’s understandable why da Costa believes that Murle identity construction is both situational and interactive. Murle identity seems constructed relationally and is subject to changes according to specific interests and circumstances according to da Costa. The Murle also negotiate, accept and challenge identities that are projected onto them by others. On the other hand, there is evidence that Murle identity can also be fixed, as a Ngalamit is viewed, by the Murle, to always be a Ngalamit. These crucial micro-level idiosyncrasies make it hard to view them as an unified ethnic group. Likewise, it’s important to differentiate between the lowland and highland Murle, but also more specifically between the minority of lowland Murle behind the raids and the majority who are not, according to da Costa. Furthermore, not all Murle support cattle raids, child abductions and violence, just as all Lou Nuer or SPLA forces don’t support raids, child abductions and indiscriminate violence against civilians.

Deciphering Murle identity is doubly important given the context of both intercommunal violence and the more widespread militia based combat between the Murle backed Yau Yau movement and the state backed Lou Nuer youth rebels. It is important to note that amongst the three main forces fighting in Jonglei, major ethnic and tribal affiliations lay at the core since much of the rank and file of the SPLA is made of Lou Nuer, a historic rival of the Murle. Recent news out of Jonglei indicates that local Murle leaders are planning to convince Yau Yau, who is also a Murle, to end his rebellion against the government in Juba because of their shared ethnicity. This potential leveraging of Murle identity to promote peace comes at an important juncture where SPLA soldiers are indiscriminately targeting Murle civilians on the assumption they are Yau Yau supporters. There is both a strong incentive and ripe opportunity for the Murle and the international community to capitalize on ethnic and tribal affiliations to help assuage the violence that has wreaked havoc on Jonglei. Doing so would reverse the recent history of unsuccessful negotiations, porous peace agreements, botched local disarmament campaigns and a failure to enforce and follow-through with community driven recommendations for peace.

Peacebuilding initiatives must take these initial steps to understand the dynamics of Murle identity on top of addressing the root causes of violence and mass atrocities in. These acts are fostered by an environment lacking basic state security assistance and free flow and access of humanitarian aid. They are also fueled by the weakening of traditional authority and dispute resolution mechanisms and the manipulation by local and national elites of local grievances and ethnic identities, according to da Costa. Since fighting began to intensify around March 2013, over 100,00 civilians have been cut out off from humanitarian assistance and 120,000 forced to flee their homes. As the international community turns its attention to South Sudan’s current worsening crises, it is indeed important to understand the outstanding grievances and deep-seeded motivations behind such violence and to work to ensure these issues are addressed. What’s equally important is that external policy prescriptions be crafted by first understanding the nuances of the Murle identity so that peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives can harness them for peace.

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Complexity Theory in Peacebuilding Initiatives & Mass Atrocity Prevention

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By ANTHONY DiROSA

A new take on the importance of locally owned peacebuilding initiatives by Dr. Cedric de Coning, who heads the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Research Group at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), suggests a different approach to how international peacekeeping can ensure stability by helping spur self-starting, organically based peacebuilding efforts owned by local actors. Much of de Coning’s perspective is informed by complexity theory, or the study of how order, structure, and pattern arise from extremely complicated, apparently chaotic systems. According to de Coning, this theory can help shed light on the process of self-organization in societies where a variety of mechanisms and processes develop to manage peace processes. At the heart of this process in peacebuilding is bolstering the resiliency of social institutions, that is the ability of institutions to absorb and adapt to the internal and external shocks and setbacks they are likely to face. The author believes that “if a society is fragile it means that there is a risk that it may not be able to manage its own tensions, pressures, disputes, crisis and shocks without relapsing into violent conflict.” Institutional resiliency should be seen as a means  conflict prevention that ought to be prioritized not only in peacebuilding operations, but also mass atrocity prevention efforts.

Given the importance of organically built  institutional resilience in shielding post-conflict societies from shocks, a major function of external peacebuilding operations should be safeguarding, stimulating, facilitating and creating the space for societies to develop sustainable capacities for self-organization, according to de Coning. At the same time, peacebuilding operations must be mindful of the sensitivities of promoting a process of self-organization externally; too much external interference will undermine self-organization. The reason for this, as de Coning argues, is that external intervention removes the feedback loop that a system would otherwise need to help it self-organize, react and adapt to crises. Interventions often remove the need for a local social institution to react, thus depriving the local system from an opportunity to learn how to deal with such problems itself. Oftentimes peacebuilding and international assistance follow a linear logic; the more aid and resources thrown into a conflict setting, the more successful the operation will be. But complexity theory’s non-linear logic posits the opposite: that there is a point to which peacebuilding actually stops helping, and contributes to the very fragility it’s supposed to prevent. Case studies and past experiences demonstrate that externally-driven reform processes are not wholly sustainable.

Furthermore, de Coning believes many international peacebuilding operations too often impose their own culturally and historically informed versions of institutions, norms and models, which limits the room for locals to develop them based on their histories and cultural idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, peacebuilding operations usually underestimate the difficulties associated with transferring these institutions, norms and governance models to the local contexts. This is often combined with a inability to recognize how arduous, time-consuming and rife with challenges the process of rebuilding a state’s institutions is, as the process from fragility to stability is full of uncertainties. Peacebuilding experts would be wise to understand how their own histories and challenges in consolidating their own states’ institutions can help lend insight onto ongoing peacebuilding projects. As de Coning aptly states: “the art of peacebuilding thus lies in pursuing the appropriate balance between international support and home-grown context-specific solutions.”

The author’s focus on institutional resiliency is doubly important given the importance of strong institutions and rule of law in disincentivizing mass atrocities and localized violence in conflict prone settings. Likewise, the large overlap between the work being done in the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community and the peacebuilding tends to be mutually reinforcing. The mass atrocity prevention community could certainly benefit from components of de Coning’s take on complexity theory. The transference of peace initiatives from international to local ownership is a trend more frequently advocated for in the conflict prevention community recently. Locally led reconciliation efforts in Kenya were instrumental in forestalling mass atrocities during the recent election cycle. Peace efforts in Nimba county, Liberia were more also successful once outside actors relinquished control and gave greater ownership of the process to local leaders. Local ownership of peace initiatives oftentimes gives more legitimacy to the process in the eyes of the locals, (as opposed to Western imposed mechanisms) as tribal leaders and elders already command the respect and trust of their communities.

Alternatively, in Bosnia, local reconciliation efforts were only able to take off when international and external actors consistently pressured and prodded local leaders. Similar difficulties with local ownership were found in Kosovo, where a push by international actors for greater local ownership of the peace process led to internal mistrust, corruption and ambiguity at the local level about how to proceed. There are dangers to ceding control of conflict prevention initiatives to local actors without looking over their shoulder. The proper balance, for both peacebuilding and mass atrocity prevention experts, probably lies somewhere in the middle where local ownership is coupled with international standards and oversight. It is important to view local ownership not as an‘ either/or’ question, but rather a careful balancing act that is mindful of the miscues associated with overreliance on external assistance as well as the lack of stewardship. While the motives of both external and domestic actors should be questioned throughout the process, sustainable peacebuilding requires both contributions from international and local actors united in achieving the same goals.

Photo: UN.org

Kenya elections 2013By ANTHONY DiROSA

The following is the first entry in a three part series on Kenya’s 2013 general elections and their implications for similar mass atrocity prevention efforts moving forward. The peaceful Kenyan election this past March was hailed as a major victory for those working to prevent a repeat of the mass atrocities committed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 elections. From the perspective of the mass atrocity prevention community, Kenya did a commendable job in upholding their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities. The international community also succeeded in assisting national and local authorities throughout this process. Thus, both fulfilled their 1st and 2nd pillar responsibilities under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) framework, which are, accordingly: that a state must uphold its responsibility to protect its populations, and that if that state is unable to do so, the international community has an obligation to assist. Lessons learned from the 2007-2008 atrocities catalyzed both domestic and international momentum to proactively address the risk factors and causes of potential violence. But does the Kenyan case study represent a true shining example of successful R2P application, as well as a model for future applications in unstable democracies? Or were there unique circumstances germane to this case and/or a large overhype of the risks that make this atrocity prevention success not as generalizable a model as some may think? 

Why were they peaceful?                                    

After a tension-filled but mostly peaceful election, Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Uhuru Kenyatta president-elect. Although his victory was challenged in court by his main competitor, Raila Odinga, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled it legitimate. Any analysis of why Kenya turned towards peace and away from violence must begin with the many reforms the country has undertaken to create credible institutions, such as the aforementioned IEBC and the revamped judiciary, which were criticized for corruption and incompetence and viewed with mistrust during the 2007-2008 elections. The main impetus behind these reforms was the new Kenyan constitution, ratified in 2010, which sought to change many of the broken laws, corrupt institutions and antiquated power structures that many Kenyans believed were culpable for part of the unrest in 2007-2008. Politically, a process of devolution, which gave greater control of local policies back to ethnically homogenous communities across Kenya, helped diminish political tensions fueled by long-standing ethnic-based resentments. Furthermore, according to the International Crisis Group, a consensus between the political elite and the citizenry not to drag Kenya back into chaos again was a major factor. Many Kenyans spoke of a national sense of regret, fed by strong memories and reflections of the violence in 2007-2008, as a powerful force that helped convince them that violence wasn’t the answer. Others may have felt compelled to resist promoting violence because of the possibility of accountability due to the lingering effects of the 2010 ICC indictments and the newfound confidence in Kenya’s judiciary, both of which restrained certain actors.

Some of the most important preventative efforts were indeed organic. A myriad of efforts throughout Kenyan society, from government bureaucrats, religious leaders, heads of political parties, local NGOs and youth peace activists, pushed Kenyans to embrace the peace discourse and reject violence. Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) played a large role in rooting out hate speech, promoting tolerance, and assuaging long-standing ethno-political cleavages. Local peace capacities were bolstered by the IEBC and the NCIC through creating conflict management committees at the local level, which helped ensure the consolidation of peace prior to the elections. These initiatives were prompted by the peace accord signed after the atrocities in 2008, which included requirements for establishing a countrywide network of “peace committees” at the district level that were locally instituted. Innovative and creative efforts like holding community peace workshops and conducting local street theatre performances, with themes of peace and inter-ethnic relations, helped increase inter-communal understanding prior to the election.

Domestic efforts were reinforced by numerous international partners. From the European Union and the United Nations, to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, external actors greatly aided Kenya’s efforts to institute conflict mitigation mechanisms and multi-level early warning systems. From the United States alone, the State Department’s Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau and the U.S. Institute of Peace helped arrange teams in high-risk areas to assist conflict mitigation efforts, while USAID funded and helped mobilize young Kenyans against violence. International NGOs, funded by foreign governments, investors and organizations (all committed to Kenyan stability) helped organize conflict resolution workshops, pro-peace advertisements, and media campaigns that forwarded pro-peace mass SMS texts to people in hot spots. The international community’s second pillar assistance to Kenya was carefully coordinated, well-funded and ostensibly effective.

The next part of this Case Study for GenPrev series will focus on how social media technology and crowdsourcing played a huge role in delivering peace during the Kenyan 2013 elections.

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is proud to announce that on April 29, 2011, AIPR Executive Director Tibi Galis and Deputy Consul General of the German Permanent Mission to the United Nations Oliver Schnakenberg signed an agreement in which the German Federal Government pledged to provide funding for AIPR’s 2011 Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. Germany’s support for genocide prevention will provide four government officials the opportunity to participate in the upcoming seminar. AIPR would like to express its thanks to the German Mission and Federal Government for helping to spread the mission of genocide prevention and aiding to make the goal of “Never Again” a reality.

In other genocide prevention news, the Madariaga College of Europe Foundation (MCF) and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), with the support of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union and the cooperation of the European External Action Service and the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, are organizing a workshop called Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, May 12 and 13 in Brussels. Representatives from many international organizations, the European institutions, NGOs and experts in the field will gather next week to discuss the topic of genocide prevention. This event, part of a larger MCF-FBA program called “Building coherence, skills and synergies in conflict prevention,” is aimed at promoting deeper interaction among “international representatives” in order to create a stronger forum for dialogue on conflict prevention, as well as a space for reflection on the challenges facing policymakers in the realm of preventing genocide and mass atrocities.

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