Throughout the beginning of this week here on The Global Present we have discussed the various implications of the current crisis in the Central African Republic. As shadowy whispers of genocide have once again begun to resonate across the media, the high profile meetings, and the perfunctory correspondence of our international leaders, the dark legacy of “never again” has also been resurrected. Paralyzed by the cycles of killing, torture, and looting, many leaders have since lost much of their control to effectively engage a solution for peace in the region. Thus, a sobering evaluation at best, what this blog’s contributors actually have been able to do is to highlight the need for effective and actionable answers.
What remains to be stated, however ironic as it may seem, is that the mitigation of violence from within protracted social conflicts is anything but inexplicable. Unfortunately, the broad understanding of feasible solutions remains nebulous. Despite the increasingly recognized need for a robust UN intervention and immediate humanitarian assistance, and in much of the way as it has happened in the past, the most powerful components of our international community’s mechanisms are often slow to act in the face of seemingly lumbering and arbitrary violence. As scores perish and imminent civilian violence ensues, the individuals within the international community whose responsibility is to set global precedents have thus far maintained the status quo whereby local leaders are insufficiently equipped to employ their own resources in addressing the problem from the ground.
That being so, the international humanitarian aid and development community has only since jumped on board with the cardinal writing of peace and conflict resolution theorists John Paul Lederach and James K. Boyce whose literary prowess have shaped the field for decades to come. Yet still, while our fields indistinctly acknowledges each other’s literary utility, our practice is steadfastly impractical. Perhaps this paradox has more to do with the breadth of world views at play rather than their explicit approaches? Early on in the emergent discourse the theoretical underpinnings of effective humanitarian aid work were stressed as fundamental to the trajectories of effective peacebuilding and conflict transformation. Hand in hand with academic knowledge, and notwithstanding the rapid maturation of smart technologies and new intelligence gathering tools, it is only recently that peace operations have conceded to look to local socio-demographic elements for remedies.
Increasingly prevalent is the tendency for foreign leaders and policy makers to emphasize the religio-ethnic elements of intra-state civil conflict. Referring to current ambassador Samantha Power’s recent statements from the ground, the current situation displays a multiplicity of issues within which ethnicity and religion act as two among many of the different driving factors. If we are to consider a smarter approach here, it would certainly include a much more holistic understanding of the these divergent identities and motives coming to a head.
Herein lies the nexus of conflict transformation and development or what has just recently been coined as “smart peacebuilding”. In terms of both the humanitarian crisis on the ground in the CAR and the functional crisis occurring within the realm of incompetent global governance, as we face projections for a prolonged asymmetrical conflict, it appears that the time is ripe to start thinking about smarter assistance programs. This has less to do with air workers toting iPhones and GPS tracking services and more to do with the long term commitments for both a) understanding the interplay of such socio-demographic elements challenging peace and b) transforming conflict and preventing its future proliferation at a local level.
In looking beyond religion and ethnicity smart peacebuilding solutions are founded upon an intimate knowledge of pre existing conflict-elements (read: socially constructed identities, inequalities, and the influence of power and legitimacy). In the case of the CAR for example, former rebel and current interim leader Michel Djotodia has stated that he has recently been contacted by a representative of the mainly Christian and animist oppositionist anti-balaka (meaning ‘anti machete) who are demanding inclusion in the transitional government he leads. Despite atrocities committed by both sides, Djotodia is considering amnesty for militias as a solution to curb chaos. In so doing, a knowingly violent an anti-balaka group calling itself the Youth of the Anti-Balaka Revolution has responded by calling upon its members to observe an immediate ceasefire in an attempt to give peace talks a chance.
Are Djotodia’s actions a heretic acknowledgment of his inability to govern through current platforms? Or rather, are they his contextual ability to foresee a smarter path to peace? Interestingly enough, our answer to this perplexing question can tell us a lot about the path for peace moving forward.
Considering the explanation of the global youth population, what is for sure is that at the community level and hand in hand with the proliferation of intra-state civil conflict, youth led social movements have upended the way many practitioners are thinking about conflict transformation. It is not a coincidence that the Youth of the Anti-Balaka Revolution have now inserted themselves into this conflict and it is doubtful that this will be the last we hear of them. We do not yet know much of their identity and goals for cooperating with the Djotodia government but ever since the Arab Spring (and in possibly moving toward an African one as well), and amidst the age of “smart” technologies, social media, and rapid intelligence sharing, young people are proving their extensive authority in realms oft sequestered to that of adult leadership. In something like a yin and yang relationship, youth groups are participating in both sides of contemporary social conflicts and they are a force to be reckoned with. It is at the community level that young people across the globe are addressing (both through violent and peaceful measures) the matter of reorienting and reengineering the bureaucratic procedures of many of the diplomatic and development programs and routines that are already operating in developing countries. It is they who, regardless of self-interests, are innovating ways to be entrepreneurial in their service to conflict prevention objectives in a more concerted way. Recognizing their identity as a designated socio-demographic group participating in the political, economic, social, and environmental functions of a state is just one of the available options in a step toward smart peacebuilding. Engaging those marginalized youth groups (among others) is a fundamental element for positive peace soilutions.
What this one particular element of the current crisis in the CAR can tell us is that, beyond present peace operations and humanitarian assistance, the international community must begin a reformation of the way in which their policy creators think about such intra-state conflicts. It is a step away from generalizations of impending doom amidst static socio-political frameworks and contemptuous religio-ethnic identities, toward the task of enacting a collaborative language for use across sectors. Devoid of heuristic motivations, our analysis and prescriptions for change must come from within, be context based, and participant centered. Only with this mindset can we begin to be more “conflict-smart”.
When we say that crisis like that in the CAR can happen “never again” it is my belief that we consider first who is it that we are speaking to. While we still know little about the Youth of the Anti-Balaka Revolution, in protecting communities for ensuing violence shouldn’t we be considering opportunities to peace before woeful challenges to resolution? Perhaps we had best be smart about it and do our evaluative research, talk to young people, and check in before we check out on our commitments to human dignity.
* Update 12/22/2013. This piece has been updated to reflect the statements released following the recent trip of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.