Ending insurgencies, building peace

I’m having this very weird life these days. My main task is to complete the last revision of my book manuscript on peacebuilding in Africa– title as of now: Amnesties After Atrocity? But then events in Iraq and Palestine keep sucking me back in so I have to take a little time out from Africa and write something or do something regarding Hamas, or the Saddam trial, or whatever.
Meantime, about 70% of my consciousness is still in Africa… From which space I have sent out occasional messages to world along the way, regarding issues of burning but more general concern.
Well, here’s the latest message. It’s from Mozambique. (Did I tell y’all that I “nailed” the South Africa portion of the book last Friday, and have since then been sailing up the eastern coast of the continent a little… Oh my, what wouldn’t I give to be back on those beaches and eating those giant prawns, and chilling a bit with all those lovely people in Mozambique right now?)
Mozambicans are so darn’ wise! They could give lessons to everyone in the world on how to end nasty internal conflicts, and how, after the war, to set about building a new life based on love and cooperation. But they are modest people, so they don’t jump up and down saying, “Hey everyone! Look at what we did! We can show you all how to do it, too. You should all do things the way we suggest!” (That role is already taken– by the Bushies.)
But I digress. Sometime, I should really pull together all the many “lessons in effective peacemaking” I learned from my colleagues and friends in Mozambique. But for now– with special reference to the situations in Iraq, and Israel/Palestine– I have this one…
It comes from Cardinal Alexandre Dos Santos, a lovely, gentle, almost coal-black elder of the Catholic church in Mozambique, who played a key intermediary role during the peace negotiations that in 1992 brought to a definitive end the extremely harmful, atrocity-laden civil war that had afflicted the country for more than 15 years.
When I interviewed Do Santos in 2003 he recalled that an important aspect of the peacemaking work he and his colleagues undertook in the build-up to the 1992 General Peace Agreement had been to stress the need for a forward-looking rather than backward-looking perspective. “You can’t solve anything if you speak about the reasons you are fighting,” Dos Santos said. “You need to just try to find the way to get peace. You want to speak about the way to find a meeting of the minds, not speak about the differences… I told people, ‘We are not here to discuss the reasons, or the past, but the way to get peace!'”
Re-reading Dos Santos’s words in my Chapter Four here led me to reflect a bit on a fairly broad theme in the field of “transitional justice” today. TJ is the (recently defined) field of endeavor whereby communities/countries that are emerging into a more democratic order while still reeling from the effects of recent atrocious violence seek to “deal with” the effects of that violence in a way that will strengthen the march toward democracy. (More or less.) They nowadays tend to try to do so through war-crimes courts, or truth commissions, or whatever…
But one of the problems in the application of TJ principles in recent times, it seems to me, is that too many ultra-eager TJ advocates and practicitioners try to “jump the gun”, and start trying to institute TJ process even before the underlying, essentially political issues that lie at the heart of the conflict being fought over have been resolved. There is, for example, the current attempt to use war-crimes prosecutions against leaders of the anti-government insurgency (but not against government people) in northern Uganda– while the political causes of the insurgency have still not been resolved
And in Iraq, there’s the attempt to try Saddam Hussein– at the same time that the political causes underlying the insurgency there are, obviously, still far from resolution.
And regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, of course we have all the extremely lengthy and contentious attempts to point fingers at one side or the other, right now– including in the Comments discussions here– at a time when perhaps we should all be taking Cardinal Dos Santos’s words to mind and saying, “For now, the important thing is to focus on what unites us, not on what divides us.” A time for “looking back” and trying to wrestle with the rights and wrongs of the past, may (or may not) come later. But for now: How can Palestinians and Israelis find a sustainable political formula by which they can coexist, in peace? How can Iraqis find a formula by which they live peaceably together without foreign intervention? … Surely, those should be our focus.
And to inject a backward-looking, and quite prematurely applied, TJ intervention like a war-crimes trial into the situation in Iraq at this time is quite wrongheaded and divisive.

South Sudan peace in the balance

Pray for peace in Southern Sudan. Pray hard. Southern leader John Garang, who was made into a vice-president as part of the recent peace accord between southerners and the central government in Khartoum, has died in a helicopter crash, in bad weather in an area of the south under the control of his militia.
Peace in Darfur is really important, too. But the suffering in South Sudan over the past 15 years has been truly, truly horrendous.

Summer Peacebuilding Institute, Shenandoah Valley

I’m in Harrisonburg, Virginia, these days, teaching a course in Session II of Eastern Mennonite University’s justifiably renowned Summer Peacebuilding Institute. It’s pretty awesome for me. Firstly because I’ve never taught (led) a course this long before. And secondly– awesome in a better way, this– because the participants in the course are a really experienced, multi-talented bunch of people. Many of them have been doing peace-and-justice work in one or another context for decades already.
The title of the course– by an amazing coincidence– is “Violence and Its Legacies: Societies in the Wake of Atrocities”. My head is so full of this material, you can’t believe it!
I don’t want to write too much about the class yet, because of privacy concerns and because we’re all still at the beginning of this. But the 16 participants include people from central America, Africa, Tibet, Haiti, Sarajevo (and one each from Israel and Palestine)… So much richness of experience.
I found out that there’s wireless access in the Campus Center here, which is where I’m writing this. This morning, we had a great welcoming ceremony for the session, all put on for us by the participants from Asia.
Anyway, tomorrow evening I’ll drive back over the Blue Ridge Mountains, to go home for the weekend. Bill gets home from N. California late this evening, so it’ll be great to reconnect with him for a couple of days. Then next week, I have the whole week to work on facilitating these discussions here with this great group of students.
Maybe evening blogging will be my recreation while I’m here.

Truth commissions in context

I’m at the analytical place in my book on strategies that three African countries used to address the legacies of recently-past conflicts where I want to try to put the whole, 15-plus-year phenomenon of truth commissions into some kind of comprehensible political context.
My earlier hypothesis was that the whole TC phenomenon grew up in a mainly European-cultured context (European-cultured elites in Latin America; actual Europeans in east and central Europe), and that originally they were deployed mainly in the context of a fairly well infrastructured society making a marked transition from authoritarian rule to democracy… But that then, over time– and especially after the notable prominence of the South African TRC!– lots of people in very different circumstances around the world got it into their heads that hey, this looks like a good mechanism, let’s try it!
Especially since the Ford Foundation and various other massive US-based foundations have put lots of real mega-$$ into various projects around the world that sought to emulate the SA TRC.
I’m not against the deployment of TRCs. (Far better than deploying troops, cruise missiles, or armies of international prosecutors into recent or continuing war zones, don’t you think?) I just want to look at the developments over time in the way this mechanism has been used, and perhaps to start an assessment of what it has achieved and what it hasn’t achieved.
One of the ironies of the whole international “fame” of the SA TRC was that, as far as I can understand it, the whole thing came about as a result of a rushed and rather messy political compromise that was forced onto the ANC right in the middle of the holding of SA’s landmark, four-day-long 1994 elections…
Basically, the security forces went up to the ANC negotiators and said, “H’mm, nice little elections you’ve got going there. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we found we couldn’t hold back the White hotheads from disrupting them for you, huh? Oh, and by the way, we really still do need some amnesty for our people in the event this democratization thing should work out. How about it, huh?”
Later, with huge help from Archbishop Tutu, the whole TRC venture got packaged as– and actually, in many ways, became– this “visionary”, wonderful, spirit-led process that everyone throughout the world worshiped and wanted to emulate. History’s a funny thing, eh?
… So anyway, I thought I should try to compile all the basic info I would need to make a judgment about the political contexts in which TCs have been used in various places around the world, and see if some trends emerg over time. Here’s the chart I made today.
Comments? Suggestions?