Monday, April 27, 2015

Peacebuilders speaking on Cape Talk Radio

Two participants in the Unyoke Leaders Exchange 2015 and I recently featured on Cape Talk Radio.

Listen to the interviews by clicking on the links below.
Prime Media is a wonderful partner in building awareness for the peaceful resolution of conflict. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It’s time to build a mechanism for dialogue, mediation and problem solving in South Africa

If the recent systematic and ongoing violence does not mobilise all who live inside our borders to do something radically different, nothing will. 

Not even the fact that South Africa was once the shining example of preventive action (through the National Peace Accord structures when we successfully navigated the path away from a threatening civil war towards peaceful elections); nor resolutions by the AU (African Heads of States vowed in 2002 to establish by 2004 National Institutions for Prevention and Management of Conflict and 13 years later only Ghana, Kenya and South Sudan have heeded the call of the African Heads of State);  nor the Marikana massacre or Andries Tatan’s death; nor the horrific gender-based violence; nor gang and drug-related violence; nor the SONA-related tensions and violence, nor all the evidence from research that peace should be built by those who are affected by the conflict; and certainly not even the National Development Plan and Government’s efforts to build social cohesion prompted us to radically rethink the way we approach conflict and violence in the country. 

We cannot waste a good crisis. Systematic and ongoing violence forces us to ask ourselves tough questions: Why does it happen? How are all of us contributing to a system that allows violence to flourish almost unabatedly? How do we collectively make sure that violence is prevented in the first place? How do we heal from our wounds?

There are indeed signs that government and citizens are waking up.  The #WeAreAfrican and “We are One Humanity” awareness campaigns, the AHA! movement, marches and practical help offered by ordinary citizens are timely, if not too late. But these campaigns are not sustainable. They will inevitably lose steam as time goes by. 

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko's call, for a “national dialogue on the prevalence and patterns of violence in society” is an important initiative. The fact that “Government is turning its attention to a long term and sustainable intervention that would address the underlying mindsets that motivated these attacks in the first place,” is even better news. He is absolutely spot on when he says that “it is imperative that the root cause should be addressed” and that “mindsets (should) be transformed for long term peace and stability”. (SABC, 19 April 2015).

But government is only one stakeholder in the drama that is currently unfolding in South Africa. Building peace is everybody’s responsibility. To get to the systemic root causes of destructive conflict we need creative and brave solutions, such as a mechanism—maybe even a Chapter 9 institution—for dialogue, mediation and conflict transformation.  (See also my previous posts here and here.)

When Ghana, for example, faced massive challenges as a result of deep-rooted identity and election-related violent conflict, it established an independent state mechanism, the Ghana National Peace Council (NPC), to facilitate the prevention of conflicts. The statutory mandate of the NPC is “to facilitate and develop mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, resolution and to build sustainable peace in the country.” The NPC aims to “promote the values of reconciliation, tolerance, trust and confidence building, mediation and dialogue as responses to conflict”. Every region in Ghana has an NPC office and staff who are skilled in facilitation, dialogue and mediation. 

So, imagine where South Africa could have been had we not dissolved the National Peace Accord structures. We lost the habit of dialogue and mediation. We lost a well-developed infrastructure for peace when offices were closed, staff retrenched, telephones and vehicles suddenly were withdrawn. There was no place, no mechanism, no professional conflict resolution practitioners to help us solve our problems.

Putting out fires, clamping down on “criminals”, tighter border control and occasional campaigns will not be enough. Let us, like before, get together to design a comprehensive and long-lasting response in the form of an equivalent of the Ghana NPC: A national peace mechanism, led by credible civil society commissioners whose task it is to get the country talking and listening to the heartbeat of the nation in every corner of our country. 

Our Chapter 9 institutions are already doing a great job of making sure our constitutional values are upheld, but no-one on its own can deal with the wide ranging issues of social and political tensions and violence. Our country will benefit from such a mechanism in the following ways:  

  • Ordinary citizens will have access to regional and local spaces and expertise available to help them solve the challenges nonviolently through dialogue, mediation and collaboration
  • Reliable information and high quality inputs from citizens can better inform governance policies and actions because a citizen’s agenda is developed from the bottom up. 
  • People’s views and dreams about a more just and equal society will continue to grow into a vision that calls us all into action. 
  • Powerful stakeholders, such as government, business, trade unions and interest groups, will participate on equal footing with ordinary citizens in spaces where decisions are not made by the majority, but on the basis of common understanding and joint commitment.
  • Political contestation will hopefully tempered, because the struggle for power and votes is now supplemented by joint encounters of inquiry, listening and joint action.
  • We can once again develop the habit of dialogue, mediation and facilitation as the default response to problems, provided that the mechanism stays free from any party-political interference and the paralysis of non-action. 
  • There will be greater accountability because a national mandate will ensure that stakeholders commit themselves to the ground rules of such a mechanism. 
  • Societal conflict resolution and the pursuit of peace with justice and justness will remain a primary focus for decades to come.
  • Key stakeholders and sector can collectively build and align their actions and policies around a system of governance and cohesion that affirms dignity for all will have to be aligned. 
  • The creativity and brilliance of our people will be unleashed like before when everybody thought we were doomed and we showed them we are resilient, creative and peaceful. 
  • This mechanism will serve as a safety valve to counter eruptions of frustrations and violence.

Everything counts in our favour: The time is ripe; momentum is growing; we (still) have an institutional memory of times when we were successful; the AU’s resolutions are paving the way; we have good examples from Ghana, Kenya and the new Zimbabwean constitution; and we have brilliant peacebuilders in our country and African peacebuilding practitioners who are ready to help.

All we need is the political will and popular support to build a sustainable vehicle for peacebuilding. We can do it, but will we?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Get involved in leading dialogue in South Africa

For some time now calls for an “economic CODESA” and “national dialogue” were made at various levels. As we speak, many citizens are involved in great initiatives to manage the tensions that arose from the attacks on citizens from other African countries residing in South Africa. 

Focused dialogues to overcome economic and social challenges are important, but the impact will be limited if there is no nationally mandated, civil-society driven, state sponsored mechanism in place to ensure sustainability. South Africa was the shining example in the world when we signed and implemented the National Peace Accord and its structures in the early 90s. As the attached concept note indicates, we have sadly been overtaken by Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe and we have not shown sufficient leadership in Africa on national peacebuilding since our transition to democracy.

The purpose of my mail is to stimulate discussions and ideas on how to unleash the energy of ordinary South Africans in partnership with government so that we can, once again, engage one another in pursuit of durable solutions to our common challenges.  

Dialogue is a leadership function, hence my call for you to help take leadership in building momentum for a national dialogue and conflict resolution mechanism in South Africa.

There is no copyright, and no ownership is claimed by me or anyone else. The important thing is to get the ideas out in the open and to stimulate dialogue. Feel free to extract or publish ideas and to challenge all who live inside our borders to bring their best ideas on how to build lasting justpeace — peace with justice and justness. 

My request is the following:  
  1. Please read and then disseminate and discuss the concept note in your circles of influence.  
  2. Please copy me when you forward the documents by email so that we can build a database of interested people.
  3. Consider ways to stimulate the discussions in the media (talk radio, electronic media, social media and TV). One possible hashtag is #NationalDialogueSA 
  4. Please volunteer to undertake some of the functions described in the concept document. 
  5. You are welcome to call or email me to discuss ideas. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Unyoke Leaders Exchange Participants 7-17 April 2015

From left to right: Stella Sabiiti (Uganda) Colin Herrman (UK) Solange Furaha (DRC) Andries Odendaal (SA) Khaled Al Bitar (Syria) Sifiso Mbuyisa (SA) Pieter Vanholder (Belgium/DRC) Chris Spies (SA) Nomfundo Walaza (SA) Philip Visser (SA/South Sudan) Clever Nyathi (Zimbabwe)

Unyoke Leaders Exchange was a resounding success. It exceeded all expectations.  We achieved our objectives more than 100%. At the moment I’m working on a short document and a video documentary to capture some of the gems without breaching the Chatham House rules that we had set for ourselves. 

You know something has worked when people say the following:  

"Thank you so much for the Unyoke Leadership Exchange. Very very special. I have not felt so refreshed in a very long time.”
“I was rather dead, but there is a lot of life that has started to grow during this week.”
"When I came here, life was quite dark. I was in a very bad space. The horizon cleared up while I was here, even if there are still a few dark lines. But this was a very light time for me, even if it was heavy or intense, but far lighter than what I have hoped.”

Not only have we achieved a rejuvenation of inspiration and energy, but quite a number of participants said that the time together helped them to change direction and to work differently. That is exactly what we had hoped for. 

What can practically be done to mobilise South Africans behind the goal of social inclusion, dignity and equality? Ten Principles and Ten Ideas

The accompanying message to this post can be found here.

Who are we?
The drivers of this initiative are passionate and committed citizens who want contribute constructively to the well-being of our country. We are supported by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and the In Transformation Initiative. 

Assuming that this is a widely-shared national aspiration, the project seeks to propose some concrete ideas for consideration by government, business and civil society leaders on steps to unify and mobilise South Africans behind the goals of dignity, social inclusion and equality. 

Problem statement
There are strong indications that South African society is experiencing increasing fragmentation. At leadership level, the three tiers of government, organised labour, business, civil society, faith communities, and even society at large are displaying deepening and potentially debilitating fault lines. 
Ongoing attacks against citizens from other African countries residing in South Africa are symptoms of deeper systemic problems. Calls for national dialogue are indeed a step in the right direction, because the underlying causes of systemic problems can only be resolved through deep dialogues and urgent action at various levels. The basis of concrete action by citizens and government is informed by the common understanding that emerges from these dialogues. 
It is our considered opinion that the time has come to acknowledge that these schisms have developed beyond normal democratic contestation and debate. The profound lack of cohesion, together with a growing skepticism that South Africa will automatically self-correct, are beginning to threaten our democratic gains, most importantly, the common resolve to build an inclusive and fair society from the ruins of apartheid. The question becomes: what can be done to inspire South Africans to unify once again, this time explicitly with the aim to build a more equal, peaceful society that affirms the dignity of and justice for all? How can we come to a conversation on a “common social project”, based on a new framework of interaction, while accepting that painful issues of power and asymmetry remain? How can we learn from the mistakes of the past and create an irreversible momentum towards a common future? 
It is our assumption that South Africans are able to devise effective solutions to transform these challenges into opportunities for genuine change. We believe that it is therefore eminently possible to effect socio-political and societal change with more urgency and efficiency, should stakeholders regain the requisite trust in one another to collaborate effectively.
South Africa has proven that it is capable of coming together to resolve deep rooted conflicts when it signed and implemented a National Peace Accord, which facilitated spaces for ongoing political dialogue, conflict resolution and even political competition and paved the way for the celebrated multi-party negotiations and eventually a democratic and peaceful dispensation. Is it possible to re-create a national mechanism with a clear mandate and nation-wide support from government, business and civil society?

Previous and current best practices
African Heads of State called for the establishment of National Institutions for Prevention and Management of Conflict as far back as 2002. One of the Key Performance Indicators would be to: 
“Establish by 2004, national institutions or mechanisms for prevention, management and resolution of conflicts at community and national levels with active involvement of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs). It should include indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms, Emergency Relief Assistance and confidence building measures between ethnic, racial and national groups. Such institutions could be national focal points for regional and continental early warning.”
Thirteen years later, only Ghana, Kenya and South Sudan have heeded the call of the African Heads of State. How would Africa’s ability to deal with conflict been different if these mechanisms were indeed implemented?
Ghana has established a National Peace Council, supported by Parliamentary Act 818, as an independent state mechanism to facilitate the prevention of conflicts. The statutory mandate of the NPC is  
“to facilitate and develop mechanisms for conflict prevention, management, resolution and to build sustainable peace in the country.” The NPC aims to “promote the values of reconciliation, tolerance, trust and confidence building, mediation and dialogue as responses to conflict”
Having established offices in all the regions of Ghana, the NPC pursues 6 strategic objectives:
  1. To coordinate and harmonize all peace actors and initiatives within Ghana;
  2. To promote understanding of peace for behavioural change;
  3. To facilitate prevention and management of electoral violence;
  4. To prevent tensions from erupting into conflict;
  5. To manage conflicts so as to contain and limit further violent escalation; and
  6. To identify root causes and resolve conflict.
According to Prof Clever Nyathi, who was instrumental in the establishment of the NPC, 
“the dialogues leading to the establishment of the NPC moved from organizational learning to action and to institution-creation. It required active civil society participation, patience, resilience and champions—and a relentless push for political and citizen commitment.” 
Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Sudan are all making good progress with their own locally grown conflict resolution mechanisms. Prof Nyathi personally engaged senior politicians and civil society and facilitated the crafting of a whole new chapter on the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission in the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe.
South Africa’s National Peace Accord was limited in scope, but exceeded the expectations as a national mechanism for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Dialogue, mediation and negotiation were, albeit for the duration of the NPA's limited life-span of three years (1991-1994), the preferred strategies to build peace. An elaborate and effective infrastructure/peace architecture was developed at local and regional levels. Communities, interest groups and politicians had access to resources, expertise and local mechanisms where, under the leadership of credible bi-partisan chairpersons, burning and potentially dangerous issues were resolved peacefully. These regional and local peace committees provided safe spaces for belligerents to explore peaceful alternatives to violence; and healing and justice for those who suffered injustice and oppression. The repealing of the National Peace Accord Act in 1994 unintentionally led to the gradual disappearance of constructive dialogue spaces in favour of political competition and destructive contestation. 
South Africa have started a national discussion with representatives from all sectors of society during 2012 on the issue of social cohesion.   That process has been stalled and new impetus is required to ensure that the process gets back on track. To achieve success, government cannot be held responsible on its own, but partnerships between relevant and important sectors are crucial to ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated. 
Now, more than ever, is the appropriate time to push for a concerted effort to redesign and develop a national mechanism for the peaceful transformation of conflict and the eradication of the causes thereof.  
The focus is, therefore, to achieve restoration of the dignity of all who live in South Africa regardless of age, gender or creed; to achieve peace, stability, unity and prosperity for individuals, their families, communities, organizations and the country as a whole. 
Some principles
Research and case studies from best practices suggest that the following principles should guide our actions:
  1. Adequate preparation, inclusion, ownership and participation: Those whose healing, peace and justice are pursued should be included in the design, preparation and implementation of the peace efforts.
  2. Creativity and volunteerism: Unleashing the creativity of citizens through inviting them to contribute in various ways is crucially important. 
  3. Non-partisan leadership: Political structures should support but not lead or claim credit for the initiative.
  4. Mandate: A broad-based mandate should be sought and given at local, regional and national levels. 
  5. Coherence: Government policies and programmes, and civil society initiatives should be aligned around key fundamental human rights, needs, values and purposes.
  6. Credible convenor: A credible convenor (person/group of persons or a mandated institution) should enjoy the trust of the widest possible range of stakeholders.
  7. Credible facilitation: The process should be facilitated by a team of gender balanced inter-generational facilitators who are able to lead the process professionally and build trust and momentum.
  8. Collaborative and collective leadership: Politicians, economic actors and civil society leaders should demonstrate political will and collaboration to establish and support a non-partisan conflict resolution mechanism across ideological and and other divides.
  9. Organic development and linkages: Efforts to build peace will be stronger when they build on existing initiatives. Citizens and local/provincial government counterparts should be encouraged to develop home-grown mechanisms, which eventually can be linked and aligned to a national mechanism. 
  10. Research: Current research should continuously inform, support and monitor the development and implementation of a national mechanism.  
Some process ideas and action steps towards building momentum
In the pursuit of creating a supportive process to give new impetus and insure renewed dedication to the already government established “national dialogue on social cohesion mechanism” that hopes to facilitate dialogue and mediation in South Africa, we propose the following steps to start this “parallel but supportive conversation”: 
  1. Facilitation and communication: Establish a small, credible facilitation team and interim secretariat to coordinate, manage and facilitate the following processes as well as managing a flawless communication strategy with all stakeholders.
  2. Convenors: Identify a diverse group of not more than 15 key leaders from government, business and civil society to convene a national peace mechanism design consultation. These leaders do not have to “represent” their institutions — their ideas are more important — but will play a leadership role, providing direction and oversight.  The same steps can be taken at regional and local levels. 
  3. Professional expertise: Lean on seasoned national and international conflict transformation practitioners to help guide the process as advisors. 
  4. Preparation, inclusion and participation: In preparation of such a process, encourage civil society organisations, business, academics, faith communities, and other interest groups to embark on a nation-wide consultation process to hear “the heartbeat of the nation” on matters of peace; the underlying systemic causes of inequality, poverty and violence; and concrete ideas on a sustainable mechanism to build justpeace, i.e. peace with justice and justness.
  5. Policy framework: The aggregated responses from the consultation process provide the basis for the development of a broad policy framework. Such a framework creates an enabling environment to facilitate the development of mechanisms for dialogue or conversations amongst people at local and national level. The framework should also describe possible programmes and / or projects which would lead to peace and conflict as well as social, political and religious reconciliation and transformative dialogue engagements.
  6. Political will: The convenors and facilitators engage key senior politicians, academics, business, the media, and other relevant civil society leaders on an ongoing basis to secure political will and commitment to establish a national mechanism for conflict resolution.
  7. Mandate: Convene a national peace mechanism design indaba where the design is discussed, tested and recommended for implementation. 
  8. Institutionalisation: Develop a white paper on a contextualised and indigenous equivalent of the Ghana National Peace Council and accompany the process towards the passing of a Bill in Parliament. 
  9. Implementation: Key facilitators assist the newly formed mechanism with organisational development support, as well as the interview process for Commissioners and Secretariat Staff. 
  10. Support: Provide ongoing coordination and support throughout the process.

Draft by Chris Spies, based on consultations with IJR and ITI colleagues
20 April 2015