‘Do not neglect the human dimension of conflict resolution’ – Leymah Gbowee
Reconciliation and reconstruction efforts in post-conflict societies will not succeed if the suffering and needs of ordinary people are ignored, Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ms Leymah Gbowee told delegates to the 25th annual conference of the International Association for Conflict Management at Spier outside Stellenbosch on Friday, 13 July 2012.
“Billions are spent on disarming fighting forces, on holding elections and on rebuilding physical infrastructure, while victims watch the sidestepping of their issues with dismay. If we go about it this way, we are building a lame foundation that can collapse at any time,” she said.
Gbowee, a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also of Liberia, and Ms Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, was the keynote speaker at the conference. The event is being hosted by the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement (ACDS) of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). Approximately 240 delegates from 25 countries worldwide are in attendance. It is the first time that the gathering is taking place in Africa.
“Just as there are no wars without people, peace efforts without focusing on the ‘human dimension’ are bound to be fruitless,” Gbowee said.
Under this term she listed such aspects as helping victims deal with the trauma of war, as well as rehabilitating soldiers and reintegrating them into society, but also attending to the socio-economic needs of the population more broadly. Aspects such as health, education, housing, jobs, water and electricity should be top priority.
Gbowee said that in her own country, Liberia, progress on these issues has not been sufficient since 2003, when a comprehensive peace agreement brought to an end a destructive civil war.
“People say, ‘What is peace? You can’t eat peace.’ It may be true that societal issues take decades to resolve, but precisely for that reason there should be a greater urgency attached to addressing them.”
Asked what she thought of war-crimes tribunals, Gbowee said had serious doubts about any form of justice that focused on perpetrators at the expense of victims. She referred to the recent sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for war crimes in the neighbouring Sierra Leone.
“He will serve his time in a British jail, where he will get three meals a day and warm clothes in winter. He will have a comfortable bed and a flushing toilet. But what about his victims? What happens to the thousands of amputees in Sierra Leone? Who is providing for their needs?”
Gbowee received a standing ovation. Prof Barney Jordaan, head of the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement (ACDS) at Stellenbosch University, said: “She delivered a powerful message, blowing a few established theories out of the water.”
The ACDS promotes the peaceful, efficient and cost-effective resolution of conflicts and disputes at all levels, primarily through the effective use of consensus-based dispute resolution procedures such as negotiation and mediation. The Centre forms part of the University’s HOPE Project, a campus wide initiative through which SU uses its teaching, research and community interaction expertise to create sustainable solutions for some of the most pressing challenges in South Africa and Africa.
The conference runs until Saturday, 14 July. – DESMOND THOMPSON
- Click here for Ms Leymah Gbowee’s prepared speech, or visit http://bit.ly/MsXTuO.