When violence and fragility destroy ‘social fabrics’, it is essential to understand how people can begin to interact again and how inter-group relationships can recover. This is also critical for the prevention of violent conflict and fragility. Developing institutions that can mitigate inter-group conflict by focusing on individual protections and peaceful resolution of conflict are important but insufficient areas of reform. The persistence of intense divisions and hostilities can prevent these institutions from functioning properly.
Efforts to transform hostile relationships into more positive and constructive ones (often referred to as coexistence and ‘reconciliation’) are long-term processes that require specific attention. They should be integrated into political, economic and other dimensions of peacebuilding and statebuilding. Actions and processes must be designed to break down, rather than reinforce, the dynamics of inter-group hostilities and divisions. This often entails the promotion of multiple identities instead of a narrow focus on one salient feature prominent during conflict.
In many situations of violent conflict, there was a history of coexistence. This indicates that identities were created and politicised rather than inherent; and that relationships can be transformed. Transformation requires sustained interactions across divides, rehumanisation of the ‘other’, and the renewal of trust and cooperation across groups.
Various strategies have been adopted, including dialogue and inter-group exchange, problem-solving workshops, working together to achieve shared goals, peace education, artistic performances, and media campaigns designed to reframe the ‘other’. These should take place alongside efforts to combat exclusion and to ensure inclusive access to and participation in political, economic and social opportunities and benefits.
Initiatives to promote coexistence and reconciliation processes can be undertaken by a variety of institutions and actors – local, national, international, at all levels of society. They include religious, business, and political leaders; artists and media personalities; local and international NGOs and donors. Although interventions in post-conflict and fragile environments often focus on reconstructing or aiding the government, many coexistence and reconciliation activities come not from the ‘centre’, but from the ‘periphery’ of societies. The participation of civil society organisations, for example, can broaden spaces for interaction without violence, connect people and restore plurality. It is important to support initiatives at the periphery, while addressing structural changes at the centre.
It is also critical to recognise, however, that civil society actors may not necessarily be dedicated to reconciliation and peace processes. Civil society groups may be linked with political groups, and there have been cases where academics, media, diaspora groups and religious leaders have contributed instead to violent conflict. Development actors should consider the composition of civil society in their support to the periphery.
Blagojevic, B., 2007, ‘Peacebuilding in Ethnically Divided Societies’, Peace Review, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 555-562
How can peacebuilding be effective in contexts with a legacy of ethnic wars, ethnic hostilities, and ethnic intolerance? This study argues that ‘reconciliation’ must be incorporated into peacebuilding efforts in order to achieve post-conflict development in ethnically divided societies and advocates a ‘Peacebuilding through Reconciliation’ approach. It views reconciliation as the transformation of relationships. This involves creating alliances for the benefit of the common good; and appealing to individual and group rationality to overcome destructive emotions for the sake of development. Whether peacebuilding is taking place at political, economic, social or infrastructural levels, it is important that peacebuilding processes are designed to break down, rather than reinforce, the dynamics of ethnic hostilities and ethnic intolerance.
De Weijer, F. and Kilnes, U., 2012, ‘Strengthening Civil Society? Reflections on international engagement in fragile states’, ECDPM Discussion Paper No. 35.
Recognition of the importance of civil society has risen on the international agenda in recent years. Within the area of international development cooperation, fragile states have emerged as a particular point of attention, with explicit recognition that different approaches are necessary to support these countries in a transition towards increased resilience. This discussion paper addresses a number of issues related to this changing landscape. It aims to contribute to knowledge on the specific characteristics and challenges of engaging with civil society in fragile states, as well as on the changing role of northern CSOs. Its insights will be of particular relevance for donors and civil society in the North.
Corkalo, D. et al., 2004, ‘Neighbors Again? Intercommunity Relations After Ethnic Cleansing’, in My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, eds. E. Stover and H. M. Weinstein, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 143-161
See discussion and resources on reconciliation, social renewal and inclusiveness (including on traditional approaches, social capital and social cohesion, coexistence programming and peace education) in Chapter 4 (Recovering from violent conflict) of the conflict topic guide.
For discussion and resources on civil society and peacebuilding, see non-state actors and peacebuilding in Chapter 4 of the conflict topic guide.