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Reconciliation and peacebuilding

The 2011 World Development Report estimates that 1.5 billion people live in ‘conflict affected’ countries. What are the multiple forms of insecurity that make a country ‘conflict affected’? How can populations – groups and individuals – improve their condition? openSecurity has largely focused on conflict as a violent phenomenon between and within states, and particularly on the relationship between states and citizens.

While conflict itself is inevitable, even creative and desirable, the desire to be secure drives much of human innovation, scientific or social. But militarization is only one response to perceived threat or insecurity. In this section, we now want to examine systematically the other ways.

‘Peacebuilding’ articulates a sprawl of activities, from government and international interventions to highly localised and informal practices. Political negotiations to end a war, the deployment of peacekeepers to maintain a ceasefire, truth telling commissions and memorials, arts and cultural practices that reach across sectarian boundaries – all qualify for inclusion in the Venn diagram.

‘Reconciliation’ is the transformation of conflict. To be reconciled to something – to a position, a state of affairs, perhaps to defeat – suggests passivity, acceptance. To be reconciled with an enemy, individual or group, is an active process of achieving a more productive relationship.

To mark the introduction of reconciliation and peacebuilding into this section as core concepts alongside security, four openSecurity writers explore the relationship between these terms:

CapoeiraZoe Marriage challenges the dominant security paradigm through the Brazilian dance-fight-game capoeira, showing the relationship between security and development to be far from simple.


LondonDan Smith outlines one course peacebuilding could take to a new moment of European confidence.



South AfricaAlex de Waal examines the struggle over the peace and security agenda in Africa, contrasting international interventions with African methodologies often sidelined.


ScalesYvette Selim, argues that post-conflict transitional justice is incomplete without addressing the injustices of unequal distribution – of resources, of power, of opportunity.


As Christopher Cramer once wrote, ‘the content of justice is being wrought through social and political conflicts… peace is precisely the problem’. The challenge this poses has implications for our conceptions of development as well as security, justice as well as peace.


Where is the voice for peace in the Middle East?

There is a dire lack of regional dialogue, social capital, trust and network development among peace-minded and peacebuilding-oriented civil society activists and organisations in the MENA region. 

Some thoughts prompted by the celebration of Israel Independence Day

Citizens of the State of Israel celebrated their anniversary of independence on 6 May 2014. After the celebrations, the author responds to three articles recently published on openDemocracy, explaining why any proposal to close down the Palestinian Authority must sound totally illogical to Israeli ears.

Education and violent extremism in Nigeria

For Boko Haram, 'western civilisation is forbidden'. In a context of poor school attendance among Muslims, especially poor Muslims, is the almajiri system of schooling it favours compatible with a peacebuilding project for the country?

The Bosnian national football team: a case study in post-conflict institution building

The Bosnian national football team provides an inspiring example of what Bosnian society could become, given the right conditions.

Working towards a WMD-free Middle East

Despite notes of caution and a lack of concrete offers, Presidents Obama and Rouhani set the stage for increased engagement at the UN last week. With calls for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East reaffirmed, Israel's game plan will be central.

Gauging ‘success’ in Yemen’s National Dialogue: mission impossible?

An agreement in 2011 averted dissent developing into violent conflict. The National Dialogue Conference has made progress against a backdrop of drone attacks and terrorist strikes, but as the process draws to a close there is all to play for.

Syria: no military victory, no political solution?

Video: The Friends of Syria have played what may be their 'last card' - what difference will it make on the ground? Yezid Sayigh talks to Jo Tyabji about spinning out military escalation, and the slim chance of creating commitments for de-escalation. 

A complicated (Cypriot) tango: civil society and donor relationships in conflict resolution

A solution to the Cyprus conflict remains elusive, particularly since national elites use it to maintain their positions of power. Only moving the peace-related segment of Cyprus’s civil society away from the periphery will make a locally-accepted peace process viable.

The case of the ‘Brutal Savage’: Poirot or Clouseau? Why Steven Pinker, like Jared Diamond, is wrong

Steven Pinker claims to prove scientifically that the world is now more peaceful, accusing some critics of succumbing to myth. The author argues that Pinker is promoting a fictitious, colonialist image of a backward ‘Brutal Savage’, which pushes the debate back over a century and is still used to destroy tribes. (Long review)

Istanbul protests: what consequences for Turkey’s peace process?

The recent protests are redefining Turkey's democratic culture. But what consequences will they have on the historic ongoing Kurdish peace process?

Student remembrance triggers Tamil rebirth

Strong geostrategic interests in the Indian Ocean may tacitly have condemned the Tamils of Sri Lanka to death on a massive scale in the 2009 aerial bombing of civilans, and ensuing post-war government repression. Recent social movement action in Jaffna shows a groundswell of resistance, but will the world take notice?

Breaking the vicious circle - reconciliation in OSCE areas

Work must be done to overcome divides even many decades after official agreements to end violence have been signed. But the process is neither simple nor direct, with social media as easily a tool for vitriol as for furthering understanding of others. What, and who, can help?

Violence, space and memory in the new Northern Ireland

Violence in Belfast in September and December 2012 bears witness to the collision of the 'old' and the 'new'. As Northern Ireland embarks upon a decade of centenaries, the question arises: who hosts memory - and how?

Les assises de Kampala: une autre farce politique

Le gouvernement de la RDC et M23, un mouvement rebelle, ont se convoqués en Kampala. A Uvira, au Sud Kivu, un groupe d'élèves explique pourquoi ils les considèrent comme un dialogue de sourds volontairement. English.

The EU's Nobel Peace Prize

On Monday 10th December 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For better or worse, the prize focuses attention on an important question: does Europe need peacebuilding?

Syria needs a twin-track negotiation

Since 2011 three failed strategies have been attempted, with weapons provision bringing up the rear. The regional politics of the conflict make the dangers of massive escalation imminent: it is time to find a transition acceptable to both sides.

Violent power, civilian exclusion and the M23

Violence in eastern DRC is portrayed by western countries in terms of abject failure: people or events in the Congo (or Rwanda) have caused peacebuilding and development processes to fail. But the M23 is a direct result of processes that legitimate violent power. Français.

The M23 crisis and the history of violence in eastern Congo

Though triggered by a combination of recent events, the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history of the Kivus sets the stage on which they take shape. Understanding is not justification: beware the instrumentalisation of history by ideologues. Français.

Military, Militants and Mandarins: prospects for trade and peace between two nuclear powers

%22Bordering"Small but promising steps towards normalisation between India and Pakistan have implications beyond their bilateral relations, given the challenging neighbourhood the two states inhabit.

US's last chance in Afghanistan: reconciliation with the Pashtuns

%22Bordering"The west's campaign in Afghanistan is simply out of date. If there is any hope in a positive outcome, then a paradigm shift from conflict to dialogue is required.

Colombia's peace process: three challenges

As peace talks begin between the FARC and the Colombian government, military victory is still espoused as a final solution by some, while other recall when past negotiations have failed. But there is historical success to learn from too.

Post-election Georgia: turning the dream of peace into reality?

Georgian Dream Coalition's election victory will go down in history as Georgia's first peaceful transition of power. The nominees for the new cabinet now also bring names to the fore with long experience of peacebuilding, presenting fresh hope amidst the challenges.

Iran: the deescalatory options

We are indeed witnessing a slide towards fewer positive options, but such slides can be reversed. Iran is ready to negotiate, just not on the terms offered by the West.

Sri Lanka's policy towards witnesses is revenge, not reconciliation

Dr Niron knows the Sri Lankan army targeted hospitals in 2009. Every time he passed their location on to the International Red Cross so they could share the information with the Sri Lankan military, the site was bombed within days, if not hours.

Aggrey Tisa Sabuni on austerity, corruption and the G7+

In this short film openSecurity talks to the Economics Advisor to the President of South Sudan. The agreement signed in Addis Ababa on the 27th of September means the oil will start flowing again, but what does this mean for South Sudan's future economy, and stability?

Afghanistan Post-2014: power will be shared between the CIA, the Pentagon and the current elite

%22Bordering"A power-sharing political system already exists, but not the one Farhad Arian envisions. The system proposed is unrealistic, and looking to the 'International Community' to bring it into being is misguided, at best.

Depoliticising victims in Northern Ireland

The recent riots in Belfast seemed to hark back to the ethno-religious conflict many presumed over: Northern Ireland is being rebranded within the neo-liberal fold. But deeper issues may be deferred by the rhetorical constructions of peace. The prospect of dealing with victimhood in a meaningful way is being erased.

Sudan and South Sudan: negotiating amidst brinkmanship and armed rebellions

The 22 September deadline approaches, with little sign of an  agreement on outstanding issues. A piecemeal approach would allow the oil issue to be resolved now, but its presence as part of a comprehensive package of agreements may be the only thing keeping negotiators at the table over the harder issues.

Could power-sharing build the consensus necessary for peace in Afghanistan?

%22Bordering"For there to be stability in Afghanistan, all major ethnic groups must be guaranteed a share of power. The support of the international community is needed now, to make this a reality post-2014.

Lebanon: a fate beyond its control?

It has increasingly become a question of when - not if - the violence in Syria will lead to sectarian fighting in Lebanon. This reflects a commonly held belief that conflict in Lebanon is shaped from outside its borders; a belief that risks ignoring the ways in which Lebanon can be responsible for its own fate.

Armenia and Azerbaijan: what can societies do when political judgement errs?

Instigating dialogue across entrenched conflict built on ethnic stereotypes is long and precarious. The pardon given to Ramil Safarov of Azerbaijan is a blow to the sense of trust built painstakingly in the region. Now peacebuilders have to weather the storm.

Narrating peace: Somaliland women’s experiences

Somaliland women’s narratives have largely been absent from accounts in state and nation building in Somaliland, yet their contributions cannot be denied. Female poets, writers, artists and activists recount their experiences in shaping the peace and their political participation in Somaliland today

The long war gets longer: the campaign of violent dissident republicans

Northern Ireland is held up as an exemplary case study of building sustainable peace. Recent violent activity from dissident republicans poses real threats, but isn't likely to establish a 32 county republic. So why continue?

Indigenous people 'provoke' peace in Colombia

Standing between the government, FARC and international mining companies are the indigenous people of Cauca: unarmed, but capable of reducing a sergeant to tears.

Remembering July 1983: 'The holocaust started for me with the death of my father'

Amongst memories of the cataclysmic violence that spread across Sri Lanka and which still marks this time of year as Black July, instances of incredible individual bravery and compassion stand out. But can the government match the honour of its people?

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