Toward a Sustainable Peace

Toward a Sustainable Peace

Peace means different things to different people, but most assume that preventing violence or escalation of a conflict leads to sustainable peace. They also assume that peacebuilding efforts will address the root causes of conflicts, build or rebuild social institutions and set up effective governance structures, and institute the rule of law. But what happens when various actors in a country are not willing to stop violence or resolve conflicts because war and violence serves their economic, political and psychological functions? Do we kowtow their line and join the plunder? Or do we heighten our calls for negative peace (absence of violence)?

David Keen’s 2012 book, Useful Enemies: When Waging War is more Important than Winning them, responds to these questions and offers a critique of liberal peace, which assumes that people in a country have an interest in peace since they can obtain material and non-material well-being only during peace. He shows that ‘winning hearts and minds’ approach to peacebuilding has not yielded considerable success. In fact, it is the very process of liberal peacebuilding – political and economic liberalization – that often generate destabilizing consequences in conflict torn countries, hindering the attainment of peace. Thus, prompting the question: How can we move beyond peacebuilding activities that exacerbate violence?

Keen challenges us to reconceptualize our approaches to peacebuilding to devote substantial time to conflict analysis. We should ask tough questions such as who has vested interests in the continuation of the conflict? Who is gaining politically or economically? Clearly, winning a war or reconciling a country may not be in the interest of some actors – they will try all means to block a sustainable solution. Keen challenges peacebuilders to reconsider their understanding of conflict and their current peacebuilding strategies. Often peacebuilders succumb to the “planning trap”. They base their activities on wrong assumptions, informed by poor analysis, and do not see the big picture that winning is not what war is always about. Most problems in peacebuilding are caused by this short-sightedness on the part of peacebuilders. For instance, peacebuilders have in the past blamed rebels for causing violence but ignored their grievances or the greed within the counter insurgence forces and the role of corrupt governments. History is replete with examples where government soldiers have forged a mutually beneficial system with the rebels making war a profitable venture.

Failures in societies and governments where corruption and greed sabotages peacebuilding efforts are not an accident, they are rather a reflection of powerful structural factors that are not easy to transform. You cannot transform these societies by winning their hearts and minds. Keen disagrees with peacebuilders who attribute modern conflicts to the breakdown of political, economic and social order. Sometimes the reverse is true, that is, governments, rebels, and peacebuilders have contributed to the breakdown of economic, political, and social institutions of a country. Hence, it is not enough for peacebuilders to have good intentions for rebuilding these ‘failed’ societies as good intentions alone cannot bring sustainable peace.

Preventing violent extremism through education

“Extremism can flourish only in an environment where basic governmental social responsibility for the welfare of the people is neglected. Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism.” Benazir Bhutto

 

Why read books in this digital age?

Why read books in this digital age?

Does listening to an audiobook give the same satisfaction or intellectual fulfillment as reading the book? I grappled with this question a couple of months ago when I bought my first audio book. Having spent most of my life reading books as a student, teacher, and publishing editor, it never occurred to me that I can consume books in any other way other than reading. So, listening to my first audio book,  Einstein: His Life and Universe, felt like cheating. But given that I listened to most of these books while doing other things like working out at the gym or jogging, I cared less until last week when I listened to the South African comedian, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

Trevor Noah’s story, narrated by himself, pierced my ears, and went straight to my heart through my brain. It walked me down the memory lane to my boyhood when I could sit by my grandma, and drink from her cup of stories. I had an insatiable appetite for stories, and she had acres of them, and a knack for narration. I wallowed in these stories, and developed a passion for literature. Unfortunately, going through a system of education that privileges written literature over oral literature compelled me to perfect the art of reading as a primary means of learning, and getting new information. In fact, apart from a few lessons of oral literature, most students in Kenyan schools have no access to forums or platforms for learning how to narrate stories.

Listening to Trevor Noah’s book reminded me of the importance of storytelling as a means of learning. Trevor gives an account of his life and his family during and after apartheid in South Africa in a way that only he could tell – he relives his life through the narration. A son of a Swiss-German father and a Xhosa mother, Trevor was born at a time interracial marriages were banned in South Africa. As a result, he was not allowed to meet his father in the open. He describes his life as a colored child in a country that considered his existence illegal.

As a polyglot, he is able to demonstrate how he navigated the racial and tribal conundrum in South Africa in a manner that connects you to the contexts he describes. His rhythm, pitch, intonation, and voice enriches the listeners experience without necessarily curbing your imagination. This type of narration is significant for the story as it captures aspects of a text that even a well-seasoned reader, unfamiliar with the context of the text will likely miss. For example, he mimics his bullies in their languages. Furthermore, his occasional adaption of South African English accent makes the narration lively and authentic.

Audio books makes multitasking simple and possible. They allow people who are usually busy with activities that demand visual sense or those travelling – driving or riding in public transportation – to enjoy books. With noise cancelling headphones, one can listen to books even in public and noise places. Those doing house chores or working out may find it convenient to listen to books, something that is nearly impossible with print books.

Audio books are also convenient for children and adults interested in learning how to pronounce words in English (or any other language). The fear that listening to books can lead to shallow understanding of a story are alleviated by an article by Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who argues that listening to an audio book is exactly like reading print, except that the latter requires decoding, which is basically figuring out words from print. Moreover, experiments by various scholars have shown high correlations of scores on listening and reading comprehension tests in adults.

Authors and publishers in Kenya should embrace audio books as it increases distribution of their works. With the continued advancement in technology and the increasing governmental interest in integrating technology in school curriculum, authors and publishers who invest in audio books are bound to reap huge rewards. The truth is that the reading public is constantly changing with the advances in technology.