To think about justpeace is to think about social movements and political protests, at least in the context of my country. To say that these movements are a major component of peacebuilding process in Kenya is an understatement, they set the agenda for peace. I am neither suggesting that they are the most important stakeholders in peacebuilding, nor mean that their activities can substitute those of other humanitarian organizations, rather my argument is that they have set the trend in peacebuilding and curved a path for other organizations to follow. They have broken the ground and made it possible for humanitarian organizations to operate. I define social movements as those organizations which focus on specific political or social issue with an aim of resisting or supporting a certain social change. This excludes grassroots organizations, NGOS and other organizations engaged in humanitarian or long-term peacebuilding projects.
Social movements advocate for justice, which is often neglected by humanitarian organizations perhaps because of their neutrality clauses. Social movements have been at the forefront advocating for justice for victims of violence. The phrase ‘no justice, no peace’ means a lot to victims of violence especially in places where ethnic cleansing or structured violence has occurred. Often humanitarian organizations and other organizations engaged in peacebuilding, design their projects without considering the justice element. This is understandable given that the whole concept of justice is complex and can be relative, hence organizations especially international humanitarian organizations normally do not want to be entangled in this. The nature of social movements enables them to fill this gap. Actually, some of them exist for the very purpose of advocating for justice or some cause.
Social movements have sometimes stepped up to fight against governments that have barred peacebuilding organizations from operating within their territories. For instance, when the Kenya government sought to restrict NGO foreign funding to 15% of their operating budget, it is the social movements that took to streets to protest this injustice. People may not expect a UN agency or organizations such as World Vision or CRS or any other International humanitarian organization to do this even though they will desire to. The nature of their operations and their mandate may not allow them. But an organization like PEN International or its local chapter can take to the streets to advocate for the safety of poets or journalist because that it is its mandate – it exists to solely defend such rights. There are thousands of such organizations that may not plan for a project in grassroots or build a hospital or school or design a program to train youths on economic empowerment for sustainable peace etc. But they will be there when a right is violated. They will resist by holding protests and demand for retribution. These protests often create an enabling ground for peacebuilders to operate.
Despite the above argument, social movements can jeopardize peacebuilding efforts especially when they employ violent approaches in their activities. Violence often begets violence. It is less surprising then that often governments are known to react violently to social movements that engage in violent protests. These has sometimes led to massacres, hence reversing whatever gains peacebuilding organizations have achieved or hoped to achieve.
Sometimes social movements are just tools used by opposition parties or foreign governments to disrupt government operations. Whenever that is the case, regardless of whether the said governments are democratic or non-democratic, negative consequences are bound to ensue. In those moments, governments usually kick out all humanitarian organizations or pass draconian laws that resist operations of such organizations. If social movements can keep to nonviolent protests, research has shown that the gains will be much more.
Social movements and peacebuilding organizations are not necessarily cut from the same piece of cloth but their combined efforts brings the necessary uniformity in building sustainable peace. The awarding of 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to Tunisia’s Quartet, a mix of civil society groups – labor, business, human rights and legal groups – whose leaders became mediators between Tunisia’s Islamist and secularists and saved their country from civil war, goes a long way to prove that social movements are instrumental in peacebuilding.