The case for bottom-up peacebuilding

by Campaign ~ March 7th, 2014. Filed under: News.

War Resisters’ International (WRI) held their first webinar under the title “The case for bottom-up peacebuilding” led by Geoff Harris. Geoff’s work in Peace Studies began around 1990, his current research focuses on the relationship between economic inequality and inter-personal violence, the South African arms deal of 1999 and bottom-up peacebuilding.

Peacebuilding can be thought of in two ways. Firstly as a way to recover from violence; developing and transforming relationships between groups. The other, much superior option, is preventive actions. This involves reducing the underlying causes of conflict and insuring that conflict does not turn into violence. Preventive actions are vital as they save a huge amount of resources, pain and suffering. Whereas, recovery can take decades to re-establish a community and create a stable situation.

Peacebuilding is in essence nonviolent; Geoff Harris raises the question ‘[j]ust how effective is nonviolent action?’ Having looked at both sides of the debate he turns to research presented by Erica Chenoweth whose main finding, from a complied data set of 323 violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns, illustrates that non-violent campaigns achieved a 53% success rate compared with 26% for violent campaigns. The failure of trying to build peace through violent means is illustrated in the example of Iraq. There was a violent invasion to bring about peace which has created an utterly violent outcome. Ghandi was correct to say ‘peace by peaceful means.’

Bottom up peacebuilding starts with individuals, local institutions and communities. It covers only a small number of people, but results can quickly produce results. An important factor with this type of peacebuilding is that it has an effect almost instantly and, crucially, involves local people in decision making. Bottom-up peacebuilding is normally conducted with participatory action research, predominantly from an asset-based approach, that sits down with the community and discusses how the situation can best be resolved. It treats individuals and communities respectively and not just as a source of data.

Harris provided examples of bottom-up peacebuilding:

  • Training young South African men in responsible, loving and nonviolent fathering. This is achieved by teaching the men how to love and what it means to be a father.
  • Preventing boys becoming child soldiers in the Eastern DRC. This is being carried out in communities to help young boys, parents and communities learn how best to avoid becoming a child soldier.

Both Harris and WRI highlight the importance of workshops and nonviolent training in creating an active resistance to militarism and an opposition to systems of oppression. These nonviolent methods are the most successful in bringing about positive social change.
War Resisters’ International is an organisation that works as a global pacifist striving for a world without war. They remain committed to their founding deceleration ‘war is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.’

By Grace Beards
Research Assistant


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