TransConflict is pleased to present the second part of a paper by the Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation from Zimbabwe, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, exploring how the design and implementation of peacebuilding projects should reflect nature.
By the Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation
In the eye of the storm – Working directly on conflict issues
Cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes are intense storms that can cause devastating destruction where they occur. These types of storms occur as a wind current spiralling around an area of low pressure. The wind speeds are very high but the centre or eye of the storm is characterized by calm weather. Deciding to work directly on a conflict right where it is happening can be likened to moving into the path of such a storm. The community energy that will be flowing will contain all the characteristics of a natural storm, its unpredictability, its anger and its destructive power. Once in the path of the storm, there is the need to create a still centre around which the energy moves; a safe space within the storm where the peace building work can happen. This safe space becomes the eye within the community’s storm where learning, skills and knowledge acquisition take place within a real conflict situation.
The process that happens in this space, within the eye, is an inclusive one and all the parties relevant to the conflict are themselves present or select representatives to take part in the process, whatever form that process takes be it a training, or dialogue or mediation. The purpose of the process is to work directly on the conflict as identified by the community. Using the earlier example of the leadership conflict over land boundaries, the process of resolving such a case could bring together district authorities, government officials, ordinary community members affected by the dispute and technical experts. The process would identify the piece of land in dispute and seek to understand where the dispute lies. In this way the participants bring their real selves with their needs, attitudes and views into the space and as they work on trying to resolve the conflict they are also working on these individual attitudes and views, changing what they feel may need to change according to the reality of their context. As they work on this real life situation, relationships change and perceptions shift. As the attitudes and outlook of individuals participating within the process change, their shifting perspectives simultaneously influence the essence of the energy that will be moving around the issue. So, little by little, as the process develops, not only are the participants being transformed but the specific conflict situation is being resolved and its resolution gives rise to an immediate gain for the community at large. These tangible benefits could be in the form of the implementation of development projects like the building of a school or clinic which may not have happened as a result of the dispute.
The process that takes place within the eye of the storm has an immediate benefit and there is no longer any distance between the work and its results, as is shown in the diagram below illustrating the approach.
‘The Eye’ approach begins by locating the community’s energy and working with an existing branch that is already being ‘fed’ by the community. The fact that it existed before the project began is a guarantee that it is relevant to the community. The new knowledge, skills and improved relationships will be used to feed an existing branch which embodies a relevant aspect of the community’s lives. After seeing the fruit of their work growing on this branch, the community will be inspired to use the acquired skills to work on other branches that need similar attention, not necessarily by replicating the organisation’s approach but by doing things differently because they have changed those attitudes and behaviours that they feel no longer serve them well.
Implementing the approach
The approach of working with existing community issues has been one that CCMT has used in interventions that have been carried out in the Midlands Province since 2009. The organisation, in an effort to ensure that the service they are offering the community is relevant, responds to requests made by the community for CCMT’s services.
In Midlands, the work began with a research into conflict issues that were occurring in three districts. The findings of the research were compiled and presented to district leaders. The district leaders confirmed the findings of the research and requested CCMT to assist them with specific conflict issues that they felt they would need assistance with. It could be said that the organisation had, through the research, identified existing branches on the tree. The communities were clear that they felt that some of the identified conflicts were too sensitive for the organisation to deal with. This was understandable as the approach the organisation was using was new and in the political environment prevailing in Zimbabwe at that time trust between the organisation and the district authorities needed to be built.
Once the existing conflicts had been identified, the organisation went on to carry out consultations with the stakeholders to the different conflicts as a preliminary action towards bringing the relevant community actors together into a dialogue space, the safe space within the eye of the storm. In this way the organisation would be working with a tangible issue that was already receiving community attention and energy. What the organisation’s intervention was designed to do was to try and change the attention and energy being given to the conflict issue from being negative to being positive.
During the intervention process, which may have consisted of any variety of activities including training, exchange visits or dialogue platforms, attitudes changed, new skills and knowledge were learnt as the community members worked towards the resolution of their existing problems. As they went through this process they were evaluating the old practices against the new and as they did so they changed what they felt needed changing in their behaviour and attitudes and kept what they felt was still helpful. In this way parts of the existing branch were being pruned and new shoots began to grow on that same branch.
As the community worked through their conflict issue using both the old and new ways of doing things, they saw positive results as their lives improved or certain aspects of their community began to function better as a result of their direct efforts. These tangible results were then what inspired the community to work on other issues in their community because they saw that the branch they had worked on had begun to bear healthy fruit that they could see, touch and smell.
An example of such an intervention by CCMT is the New Gato community story, where a community worked to resolve a conflict between the school administration and parents over the non- payment of school fees. CCMT facilitated a dialogue process that brought together all parties to the conflict and after several dialogue meetings, the conflict was resolved. After its resolution, the community went on to deal with other community issues on their own using the skills, attitudes and behaviours they had acquired during the process of resolving the conflict over school fees.
CCMT learnt through the New Gato case and other similar interventions that sustaining a project does not necessarily constitute replicating processes that would have been carried out by the organisation or that it is about keeping a project running in the same way as was done during the funding cycle. It is about a community taking what they need from the process and using it in a way that sustains the positive aspects of their lives or more precisely creating positive experiences for their community as a result of using certain skills and knowledge that they have seen can benefit them. Where a direct link exists between the work of the organisation and the tangible benefit for the community, motivation exists for the community to take their new attitudes forward without continued support and external funding.
The area of peace building is an area where practitioners have convinced themselves that the benefits of an intervention can only be seen after many years and only after a critical mass of like minded people has been reached and communities having been transformed. This will continue to be true where interventions are carried out in ‘laboratories’, a distance from where the conflict exists. A particular target group within a community is trained here, so that they can resolve something that is over there. There is need to begin to situate peace building work within the conflict issue itself and not outside of it. To pass on the skills and knowledge through the experience of transforming real conflicts so that communities can immediately reap the rewards of changed attitudes and behaviours.
Peace building organisations should not see their workshops, seminars and dialogues as products that are an end in themselves, because what takes place in these activities is not enough to inspire the community to sustain the project or the work beyond an organisation’s intervention. What will inspire sustainability is not the activity that is carried out by the organisation but the tangible result that comes out of that activity. The functioning school, improved service delivery or fairer regulations are the fruits that will inspire a community to continue using their new knowledge and skills.
CCMT’s work with the associations succeeded in keeping up the momentum beyond the workshops by supporting the work of the associations within their communities. However, this sustained support fell short of what was required to sustain the work with the dialogue platforms without the organisation’s support. Six of the ten associations are still functional and working in various ways in their communities, some providing mediation services and others linking in with other NGO initiatives taking place in their communities. Individuals within the associations remain an invaluable resource to CCMT as they assist the organisation respond to requests in other communities. However none of the associations has the financial capacity to convene dialogues and carry out the activities that the organisation had envisioned they would after the project life span.
What CCMT has learnt from this experience is that in order for conflict transformation work to be owned and sustained by communities beyond the project or intervention, the work must be situated within issues that are real and relevant to the communities. CCMT is confident that in this way branch by branch any community can eventually transform itself.