By Paul Sandford
I recently came across an article in an old copy of a UK weekly freesheet, Shortlist, entitled “Life Lessons from the Frontline”. It was written by a well-travelled war correspondent, James Brabazon, and graphically describes his observations of a number of horrific incidents in various recent armed conflicts. Although this article highlights the involvements of its writer and the difficulties that he had to endure in order to do his job, there is no glorification or self-adulation. Instead, there is considerable emphasis on the utter futility of the various conflicts mentioned in the article and not surprisingly, the tone is pessimistic.
My reservation about this article was that its title notwithstanding it does not even try to get past the pessimism and futility, and an all-consuming air of fatalism pervades. There is little commentary on the lessons that may or may not have been learned or how survivors, invariably civilians, have against all the odds picked up the pieces and resurrected their lives.
The most obvious consequences of wars and conflicts are terrible levels of personal loss and economic deprivation. As well as often losing loved ones and having to live with the consequences of serious injuries, the people affected lose their livelihoods because infrastructures are often shattered, they have no work and become destitute. Most will be dependent on aid agencies and, with an element of good fortune, some may be able to rebuild their lives. Meanwhile, in many instances, the journalists who have rightly reported on individual conflicts or wars leave and move on to the next one.
Survivors of major conflicts know from bitter experience that the law and order that more privileged societies often take for granted are often non-existent, and invariably find themselves living in a conflict-ridden vacuum. The only rule of law in existence might be that exercised by a dominant group that has access to arms and who may be perpetuating a pre-existing conflict. People find that they have no mechanisms for resolving even the most basic issues. The loss of dignity that they experience because of the breakdown of the rule of law can be as profound and debilitating as their economic deprivation and personal losses.
This was the case of the Sudan and South Sudan. Over a number of years Concordis provided not only practical help in resolving a number of regional acrimonious and in some instances long-standing disputes but also delivered on a commitment to involving the indigenous populations. This strategy worked very well. Concordis helped to transform Sudanese society at local, regional and national levels and gave many people an effective, workable framework in which to live. The charity also helped to re-establish law and order.
The initial intention behind Concordis’ work in these countries was to help to facilitate informal dialogue and provide a forum where North and South Sudanese representatives could work together on key issues. Working in partnership with a number of organisations, many of them local and funded by amongst other organisations, the European Union, Concordis’ workers built on 10 years of sustained peacebuilding engagement. Their work became increasingly focused on a 2-year Sudanese Peace-Building Initiative (PBI) which was primarily funded by the European Union and was instrumental in facilitating the development of cooperative, secure and economically viable relations across Sudan’s North-South border.
Starting in 2004/2005, a year after conflict broke out in the region of Darfur, Concordis held a number of inclusive consultations on land use and tenure which addressed the cultural, political and economic marginalisation of the region. It also placed considerable emphasis on enabling the sustainable, safe return and reintegration of those who had been displaced. After a peace accord was signed in 2006, Concordis continued its work helping to develop Darfurian unity as a foundation for lasting settlement. It is also worked in partnership with a Sudan inter-religious organisation to develop the capacity of Sudanese religious leaders of different faiths for cooperating and facilitating reconciliation.
Concordis has now finished its work in Sudan and in more recent years has been focusing on Mauritania and the Central African Republic. In so doing, its achievements have been no less important and as in the Sudan, it has been very successful in providing its unique blend of professionalism, determination and facilitation. Hence it has been able to get the best out of a wide and disparate range of individuals, community and cultural groups and governmental institutions. Concordis has very effectively utilised the time-honoured mediation skills of not only listening to and helping people to resolve matters themselves but importantly, it has provided them with the means to do so.
In Mauritania, work has been focused on a fertile area bordering Senegal that had become the focus of ethnic and economic tensions. A cartographer was engaged to draw up maps of parts of this area so as to assist communities to frame their arguments. Eight high-level workshops have been hosted bringing together community leaders and international development actors to discuss the barriers to sustainable development which has resulted in realistic, workable and mutually acceptable policy recommendations for the areas affected. Many days of training have been provided to civil society leaders in some areas so as to help them enhance their ability to promote citizenship, democratic participation and access to justice.
Concordis’ work in the Central African Republic commenced in the second half of 2018. It is focused on a region that since a coup d’état in 2012 has been a focus of violent conflict which has very significantly impacted on the well-being of its population. Even at a very early stage in its programme, Concordis has provided specific help to around 1000 people and indirect assistance to 430,000 more. It is utilising the same time-honoured and very effective techniques that have been successfully used in other parts of Africa and the results to date are very favourable.
There is every reason to suppose that this valuable work will continue and I anticipate that in time impressive results comparable to those obtained elsewhere will be achieved in the Central African Republic. In short, Concordis is on the way to making a massive difference.
People in the West have much to learn from Concordis’ achievements. In recognising its brilliant track record, I am reminded of the complacency that is all too evident in Western society. In reality many Western governments and institutions often only pay lip service to mediation and other forms of ADR. Unlike a wide range of African individuals, agencies, governmental organisations and international institutions, they repeatedly fail to acknowledge the benefits like those delivered and facilitated by Concordis to vast numbers of people.
Here in the UK, it may not be possible to get the government to embrace ADR today. However, those reading this article may wish to consider getting involved in some way with a local mediation project.
Another option would be to check out the “get involved” section on the Concordis website and at the start, donate some money. Although the organisation’s work is funded, its resources are limited and all donations will be very gratefully received.
website details – http://concordis.international/
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.