Constructing a bridge for strengthening local and regional conflict transformation capacities in the SADC region

by Gabriel Malebang

Current responses to conflicts in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been dominated by traditional, militaristic and state centric approaches such as peacekeeping and mediation. The regional body has paid scant attention to developing Peacebuilding capacities and even less attention to Conflict Transformation as a tool of peacebuilding. Conflict Transformation is an approach to peacebuilding, which complements the deficiencies of other approaches such as conflict prevention, conflict management and conflict resolution, rather than seek to replace them. It is a relatively new concept which gained prominence in the 1990s often traced to John Paul Lederach. It adopts a comprehensive approach of addressing the root causes of conflicts by transforming the context, contents, structure, rules, actors and issues which cause and perpetuate cultures which encourage violent conflict. Conflict Transformation endeavours to transform violent conflict into something positive and desired over a long-term period. It is underpinned by mutual empathy and has a preoccupation with ending conflicts through methods which are led by local actors in communities where such conflicts start and where they ought to end.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 and the end of Apartheid in South Africa in 1994 are two watershed events which have had a lasting impact on the nature, sources and responses to conflict in Southern Africa. Seemingly in response to these seismic changes, the regional body the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) transformed its until then decentralized structure into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which centralized implementation of the regional integration agenda to the secretariat. This was done through the signing of the SADC Treaty in Windhoek, Namibia on 17th August 1992.

During the 1970s and 80s Southern Africa was one of the most dangerous regions in the world because of the protracted liberation wars fought in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The region was also the last to be decolonized in Africa. Its conflicts were in part fanned by the proxy Cold War battles fought in Angola, Namibia and South Africa as well as the destabilizing Total Strategy of the apartheid South African regime. The Post-Cold War and Post- Apartheid periods did not however see a disappearance of regional peace and security challenges. These have manifested through the lingering problems of incomplete disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes in countries such as, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia; secession threats in the case of the latter two; high levels of inequality (in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa); economic collapse in Zimbabwe and a refugee influx across the region; corruption, democratic deficits and state sponsored violence as seen in Swaziland and Zimbabwe; xenophobia inspired violence (South Africa); protests over poor service delivery and high cost of living (e.g South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi); frail social contracts; unconstitutional changes of government (e.g Madagascar); election related violence (e.g Lesotho and Zimbabwe); violence by rebel groups (e.g DRC), disputes over land (Zimbabwe) ; strained relationship with donors; humanitarian crisis and transnational organized crime just to mention a few examples.

Through the establishment of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (OPDS) in 1996, the signing of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security in 2001 and the Strategic Indicative Plan of the Organ (SIPO I & II) in 2004 and 2012 respectively, SADC strengthened its capacity to respond to the above regional challenges. Its institutional capacity was further enhanced by the restructuring exercise which created the Directorates on Social & Human Development and Special Programmes (SHDSP), Infrastructure and Service (IS) and Food Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) all of which have human security related mandates. SADC thus has admirable policies and institutions in place which are hamstrung by implementation failures.

The earlier identified challenges have set in motion a series of identity conflicts in SADC member states fuelled by actual or perceived exclusion, inequality and discontent relating to control over access to natural resources and decision making power. Current traditional conflict resolution efforts employed by SADC have thus only gone skin deep in addressing the above challenges. These have failed to deliberately and effectively transform the conflictual attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and cultures amongst conflict parties in member states. It is against this backdrop that this contribution recommends the creation of a self-sustainable and effective Regional Infrastructure for Peace (RI4P) in SADC. The RI4P will enhance peacebuilding capacities in the region and link grassroots conflict transformation efforts in SADC member states with regional efforts. At the systemic level the RI4P ought to be underpinned by a common foreign and security policy outlining shared regional interests and values which will serve to improve relations with donors, the AU and the UN.

At the institutional level the RI4P ought to be underpinned by a regional peacebuilding policy, and a regional conflict transformation strategy. Since human security challenges are cross cutting, a dedicated human security department and a human security policy and strategy ought to be created to transform the human security aspects of conflict at all levels. At the member state level the RI4P should be operationalized by local peace committees and councils at the ward, district, regional and national levels. Ministries of Peace may be established in countries experiencing or emerging from protracted conflicts. These peace infrastructures ought to work closely with civil society groups and other non-state actors to effectively contain human security related challenges. The RI4P framework ought to increase the ability of individuals involved in conflicts to empathize with the other side. It should further transform relationships between conflicting parties from a mistrustful to a friendly and cooperative one by engendering trust. The RI4P will ultimately transform societies in conflicts by promoting positive attitudes, perceptions, emotions and personal relationships between conflicting parties resulting in durable peace in the region.

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