Towards a Peaceful World, the Role of Peace Educators and third Party Mediators

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I believe through this research, I will be able to acquire some knowledge, ideas and useful skills that I can impart formally or informally to other citizenry through my work as a peace and development worker to bring about the “peace” that we all long for.

This I also believe will enable me acquire some skills that could be used in resolving conflicts in the most peaceful and non-violent way.

In recent years where the technologically advanced countries in the world are continuously developing and piling stocks of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons that posses enormous danger to the whole of humanity and our environment, the future cannot be taken for granted. The scientific way of thinking and acting has brought the entire human race to its limits where relying on militaristic ways to resolving conflicts or differences can be very disastrous and its effects, undesirable. We need to adopt non-violent solutions to our problems.

In this paper I will focus my attention on educating for a positive change in attitudes, behaviors, orientation, values etc that will foster peace in this world of conflicts.

The Preamble of the UNESCO Constitution states and I quote, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”. In line with the foregoing, it means that education plays a key role in the struggle towards a world of peace.

What is “Peace” and why should we strive for “Peace”?

In Ian M. Harris’s book on Peace Education, Peace has been defined as a state of existence where: “Neither the overt violence of war nor the covert violence of unjust systems is used as an instrument for extending the interests of a particular nation or group. It is a world where basic human needs are met and in which justice can be obtained and conflict resolved through non-violent processes and human and material resources are shared for the benefit of all people”. It also requires the elimination of physical and structural violence.

From the above definition therefore, it seems as though conflict is and continue to be an inevitable human and societal problem that will have to be confronted and dealt with but this should be done non-violently.

In this paper, the focus of educating and mediating for peace will be, striving or strategizing towards and developing nations that will have the abilities of resolving disagreements without resorting to war. It also requires that nation states and its citizenry respect the sovereignty and dignity of other nation states and its citizens.

Ian M. Harris espouses five (5) major strategies for a lasting state of peace. They are

* Peace through strength (proposes a militarism approach). This I personally beg to oppose.

* Pacifism (absence of war making in daily affairs , killing seen as immoral)

* Peace through justice (eliminating social oppression and economic exploitation)

* Institutional Building (the development of effective International Institutions such as the UN that has charters for war prevention and removal of threats to achieving and maintaining peace).

* Peace Education which is not the least important.

Goals of Peace Education

Educational activities are purposeful and so is peace education. Peace Education has the following goals:

* To appreciate the richness of the concept of peace

* To address fears of insecurity etc

* To provide information about defense systems

* To understand war behavior

* To develop intercultural understanding

* To provide future orientation

* To teach peace as a process

* To promote a concept of peace accompanied by social justice

* To stimulate a respect for life

* To end violence

Peace Education has become a highly controversial issue or topic with varied names attributed to it. The West will prefer to term it “nuclear age education”. For third world countries that are still lacking behind in technology and development, Peace Educators will focus their attention and concerns on the issues of underdevelopment, starvation, poverty, illiteracy and lack of human rights. In the words of an Indian Peace Educator and I quote, “there has been too much obsession with the threat of nuclear weapons and inter-state war. In the Third World, the problems of hunger, malnutrition, underdevelopment, social injustice and terror are much more important and they contribute more to the eruption of violence both at the national and transnational levels”. Thus “peace education” in the Third World is often referred to as “development education” and addresses the problems created by imperialism, racism, and the lack of human rights.

Peace Education should impart skills of effective conflict resolution or conflict management which should result in a win-win situation for the participants of the conflict.

According to Meredith Norwood, M.C of WIPA, conflict can be positive and constructive if we change our habitual response to it. This demands our awareness of how we perpetuate negativity, the development of communication skills, and a willingness to change not only our perceptions but also our behavior. Viewed in this way, conflict provides us an opportunity to learn about ourselves and others.

What is Mediation?

Mediation, the use of a neutral third party to help persons involved in a dispute to resolve their own conflicts, helps develop awareness, communication skills, and a willingness to change. Mediation is a model which comes to us from the legal system. It is an alternative being used to relieve our overburdened courts.

The Martin Luther King Centre for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia recommends the following steps for resolving conflicts between parties

* Gather information that accurately represents both sides of the dispute

* Educate people about the problem and provide information that accurately represents both sides of the dispute

* Build commitment among parties to participate in a process (dialogue) that will enable them resolve the conflict

* Negotiate a compromise that all parties can agree to

* Put that compromise into place and act on it

* Attempt to further reconcile differences and evaluate the agreed upon compromise

The success though to a large extent depends upon the disagreeing members achieving an understanding of both the position and frame of reference of their opponents.

In a study conducted (dissertation on the UN’s effectiveness in conflict resolution) by Sherman F (1987), he produces some data explaining hostilities by type of conflict (be it colonial, territorial, human rights, terrorism etc). His data suggest that there is an association between the degree of threat to a party’s values and the likelihood that it will resort to violence. He further classifies cases by the perceived intensity of threat, ranging from a threat to existence to a limited threat to property or person. He had 8 categorizations. Threats to a party’s existence or to a political system are associated with a relatively high level of resort to violence, whereas lesser threats according to him are more likely to remain disputes. Yet in all the categories, even in the cases of threats to existence, there are some conflicts which do not become violent.

Factors conducive to peaceful settlement of conflicts

Conflicts, in which the degree of conflict of interest is less or threat to the goals and values of the parties is minimal, are inherently simpler to resolve peacefully.

According to (Ury, Brett and Goldberg, 1988), conflict over interest may be easier resolving than those over power and justice. Thus a third party must reformulate such a conflict apparently in terms of interests.

If parties choose agreed procedures to resolve the conflicts, it can be done peacefully. For example accepting third party intervention could be a signal. However, such third party intervention should be early enough.

Outcomes of the resolution should integrate the parties’ interests. The zero-sum conflict should be transformed into a positive-sum situation in which the parties have common interest in a settlement. Peacefully resolved conflicts should have a win-win outcome. A more sophisticated version of it is that while parties’ overt positions may clash, their underlying interests may be reconcilable (Pruitt and Rubin, 1986). Parties should be helped to explore the conflict in order to identify the potentially integrative outcomes.

The Balkan Peace Team (BPT) demonstrates an example of the struggle to evolve new models of effective nonviolent engagement in conflict settings. Its origin dates back to the early 1993, when BSV in Germany took the lead in setting up a Kosovo Peace Team. This was aimed at preventing the spread of the violence and to support groups working there nonviolently for the defense of human rights and social change. For this goal, BSV sought partnership of other European and International Non-Governmental Organizations concerned about the Kosovo situation. The focus became wider to include the whole Balkan Region. The formation of the team has been guided on the principle of strength in unity. By its presence, BPT seeks to identify possibilities for dialogue between opposing groups, serves as channel of independent information, acts as observer at scenes of incidents or potential flashpoints, accompany threatened local individuals or groups working for human rights and conflict resolution upon request.

The principle of an “outside” presence or third party means that the BPT can only work in support of forces “inside” the societies themselves which are working for the promotion of human rights, democratic development and conflict resolution. Thus they get deployed to an area upon invitation from local groups. Underlying the development of BPT’s project has been the understanding that peacemaking and peace building in former-Yugoslavia is a long-term process that requires a long-term commitment even after the war.

Adam Curle observed his own experience in Croatia of local groups seeking to work out their solutions. “I see these groups as extremely important for the future. If a peaceful society is ever to replace one which is violent and ethically bigoted, the values of impartial compassion, nonviolence, human rights and social justice must be the bedrock on which it is built. In Croatia, the peace groups are a most important, perhaps the chief repository of these values, it is encouraging that, despite so much fanatical ethnocentrism, their membership are growing” (Curle, p.4)

John Paul Lederach explains that peacemaking activity works in at least three levels.

Highest level: involves few people, well known personalities, processes are highly public and tend to focus on ceasefires and political solutions.

Middle level: involves more people, well known within a given sector/ethnic group/religious group, have more room to man oeuvre and not directly in the lime light.

Lowest level or “Grass roots”: most populous, people experience devastation and concerned primarily with daily survival. However sustainable peace builds across the levels and not trickling down from the top. It is crucial therefore that peacemaking efforts emerge from and be connected to the context and setting within which the conflicts/problems are raging. BPT is consciously oriented towards the “grassroots” and the vital role which the level has to play in the nonviolent transformation of conflict.

Apart from acquiring nonviolent skills, volunteers are trained in the language and culture of the area of their work or of where they will be placed.

Some challenges faced by BPT

Member organizations with different cultures and level of experiences pose some advantages as well as threats.

Negotiation among member organizations to endorse activities and implement (9 organizations as members)

Longer period to plan activities

Limited financial resources


In order to create a less violent world, human beings must delegitimize the basic premises underlying the current global order and reassess fundamental assumptions regarding human motivations, essential values and ultimate goals. Educators whether they teach in the formal or informal educational structures/systems can play an important role in achieving global peace by challenging the old ways of thinking that rely on the inevitability of human aggression.

The question we as peace educators, peace activists, peace students, peace citizens should ask ourselves is “what kind of world do we really want”? This will help us in adopting a fundamental change in our conduct of affairs. One problem with peace education is the ability to measure the impact peace education activities have achieved so far. However, this should not discourage us from pursuing the study and promotion of peace in our daily affairs.

The path to peace is a moral road. This world can and will be more peaceful if only when citizens develop a moral revulsion to current violent practices and the moral will to change reality in more peaceful direction. Education by influencing attitudes and ideas about peace can help create in human consciousness, the moral strength necessary to move towards a more peaceful future.

The achievement of a peaceful world will not be easy. The task is heroic, energizing and crucial. Peace Education should involve a three part strategy- formation, information and transformation. Peace education is not a sufficient strategy for peace. Attaining a peace culture requires among others, changing attitudes, governments, cultural norms, economic institutions and social values. It is only with the support of peers that most individuals will attempt to use whatever power they have as citizens to change political realities. This means that we need a concerted effort of peace citizens, activists, educators etc to make this vision a reality.

Third party interventionist should guard against dividing the conflict participants in good and bad, innocent and guilty. Though there will be perpetrators and victims, it is the task of the mediator to prevent the former from harming or killing the latter. The task should involve bringing them together to find joint solutions to their common problems. Help provided by the mediator should be based on carefully made diagnosis and prognosis.

Our prescription could be as disastrous and undesirable both in context and in addressing the conflict. We should always consider where we are on the spectrum of the conflict in order that we are guided as to the intervention to adopt.

Out of a rather gloomy picture of a sense of powerlessness and despair most often shown by the public in a conflict situation and the inability of the international community and governmental institutions being able to prevent, limit and transform deep-seated conflicts such as that of the former-Yugoslavia, has an alternative arisen which is the activities of NGO’s in conflict resolution. NGO’s efforts are responding creatively to situations of actual and potential conflicts in different parts of the world and their efforts in any given conflict area need to be co-coordinated with other players to achieve effectiveness and maximum impact.

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