By Fernanda Gabriela López Paguaga - Student of International Relations
“Conflict should not be understood solely as an inherently negative and destructive occurrence, but rather as a potentially positive and productive force for change if harnessed constructively” (Transconflict, 2012, para. 2). Have you ever thought about why conflict resurfaces after it has been “resolved”? Currently, conflicts are seen as an issue that needs a quick solution, where society just looks at the content and substance of the conflict in a superficial way without developing a changing and deep process of the situation. For this reason, in order to have peace agreements that reached the roots of conflicts, it is necessary to introduce the foundations of conflict transformation in the international system. This essay will critically analyze four main foundations and the transformational perspective toward conflict.
“Conflict transformation refers to the process of moving from conflict-habituated systems to peace systems” (Botes, 2002, para. 22). This is where it differs from conflict resolution. The transformational perspective focuses on resolving the conflict through building and constructing change processes that are maintained in a long term, instead of just trying to end the problem. That is why this perspective starts with two principal foundations which are to envision and respond. There is a need to envision a conflict in a positive way, creating constructive growth, and responding by using the knowledge that is acquired from real-life experiences (Lederach, 2014). Both pave the path to have a clearer guide, vision, and thinking about the relationships that exist in conflicts.
“The heart is the center of life in the human body, similarly, in conflict transformation relationships are the heart” (Lederach, 2014, p. 11). Transformation goes hand in hand with human relationships to identify positive elements and the conflict itself in order to develop creative responses and peaceful approaches within a global context. Furthermore, transformation tries to “change negative destructive conflict into positive constructive conflict and deals with structural, behavioral and attitudinal aspects of conflict” (Berghof Foundation, 2019, p. 146). At this point, the foundation of constructive change processes plays its role by viewing conflict as an opportunity, instead of a threat. This foundation “emphasis the capacity to build constructive change out of the energy created by conflict” (CSVR & ZLHR, 2013, p. 16).
A great example for using these foundations is the UN and the conflict in DR Congo. To give some context MONUSCO was founded in 1999 to reduce violence, call for a ceasefire of a civil war, and pacify the country (The Economist, 2020). However, until now it has not been able to achieve it, "MONUSCO has been a slow learner, and it has taken the UN quite a long time to work out how to do peacekeeping in Congo," (Clark, 2021, as cited in Mugabi, 2021, para. 6). The cause of this is that the UN and MONUSCO have been trying to end the problem instead of transforming it into positive constructive conflict. Currently, they are just seeing the evident problem that is violence and not the structure of it. They must look at the roots of why violence started and analyze the relationship pattern of the conflict to understand it before developing a peace agreement.
“Conflict transformation is not just an approach and set of techniques, but a way of thinking about and understanding conflict itself” (Transconflict, 2012, para. 5). The purpose of transformation is to reduce violence in conflict and develop peace agreements by finding the roots of the issue. Therefore, it focuses on going through deeper patterns, and relationships to create a constructive and positive change in the structure of the system for the long term. This could be achieved if the international systems use the foundations of conflict transformation instead of trying to solve the problem momentarily and superficially. If society wants to stop conflicts from resurfacing, they first have to understand them and not try to end them but to transform them.
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Berghof Foundation. (2019). Berghof Glossary on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding. https://berghof-foundation.org/library/berghof-glossary
Botes, J. (2002). Conflict transformation: a debate over semantics. The International Journal of Peace Studies. https://www.gmu.edu/programs/icar/ijps/vol8_2/botes.htm
Centre for the Study of Violence & Reconciliation Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (CSVR & ZLHR). (2013). What lies beyond? Delving below the surface of conflict. https://media.africaportal.org/documents/what_lies_beyond_delving_below_the_surface_of_conflict.pdf
Lederach, J. (2014). Little Book of Conflict Transformation: Clear Articulation Of The Guiding Principles By A Pioneer In The Field (Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding) (English Edition) [Electronic Book]. Good Books.
Mugabi, I. (2021). Why UN missions are failing in Africa. Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/why-un-peacekeeping-missions-have-failed-to-pacify-africas-hotspots/a-57767805
The Economist. (2020). The UN’s peacekeepers are under pressure to quit Congo. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/09/03/the-uns-peacekeepers-are-under-pressure-to-quit-congo
TransConflict. (2012). Principles of Conflict Transformation. http://www.transconflict.com/gcct/principles-of-conflict-transformation/