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Red Flag, White Flag

By Hala Abu-Maizer




A study conducted by Harbom and Wallensteen (2007) finds that a total of 232-armed conflicts have erupted since the end of World War II in 148 locations. They report that from 1989-2006, out of their 122 conflicts recorded, 89 were categorised as intrastate conflicts. This number peaked in 1991 with 50 intrastate conflicts taking place, and an overall of 26 internationalised intrastate conflicts. These figures highlight the perpetual state of violent conflict some countries have been experiencing. This has mostly been out of sight and out of mind for more developed countries, or those with relative democracies regardless of their state of economic development. The blindfold had been aggressively and abruptly pulled off by the events that had unfolded in the past 18 months, that demonstrated the will, resilience, and at times utter naivety of the human population across imagined borders. Benach (2020) bluntly described the surfacing issues from healthcare, racism, selfish and narrow sided leadership, unempathetic treatment of our natural environment, and the hegemonic state of media, deeply entrenched inequalities, as contributing factors that have exacerbated the impact of the pandemic, and steered the way the human population have been dealing, and will continue to deal with a global crisis of this scale.

So, what can be learnt from such a clarifying and contrasting experience that will, in hindsight, be the tipping point in the transformation of the human consciousness? Let’s take some time looking at the case of Rwanda and their path to development. In the aftermath of the brutal genocide of over 800,000 Hutus and Tutsis, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) put forth a new government in 1994. As a way to deal with the legacy of violence, the government put forth several strategies to deal with the trauma and destruction caused by this very violent and seemingly brief conflict.The first policy was created in 1999 under the name National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), which emphasised national unity through the creation of a singular Banyaruwanda identity, by erasing the divisionary ethnic identity labels that were the driving force in the intrastate conflict (Clark, 2010). This approach is criticised because it makes having an honest and transparent dialogue very challenging (Clark, 2010). This limits the ability to engage fully with the events that took place because parts of the past are not being brought to light on purpose which hinder the reconciliation process. Therefore, survivors’ reconciliation and healing process is held back because of their inability to portray their complete story, and are obliged to live in a state of constraint caused by the government’s priority of projecting a strong national unity and identity. This flawed premise (Clark, 2010) renders the coping mechanism ineffective in diffusing the diversionary weight the terms ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’ still carry (Kohen et al, 2011).

The topic of ethnicity is still one that dominates the minds of people covertly despite the lack of public expression, and is reflected in the government’s evasive response towards the human rights violations and crimes committed by the RPF, which is made up of both Hutus and Tutsis. Kohen et al. (2011) questions the methods used by Paul Kagame that resulted in him coming to power post genocide, where practices like voter intimidation and procedural misconduct were commonly used tactics. The process of reconciliation in this case is hindered by the perception of a questionable democratic election.

Another strategy put in place by the government is the formation of the traditional judicial and dispute resolution through the initiative of the gacaca courts (Clark 2010). This initiative aimed to speed up processing and prosecuting a high volume of accusers, promote the rule of law and accountability through public hearings and trials for all the subsidiary genocide crimes. The gacaca courts have been successful at responding to the volume of cases and the way in which it encouraged public participation and dialogue, especially with it being organised trial within a community. However, the process was undermined by heavy government interference and strong emphasis on crimes exclusively related to the genocide, which undermined how far accountable the proceedings can hold individuals that fall outside this exclusive classification (Longman, 2009). The contradictions arise in this case study become clearer due to the government’s effort in communicating their strong intentions in prioritising reconciliation and resolution, while this was not followed up by any public apology issued by prominent people on trial domestically, or at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) (Kohen et al, 2011).


This demonstrate that political reconciliation is unattainable without a public recognition and apology from prominent victims. In terms of the impact of reconciliation and forgiveness on the mental health on survivors, Mukashema and Mullet (2013) report two major findings. Firstly, the motivations behind collective forgiveness were driven by the desire for recovering overall harmony within warring groups rather than healing for inner peace. They also found that despite a high volume of Rwandans expressing the ability to live side by side with former enemies, they however report very low levels of interpersonal reconciliation (the feeling that you can trust the judgement of those who once caused you harm), which is directly linked to a poor state of mental health amongst survivors. Their study found that despite the seemingly mundane type of forgiveness involving redefining relationships between members of society, it greatly contributes to the state of social wellbeing, which is a core element of development and prosperity. The problematic policies the Rwandan government had implemented reflect elements of a rigged election, lack of an open, honest and constructive dialogue on ethnicity, and the move towards state centralisation (Kohen et al., 2011). Those wave a red flag to all the warning signs discussed earlier, are reflecting a state of incomplete healing and thus fragmented state of reconstruction and development.


"This demonstrate that political reconciliation is unattainable without a public recognition and apology from prominent victims"




Despite the progress restorative justice and other initiatives made in post genocide Rwanda, the government’s promise and seeming eagerness to move in the direction of unity and healing had, in fact, not lived up to the that promise of prioritising individual and group healing (Kohen et al., 2011). It is evident that in his case, the nation has managed to successfully stop direct physical violence and collectively move on from the conflict that claimed over one million lives in a span of three months, yet the lack of direct violence does not indicate the lack of cultural or structural violence in Rwanda. At present, the county is relatively stable economically, but features of shallow reconciliation persist because of the strategies that failed to address the root cause of the conflict.This is compounded by the omission of important facets of the conflict that need to be addressed and confronted to ensure the process of reconstruction, reconciliation and development come full circle. We can see here that reconstruction and reconciliation includes many overlapping elements (political, judicial, personal, social, spiritual/psychological, economic) that are inherently inclusive of development. Hence, a solid foundation needs to be formed and steps need to be taken in mending relationships between community members, in order to reap the benefits of inclusive and complete reconciliation and resolution, while reinforcing sustainable human and economic development.


Benach (2020) emphasises that the pandemic has thrived due to the ripe preconditions and the state of deep inequalities within our global society, In understanding the force we are contending with in facing this adversity, and as the literature as well as history suggest, focusing on economic and infrastructural reconstruction alone will not suffice. Here we must look behind the veil of consciousness and address the root cause of this crisis and all the social and structural fissures that enabled a disaster of this scale. This necessary tension and deep state of polarity has presented an opportunity before us that the collective had been asking for. It started what looks like a wave of complete rethink into the way we work and operate as a society, but it is not enough to only be in the state of recognition, but a state of action is now required to make sustainable and inclusive change.


"This necessary tension and deep state of polarity has presented an opportunity before us that the collective had been asking for. It started what looks like a wave of complete rethink into the way we work and operate as a society, but it is not enough to only be in the state of recognition, but a state of action is now required to make sustainable and inclusive change"


We can see here that reconstruction and reconciliation includes many overlapping elements (political, judicial, personal, social, spiritual/psychological, economic) that are inherently inclusive of development. Hence, a solid foundation needs to be formed and steps need to be taken in mending relationships between community members, in order to reap the benefits of inclusive and complete reconciliation and resolution, while reinforcing sustainable human and economic development. We also must raise our white flags in the face of the many red flags that we have seen come up in the past decade and more specifically in the past 18 months. The white flags is a metaphorical use of term, and one that takes place in our psyche first and society second. We must wave the flag of surrender against the perpetual endless wars that our governments backed by the media is trying to sell us; the narrative that we are the chosen people and we must fight a war against anything that we deem inappropriate, unnecessary and therefore perceived as an existential threat to our lives. There will always be a war that we think we must fight against to keep our safety and our way of life intact, when in reality the external un-seeming existential threat is fabricated in our imaginations and is constantly fed by thoughts and beliefs rooted in draining insecurity we are constantly engaged with. However, we must not stop seeking improvement, development, growth, advancement, and expansion in the face of challenges and contrast.



"We must wave the flag of surrender against the perpetual endless wars that our governments backed by the media is trying to sell us; the narrative that we are the chosen people and we must fight a war against anything that we deem inappropriate, unnecessary and therefore perceived as an existential threat to our lives"




 

References:

  • Benach, J. (2021). We Must Take Advantage of This Pandemic to Make a Radical Social Change: The Coronavirus as a Global Health, Inequality, and Eco-Social Problem. International Journal of Health Services. 5 (1), 50-57.

  • Clark, J. (2010). National unity and reconciliation in Rwanda: A flawed approach? . Journal of Contemporary African Studies . 28 (2), 137-154.

  • Harbom, L and Wallensteen, P. (2007). Armed Conflict, 1989–2006. Journal of Peace Research. 44 (5), 623–634.

  • Kohen, A, Zanchelli, M and Drake, L. (2011). Personal and Political Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda. Social Justice Research. 24 (1), 85-106.

  • Longman, T. (2009). An Assessment of Rwanda's Gacaca Courts. Peace Review. 21 (3), 304-312.

  • Mukashema, I and Mullet, E. (1). Unconditional Forgiveness, Reconciliation Sentiment, and Mental Health Among Victims of Genocide in Rwanda. Social Indicators Research. 113 (2013), 121-132.


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