Last month I participated in a summer school at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, titled ‘Societies in Transition: Sub-Saharan Africa between Conflict and Reconciliation.’ One of the many pleasures of attending the summer school was catching up with former students, including Joram Tarusarira from Zimbabwe, who completed his master’s in Reconciliation Studies with us in 2008.
During one of the final sessions of the summer school, a participant noted that her impression of peace and conflict resolution studies is that a lot of time is devoted to the analysis of the causes of conflict, but not as much study is devoted to what happens after the fighting stops. She had completed a master’s in another European university in the conflict resolution field, and said she was disappointed that her programme had not included deeper analysis of the possibilities and dynamics of social and political reconciliation.
This exchange prompted Tarusarira, now a doctoral candidate in African Studies at the University of Leipzig, to reflect on his experience as a student with us at Trinity College Dublin at Belfast (the Irish School of Ecumenics).
Tarusarira shares his thoughts below, explaining how our Master’s programme in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation and its specific focus on post-conflict transitions has been an asset to him in his work and study.
Reconciliation – The Missing Ingredient in Conflict Resolution Studies? Guest Post by Joram Tarusarira
It is almost two years since I completed my degree in Reconciliation Studies at Trinity College Dublin’s Irish School of Ecumenics, at the Belfast campus.
I began my studies in September 2008 and that was only about two weeks after the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe which ushered in the inclusive government composed of ZANU PF and the MDC. This development did not only come in handy as a relevant context within which to locate my studies but also for actual application upon completion of what I learnt.
When I began my studies I thought I would carry with me back to Zimbabwe a manual or recipe book on how to facilitate reconciliation processes.
But upon completion of the studies I realised that there was no such thing like a recipe book or manual to carry with me because reconciliation is complex.
The dynamics of reconciliation are so intricate and there is no particular prescription to it. It is as we discussed in our Dynamics of Reconciliation module with Dr David Tombs: complicated, paradoxical, unclear, and contested. Reconciliation happens at many levels, and cannot simply be transplanted from one context to the other. At the end one has to be guided by the context.
Upon completion of the Master’s in Reconciliation Studies I returned to Zimbabwe and worked on a few reconciliation initiatives. But as I began to work on one aspect of reconciliation, another called for attention.
This underlined for me the multi-faceted character of reconciliation which we had discussed in the classroom, and which I also experienced first-hand due to my experience of living in Belfast, and participating in a community based learning programme organised by Dr Gladys Ganiel.
For the community based learning programme I was attached to the Clonard Monastery Unity Pilgrims. Since my year in Belfast I have also attended workshops and conferences on reconciliation and have appreciated the efforts of the organisers and participants in their attempts to crack into the ever elusive core of reconciliation.
The more I participated in such like activities, the more I realised that I had been privileged to attend ISE.
ISE is truly at the cutting edge of analysing the practice of reconciliation and the theory behind it. As a student I learned not only from lecturers but also my fellow students, appreciating their insights and inputs.
The fields of peace and conflict resolution studies sometimes suffer from reductionism, and scholars and practitioners need to watch out for this. There is a tendency to emphasise the big, macro causes of conflicts, and to focus excessively on negotiations and peace accords.
While these are important, it is just as vital to include reconciliation processes in the mix.
And when we do so, we must be careful not to reduce the concept of reconciliation to one particular aspect, for example, by reducing it to forgiveness. We also mustn’t ignore the idea that reconciliation needs to occur at both the micro social level and the macro political level.
— Joram Tarusarira
I of course appreciate Joram’s comments– and indeed, I think he is right to highlight our emphasis on post-conflict transitions, especially reconciliation, as what is unique and sets us apart from other programmes.
I also think what he identifies as a disproportionate focus on political negotiations and the content of peace agreements is reflected in media coverage and political policy worldwide. It seems that agreements are viewed as the be-all and end-all of conflict resolution, and that often the hard work of healing a wounded society is neglected by policy makers once they take power in the new ‘peaceful’ era begins.
This happens even in societies that choose to establish truth commissions as a mechanism for dealing with the past (here, see Dr David Tombs’ module, Post Conflict Justice and Truth Commissions).
I think reconciliation is being neglected in Zimbabwe with the Global Political Agreement. Although provision has been made for a national organisation on healing and reconciliation, politicians have lacked either the will or the resources (or both) to enable it to engage in meaningful work.
It’s the task of practitioners and academics working in the fields of peace and conflict resolution to advocate for the inclusion of intentional, reconciliatory processes – especially after the fighting stops.
(Image: Gladys Ganiel, Brian O’Neill and Joram Tarusarira at the Jena Summer School on Societies in Transition)