Fostering national unity, rebuilding communities, and healing individual trauma is key to nurturing peace in post-conflict areas

The case studies in our new report provide us with the inspiration to believe that individuals, communities, and nations can emerge from the shadow cast by conflict and begin to fulfil their unique potential.

A commentary for the Peace and Reconciliation programme by Baroness Philippa Stroud

Published 12 Jan 2021

Perhaps more so than any other factor, conflict acts as major obstacle on nations’ pathways to prosperity. Its impact is nothing short of catastrophic – devastating lives, dividing communities, and destroying economic potential. Put simply, conflict condemns people to poverty, preventing individuals, communities, and nations from fulfilling their vast potential.

Estimates suggest that in just 10 years’ time, half of the world’s poor will live in nations impacted by war. Yet it is poor nations that can least afford the economic fallout wrought by conflict. Civil war is estimated to reduce GDP by over 2% each year, and it is especially detrimental to the development of those nations at a key juncture on their journey to prosperity.

Yet, conflict remains an all too familiar feature of the world we live in. And it is a phenomenon that is becoming more – rather than less – common. Almost 20,000 people were killed in non-state conflicts in 2019, one of the worst annual figures for more than three decades. Meanwhile, there were 54 active state-based conflicts recorded in the same year, a record high since 1946.

Perhaps even more concerning is that evidence suggests conflicts are more likely to recur than ever before, with the UN estimating that as many as 60% of conflicts relapse within five years of the initial cessation of hostilities. Such statistics must compel us to re-examine existing approaches to post-conflict reconciliation, to ensure the prevalence, recurrence, and impact of conflict is minimised.

However, to date, the international community has done little to assess the benefits of the myriad of reconciliation programmes in operation in post-conflict environments around the world. Despite this failure to act, opportunities exist to revolutionise how we foster peace in post-conflict areas. Our latest report on Peace and Reconciliation showcases examples of successful programmes which have addressed the legacy of conflict in three nations: Sri Lanka, Colombia, and Rwanda.

Specifically, these case studies shine a spotlight on the approaches which have begun to address the impact of individual trauma, to rebuild divided communities, and to unify nations. Much of this best practice – such as the need for appropriate mental healthcare capacity – is intuitive. But much of it is not. For example, the case studies illustrate the disproportionate impact of effective national leadership. Leaders need what John Paul Lederach, Professor of International Peacebuilding, describes as “moral imagination” if they are to deliver effective and lasting peace. This requires not only an ability to embody reunification but the determination to prioritise and resource the lengthy process of bringing war-torn communities and nations back together.

Collectively, the countries featured in the report provide an empirical framework for reconciliation, based upon three pillars: fostering national unity; rebuilding communities; and healing individual trauma. Their success underscores the need for a holistic approach to reconciliation that combines established features, such as truth commissions, with bespoke initiatives designed to address the unique context of conflict.

Moreover, effective reconciliation requires a dual effort to address the underlying causes of conflict as well as the trauma that it causes. This necessitates a collective commitment to acknowledge the past – specifically the suffering and the inherent dignity of the countless victims of war – and to address it.

The three nations featured have all defied the odds in delivering both peace and increased prosperity in the face of overwhelming challenges. They demonstrate that the process of post-conflict reconciliation is prolonged, challenging, and rarely linear. But they also provide us with evidence of what works. And, perhaps just as important, they provide us with the inspiration to believe that individuals, communities, and nations can emerge from the long shadow cast by conflict and begin to fulfil their unique potential.

You can read the report here.