“Same skin, we are brothers”: what it takes to end a civil war

“Same skin, we are brothers”: what it takes to end a civil war

“Same skin, we are brothers”: what it takes to end a civil war

This article is an opinion edition related to the Liberian society written by the operation team of the Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development, the organisation implementing the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index, the SCORE Index. However, opinions expressed in this article are that of the authors and do not represent the positions of SeeD and that of its partners, notably the UNDP, PBF or the PBO and the Government of Liberia. The opinions do not represent the views of WACSI. For more information about SCORE Liberia findings: https://www.scoreforpeace.org/en/liberia

In January 2018, AKO Essan Emile was recruited as the West Africa Specialist of the SCORE Index and posted to Liberia. This article is based on his experience.

In my effort to learn more about the Liberian society, especially about the violent parenthesis from 1989 to 2003, I have reviewed several documents but also watched documentaries and movies produced about Liberia. A particularly striking one is entitled “Liberia: An Uncivil War” a 52-minute documentary portraying the progress of former rebel group the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (the LURD), in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia and the chaos ensued following their occupation of a large portion of the city between July and August 2003. The documentary produced by James Brabazon and Jonathan Stack would have been like any other sensational documentaries made by adventurers attracted by wars, but a strikingly powerful scene made this documentary an outstanding one.

In fact, after four years of a dreadful war, the Economic Community of West African States backed by the United Nations sent the first peacekeeping troops to Liberia, the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia, the ECOMIL which was replaced in 2003 by the United Nations Mission in Liberia, the UNMIL.

According to the agreement amongst the warring factions, the arrival of the peacekeeping mission would mean the end to the fighting. In fact, whereas the LURD wanted Charles Taylor to resign forthwith, the former warlord, elected Head of State in 1997, said he would not resign unless the first peacekeeping troops had entered the country. On August 5th 2003, the first peacekeeping troops entered the country and fighting ceased. Combatants of the two factions, the LURD and those loyal to former President Charles Taylor who were occupying each, one side of the Old Bridge of Monrovia, on the Mesurado River met in what turned out to be a highly emotional moment. At the 43rd minute of the documentary, the most powerful message I have ever encountered as part of my experience as a peace-builder, was heard. In fact, two young Liberians from both factions just met on the bridge and placed their hands close to each other in a comparison mode and declared “Same skin, we’re brothers”. What a powerful mutual-acknowledgement and direct reconciliation message from people who may have shot each other a few minutes or hours prior?

This could have been a laughable message had it not been in a conflict which claimed the lives of more than 250.000 people. But it makes a lot of meaning while at the same time, raising an equal number of questions. Who are combatants? Who are the people fighting in civil wars? Why do they fight? Do they always have a good reason to fight each other? What can we learn from this message in order to contribute to solving other conflicts across the world?

This deeply emotional stance void of any hypocrisy can teach us, the community of peace researchers and conflict resolution specialists, a lot. It shows that, many combatants engaged in civil wars do not always know why they are fighting and even most importantly who they are aiming at when they trigger their rifles. Although they may have good reasons to fight and may have grudges against leaders or the big “them”, the direct enemy on the warfront is unknown and could be as a matter of fact, a “brother”.

Ignorance, manipulation, coercion, the search for strong sensations and the rewards of adrenaline fostered and driven by the greed of rebel leaders or other warring faction leaders are some of the main reasons why “brothers” fight in civil wars across the continent.

Could this message echo in other conflict contexts about the meaninglessness of most civil wars and conflicts?

It is my opinion that including former fighters who have repented in the search for solutions can be a strong factor of reconciliation in addition to other traditional methods in the quest of reconciling communities after a civil war or rife conflict. Therefore, preventive and conflict resolution methods such as collaboration, cooperation, communication and knowing-of-each-other could serve as strong drivers of the living-together and positive coexistence.

This article is an opinion edition related to the Liberian society written by the operation team of the Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development, the organisation implementing the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index, the SCORE Index. However, opinions expressed in this article are that of the authors and do not represent the positions of SeeD and that of its partners, notably the UNDP, PBF or the PBO and the Government of Liberia. The opinions do not represent the views of WACSI. For more information about SCORE Liberia findings: https://www.scoreforpeace.org/en/liberia.

About Authors:

Ike Dagli

Dr Ilke Dagli has a degree in European and International Politics from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, and completed her MSc in Security and Development at the University of Bristol. She has been working closely with CSOs and SMEs in Cyprus as a project coordinator, project developer, consultant and facilitator since 2006. She co-authored and coordinated myriad local projects such as The Civil Society Dialogue Project, Cyprus Community Media Centre initiative, Access Info Cyprus Project and Play for Peace Project and was closely involved with the ENGAGE Do Your Part for Peace project as a facilitator. Ilke recently completed her PhD on “Securitisation of Identities in Conflict Environments and its Implications on Ontological Security” at the University of Warwick, where she has been teaching World Politics since 2013. She has acquired several research grants for her fieldwork including one from International Peace Research Association Foundation (IPRAF). Ilke is also a Migration Fellow at the Institute of Migration, Turku, Finland and has been a Country Expert for Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) joint initiative of the Department of Political Science, The University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, USA since January 2015. Ilke, who started working as the Senior Researcher for the SDI in October 2016, transitioned into the SeeD Head of Operations position and also acts as the Regional SCORE Specialist for Eastern Europe in April 2017.

Cleophas Torrori

Mr. Cleophas Torori (Kenya) has more than 23 years of development work, 14 of them in the UN, primarily UNDP, and 9 years of them served between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Following a career in the University, Mr. Torori joined UNDP in 1999 working as a UN Coordination Specialist with the Kenya UN Country Team where he worked for 5 years. Between 2004 and 2010 he worked with the UNDP Liberia Country Office as Policy and Capacity Building Specialist attached to the Policy and Strategy Unit (SPU). He left Liberia in September 2010 on re-assignment to UNDP Sierra Leone where he served as CTA, Public Sector Reform. He returned to Liberia in April 2013 to assume his current position where he leads UNDP’s programme team in the design, implementation and monitoring of UNDP-supported programmes. Mr. Torori specializes in public policy analysis, with emphasis on governance, public sector reform and capacity building and was extensively involved in the design and implementation of projects such as the Senior Executive Service (SES), the TOKTEN and the Liberia Emergency Capacity Building project through which highly skilled Liberians, mostly from the diaspora were identified and recruited to support the reforms. Mr. Torori was instrumental in the formulation of the first ever Modernization Plan for the Liberia Legislature and was task manager for the award-winning 2006 Liberia National Human Development Report entitled: “Mobilizing Capacity for Reconstruction and Development”. He holds a Master’s Degree in Government from the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

Ako Essan Emile

Over the past 10 years, AKO has worked in the fields of peacebuilding, conflict management and community development. Prior to joining SeeD in December 2017, AKO worked as a Researcher with Interpeace Côte d’Ivoire and as a Project Manager for Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in the former conflict zones of Western Côte d’Ivoire. AKO started his professional career in 2008as a broadcaster in a community radio station and subsequently rose to the position of Managing Director. The radio station gained a strong reputation in Côte d’Ivoire in 2013 and 2014, reflecting AKO’s commitment to promoting intergroup dialogue, reconciliation and community resilience. In 2015, he was selected as part of President Obama’s flagship program, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (MWF-YALI). He attended a Civic Leadership Institute at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in 2015 and completed a Professional Practicum at the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa in 2016.AKO holds Master degrees in Peace Culture and Conflict Management, and Linguistics. He has several certificates in civic leadership, sustainable development and environmental management and he has completed several online courses on conflict, war, peace, terrorism and public-private partnerships.

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