Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Peace is the mother of civilization and war is the demon of destruction. Civilization and development cannot progress if there is no peace in the country. Most governments, institutions, and individuals create development thinking that they are preventing conflicts and creating peace. The idea that future wars can be prevented before they break out has been around for many generations and has taken many forms. The past two weeks of studies at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University has indeed shown me that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and a stitch in time saves nine.
Prevention is and will always be the best medicine. Perhaps the unimpeachable logic of these precepts should suffice to move governments and international organizations to develop robust capacities to prevent violent conflict and to deploy them strategically. Unfortunately history suggests otherwise.
Too many wars have erupted without significant effort undertaken by parties that might have been able to prevent them. Sierra Leone, Nepal, South Sudan, Somalia, and Liberia, just to name a few, are some of the incidences in which violent conflicts could have been mitigated if the governments had put prevention measures in place. We have witnessed state leaders come out broadly to express how they have strategically invested in conflict prevention and disaster management. This has been accompany by sporadic violence and extremism activities that has been meted upon innocent citizens for instance in the North of Kenya where at least every month the country loses its population in attacks and bombings. Recently, ten police officers were killed at the Kenyan coast while on duty while tens of citizens lost their lives in Garisa despite the government’s assurance of security.
A balanced assessment of progress in preventing violent conflict, however, must acknowledge the serious gaps in our understanding and global capacities. In the end, practice rarely lives up to rhetoric and commitments. Moreover, the international security environment has evolved in ways that raise the importance of prevention and simultaneously work against its effectiveness. Should we wait to act until after a terror attack has occurred? The Alshabab has turned Kenya and Somalia into a battle field. It started as an uprising collecting money from citizens and burning charcoal to amass money. Little did the Somalis and the regional governments knew it would turn out to be a deadly terror group. The Mungikis, Sungusungu, Blue Boys, and many more tribal militia groups tried in Kenya. They were the major actors in the 2007 post-election violence. Was the government aware of them prior to their influence? Repeated calls to “act early,” instill a “culture of prevention,” and above all, mobilize “political will” have been manifestly inadequate. Probably initial mitigation interventions would have saved nine.
Serious strategies to prevent violent conflicts must go further. Given the political violence during electioneering periods ever since the advent of multi-party democracy in early 1990s, it behooves the political leaders and the citizens as a whole to synergize efforts in ending this tragic cycle. While peacemaking efforts during active conflicts might aim to prevent a conflict from escalating or spreading and peacebuilding efforts in post-conflict phases aim to prevent recurrence, the security apparatus has to recognize the need for early warning early response and its importance in averting violent conflicts.
The studies last week with disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration expert Dr. Des Molloy has challenged me to apply these skills to the frequent attacks between the Pokots and the Kalenjins in Baringo County that has existed for decades. Perhaps if the government and peace stakeholders would have seen it earlier, it would have been remedied before it escalated to the present situation. These two communities have been killing and maiming each other over an issue that started as a traditional practice where they used to keep night watch over their cattle for the fear of being raided. However, they have graduated from using traditional made spears and arrows to using guns, perhaps because of the dynamic developments in technology. However, the practical lessons from Dr. Norbert Ropers, our lecturer on constructing workable peace processes, gave me hope that all is not lost. The interventions put in Sierra Leone, Haiti, South Sudan, and the current dialogue and mediation in South Thailand is a step forward worth emulation.
Preventing violent conflict is, indeed, difficult and the challenge to advancing the prevention agenda is unavoidable yet also surmountable. Consistent deployment of effective conflict prevention strategies is possible as the stakes demand that actors move unwaveringly toward the day when this possibility is a reality in believing that indeed a stitch in time eventually saves nine. The peace program at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University is but one step in building the capacities of individuals to make this a reality.
Moses Chavene, Kenya
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session