Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
The world is by no means in a state of peace. Arguably, a number of ongoing armed conflicts and tensions may not even be known to the vast majority of the global population.
Conflict is not a political disease that would infect the developing world only: What percentage of visitors to the touristic hotspots Bangkok or Ko Samui would be aware of the existence of conflict in the southern provinces of Thailand? Does Europe forget the Cold War that has drawn the dividing line of the Iron Curtain across the European continent? I believe, hence, that we cannot afford the luxury of taking peace for granted and the ignorance of discounting tension, armed conflict and violence as “not our issue”.
Any individual or institutional peacebuilder seeking to contribute to the restoration of peace has to acknowledge that gaining an understanding the underlying conflict is an indispensable task (admittedly by no means an easy one): For instance, can only geographically specialized conflict researchers comprehend the nuances of the persistent center-periphery ethnic conflict in Myanmar, the country that I have been calling (a) home over the last six years.
If analyzing and understanding dynamics of conflicts is already complex, how difficult must it then be to contribute to a cession of hostilities in a conflict-affected state and to truly build peace? Can Rotary Clubs have a stake in improving the state of peace in the world in a meaningful way? What are the most effective means for Rotary Peace Fellows, the Rotary Clubs worldwide and Rotary International to join forces in contributing to peace?
Earlier on, I was calling conflict a disease – indeed, I believe that this is a good analogy. Different risk factors cause a country or region to be more prone to the “disease of conflict”. Examples include economic injustice (e.g. expropriation in case of an issue regarding land tenure), limited statehood and state failure in the provision of public goods and services, wealth of natural resources and the frequently observed “resource curse”. Conflict – like a disease – can then take very different courses and may deteriorate, if not treated and stopped.
As most conflicts of the world have an economic dimension, the areas of “business, peace and sustainable development” are immediately intertwined. The landscape of Rotary Clubs comprised of executives and entrepreneurs may add important new perspectives to the understanding of local conflicts and to building sustainable peace. Sustainable peace requires vision for social and economic development as an integral component. The entire cession of hostilities will mostly only be achieved through shared peace dividends to be gained from investments, trade, business and hope at times of stability. A return to conflict and chaos needs to have inhibitive opportunity costs to maintain stable peace.
As a Rotary Peace Fellow, I believe that Rotary International, the network of Rotary Clubs and the Peace Fellows may and shall join forces in effectively addressing the “disease of conflict” considering particularly economic perspectives. What can the Rotary learn from medics in addressing conflict and in building peace?
(1) DIAGNOSIS: Conflict needs to be diagnosed correctly, when it occurs – its root causes, not only its symptoms have to be understood.
(2) PREVENTION: Conflict is less likely to infect a healthy state. Such a peaceful state is delivering to its citizens and allows them to advance and address prosperity.
(3) MONITORING/LEARNING: As during the recovery phase from a severe disease, progress towards peace needs to be monitored. Risks of a renewed outbreak of conflict need to be addressed and lessons learned for the future.
I believe that it is important to emphasize that there is neither a “universal medicine” for healing a disease nor for “healing” conflict. To achieve sustainable peace in a fragile or conflict-affected state, peacebuilding tools do not only need to be customized – rather tailored – in accordance with the local context.
Rotary Peace Fellows may particularly support the diagnosis of the local conflict dynamics and the assessment of the potential for peace. While Rotarians throughout the world are committed to driving development towards peace, the domain of expertise of many Rotarians is the private sector: Rotarians are typically business(wo)men. Hence, Rotary Peace Fellows with overwhelmingly a development sector background will be instrumental in familiarizing Rotarians with the local opportunities and challenges in delivering meaningful programmatic contributions to peace. Rotary Peace Fellows may help systematically map the low-hanging fruits for high-impact initiatives. Furthermore, Rotary Peace Fellows may interconnect Rotarians with local aid and philanthropic initiatives to help form – where appropriate – strategic peacebuilding alliances. The business and managerial understanding of many Rotarians may permit a valid assessment of the commercial viability of local development initiatives for peace.
Rotary International may adopt a strong role in conflict prevention through the local and international promotion of the concept of “Positive Peace”. This concept has been impressively revolutionized by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and its founder Steve Killelea.
Pillars of Positive Peace according to the Institute of Economics and Peace (Source: IEP Positive Peace Report 2018)
The eight pillars of the framework of positive peace may be applied on a national or local level. On a national level, the Positive Peace framework provides guidance and a tool of assessment of the prevalent level of “good governance”. On a local level, Rotary Clubs may drive advancement towards Positive Peace by conceptualizing peace initiatives according to the framework of Positive Peace of IEP. Ideally, Positive Peace initiatives may support charismatic changemakers and peace innovators in conflict-affected or fragile areas, who would not have access to traditional funding.
Monitoring in the case of peacebuilding initiatives is essential, but should remain flexible. Hereby, monitoring may just allow all parties to be signaled strongly, if a peacebuilding initiative is not effective at all or even counterproductive.
Rotary International may equally consider ways to interconnect most active “peacebuilder clubs” internationally and to establish a platform of earning/sharing of best practices in peacebuilding. The different stages of peace and reconciliation processes throughout the world shape the important opportunity for international exchange on effective grassroots and strategic peace initiatives. Local peace initiatives from countries with (relatively) successful peace processes (e.g. Columbia or the Philippines) may be studied elsewhere. Rotary International may provide a platform (e.g. videos, storytelling) for sharing of “innovations” and successes in peacebuilding.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship has been an extremely valuable experience and its organization by the team of the Rotary Peace Center (RPC) at Chulalongkorn University could not have been any better. In particular, I would like to thank Ajarn Vitoon from the RPC and David Newman from the Rotarian Action Group for Peace for inspiring me to apply for this program.
I hope that Rotary International, the Rotary Clubs, the Rotarian Action Group for Peace and other development initiatives under Rotary can collaborate constructively with the cohorts of Rotary Peace Fellows in promoting peace effectively.
Felix Haas – Germany
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 26