The Role of the Individual in Conflict: Views from Lebanon, Rwanda, and Liberia
The past few weeks have seen an upsurge of events at IREX examining conflict from the perspective of youth engagement, conflict prevention, and women's involvement. Peter Salloum, IREX Program Director in Lebanon, spoke about our programs involving youth; Eugene Gatari, Program Director of the Rwanda Youth for Change project, spoke about conflict prevention in post-genocide Rwanda; and Cerue Garlo, Program Officer in Liberia, joined a panel to discuss Women Building Peace.
Rather than rehash the events, I'd rather talk about commonalities. In each event, the speakers brought up the role of the individual in exacerbating violence or promoting peace. In Rwanda, much of the violence during the genocide came out of personal grudges and long-standing disputes - that the national atmosphere of hatred legitimized. On the flip side, the panelists at the Women Building Peace event all spoke about the ability of women in grassroots communities to change the tone of dialogue and negotiations. Individual youth in communities in Lebanon have developed projects to improve their communities and increase communication between conflicting groups.
When I was in undergrad, I wrote a paper for an International Relations class arguing that the Camp David peace negotiations in 2000 fell apart because of personal conflicts and differing intentions among the major negotiators. The professor dismissed it as being an impossible theory: major events are shaped by groups, religions, ethnicities, not by individual people. Yet more and more, I feel like we can talk about conflict as a aggregation of individual slights or acts of heroism. So, to bring this back to a "what's next" question: can we empower enough individuals to flip the tone back to peace? Does looking at a conflict as a group of individuals with individual grievances make prevention or resolution any easier?
Katie Sheketoff is a Program Officer at IREX.