A professor and writer finds ways for peacebuilding
Conflict negotiator and writer John Paul Lederach has spent decades seeking new paths to peacebuilding.
(Jim Z. Rider/Special to the Christian Science Monitor)
When John Paul Lederach was a student looking for a college that offered peace studies, he found only a handful of programs in the
Today, almost 100 US graduate schools and dozens of undergraduate colleges offer degrees or certificates in conflict resolution and peace studies. And Dr. Lederach's writings now are a frequent part of the study of peacemaking.
Some of Lederach's ideas draw on his views as a Mennonite Christian and an academic, first at
Yet much of his perspective is based on his experiences as a mediator and trainer of peace workers in more than 25 countries, places of conflict where Lederach has tried to help people resolve their differences without violence – despite decades of unrest, injustice, or war.
He has pursued his career – peace building – with unchanging inspiration. "[This work] is the only thing I've ever done," he says.
He works with people "who have taken extraordinary risks and have suffered the consequences of violent situations," he says. But they also have kept their hope that they can defeat "violence in a nonviolent way," he says.
Lederach's first peace-building experience came in Nicaragua in the 1980s, when he helped mediate between the Sandinista government and a local movement on the country's east coast.
Since then, he's worked both with villagers caught in local rebellions and high-level government officials.
In the 1990s he served as a consultant to churches and peace groups in the
When Lederach himself isn't on hand to resolve a conflict, his influential writings often are there to represent him, sometimes at historic moments.
Wachira's group involved the news media in calls for peace and consulted with Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, who finally brokered a power-sharing deal between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
"John Paul's ideas are about providing space and connecting, recognizing opportunities, all guided by a broad, yet clear, picture of where you want things to go," Wachira says. "These elements were directly present in our work during the postelection crisis in
In February, Lederach visited
In March he traveled to
The possible long-term consequences of violence must be conveyed to people on all sides of a dispute despite differences in language, faith, ethnicity, or politics. "Because of his rich practical experience in many conflict settings and peace-building processes, John Paul is firmly rooted in both practice and theory," Wachira says. "His ability to commute seamlessly between these two worlds serves him well."
Lederach grew up in
"He is a very modest guy, but I've encountered Lederach's writings in academic programs in Central America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East," says Brian Polkinghorn, executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution at
Why humans fight is a complex topic and no one definition of peacemaking has emerged.
One thing Lederach has noticed is that societies often expect concrete results – a treaty signed or brutality forgiven – far sooner than is practical. "Quite often, the view of what can be accomplished is on far too short a time frame, by my view," Lederach says. Conflicts that have been going on a decade or a generation may take decades to resolve, he says.
In 2003, he began working in
Lederach has developed his emphasis on long-term resolutions in places with deep historical disputes, such as Somalia, Northern Ireland, and the Basque region of
"John Paul examines any given conflict through a lens that allows us to ask: How do we address the torn or absent relationships caused by this conflict? If you ignore the human cost and suffering caused by cycles of deadly violence, they will continue to recur," says Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame.
Lederach concedes that some groups are skeptical that nonviolent means will satisfy them. And victims can be frustrated if their former attackers are not held accountable for their acts. Rebel groups often believe that the only path to legitimacy is armed violence.
"You can be criticized on one side as being too lenient with armed groups, and you can be criticized by armed groups of having too much of an idealistic viewpoint," Lederach says.
"I say it may be idealistic, but peace is the most significant thing that we as a human community have to find a way to create."
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs