by Séverine Autesserre
Ms. Autesserre has served around the world in organizations supporting peace efforts. She shares her own experiences and failures in highlighting those efforts that have successfully decreased violence and how those successful efforts often employ methods at odds with the standard NPO strategies.
The very concept of work at the grassroots to address tensions that may affect only a few hundred people (but are connected to broader conflicts) was utterly foreign to them. So was the idea that the individuals most affected by violence--and not outsiders--should figure out what it would take for them to feel safe and how they can achieve this goal. (p. 8)
The successful projects are those that move slowly, include all local voices, and do not impose expectations or restrictions. These grassroots efforts should not replace traditional top-down negotiations and strategies; they should work in concert. To support her assertions, Ms. Autesserre provides a kind of portfolio of these successful projects in places like Democratic Republic of Congo and Somaliland.
Contrary to what most politicians preach, building peace doesn't required billions in aid or massive international interventions. Real, lasting peace requires giving power to ordinary citizens. (pp. 18-19)
Ms. Autesserre doesn't claim such a response is easy or without its own complications. For example, sometimes local responses withhold full rights from women or minorities. The author is writing from a modern political viewpoint that includes rights for actions or groups in ways Catholics may not support, but this difference in opinion does not detract from her argument. When an organization provides financial and bureaucratic support to people, it is difficult to allow them to make decisions that conflict with the principles of funders. Yet, this is exactly what Ms. Autesserre says best supports lasting peace.
The people who have to live with the consequences of a decision should be the ones making it.
This simple principle provides a moral compass for the dilemma that regularly haunts on-the-ground interveners: How can they possibly choose between, let's say, peace and democracy in Congo, or peace and women's equality in Somaliland? My answer: Let their intended beneficiaries decide, even if the result is unpopular, unfashionable, and uncomfortable, and even if it turns off some well-intended donors. (p. 163)
I find myself again thinking about Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate. This encyclical doesn't provide any easy answers, but asks that we allow those who are suffering to talk while we listen, and that we support them in providing their own answers to the problems they face. If I remember correctly, it's focus is the poor and marginalized (who are certainly those who suffer the most in conflict zones), but I believe its precepts could be useful in addressing war-torn regions of the world.
Chapter 7 provides some thoughtful insights into how these same grassroots methods have been applied successfully in the most dangerous areas of American cities. I found it useful, if a little uncomfortable, to see how listening and allowing local participants to shape their own solutions could be better employed in our own country.
This book is an excellent look at successful programs around the world. I'm seriously considering adding it to a modern government course I'm rolling around in my head for twelfth grade. Modern governments are inter-related through trade, commerce, and charitable programming with countries all over the world. Understanding how our actions and decisions promote peace in other countries is an important part of our democratic responsibility.
I have received nothing in exchange for this post. Links to Amazon and Bookshop are affiliate links. I checked this book out from the library.