By John Paul Lederach*

We were seated in a small room, about fourteen of us. Some were under the bunks that lined three walls, some on the top beds with their feet dangling. It was our second, maybe third visit to the room. I remembered our first visit for the defining question that faced our little envoy of mediators and peaceniks. ‘Before you start,’ they had said, ‘we just want to know one thing. What makes you think that violence doesn’t work?’

Before we could answer they went on to recount a recent conflict where negotiations had failed, mediation was rejected, but violence brought change. The story served to reinforce a message driven deep into their psyche and experience from childhood up and that had brought them eventually to this room: Only the strong survive. But on this visit it was our turn. We asked what they thought about the just signed peace agreements.

The words of the leader, taking a deep breath, still seem to resonate in my head. ‘I fear peace,’ he said, ‘cause at the end of the day I know I’ll be back in this prison visitn’ me children’s children.’ Honest, heartfelt words from the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.

We were standing on a dirt playground outside an old school building where a tense meeting had taken place. It had been nearly six years since the end of the Nicaraguan war that raged during much of the 1980’s. The gathering had brought together former enemies, foot soldiers and their families who had fought for either the Counterrevolution or the Sandinista Government. Driven mostly by their immediate survival needs these former fighters from both sides were engaged in a process of reconciliation and had formed a national network of veterans who were receiving training in mediation, peace-building and micro-enterprise development. At the end of the meeting one of the vets approached the lead facilitator and I overheard him say, ‘I need $10.’ ‘Why,’ she asked. ‘My sister, she runs around at night screaming like a monkey. She tears at her stomach and says she wants the monkey out.’ He fell silent for a moment. ‘We went to the Doctors but they say there is nothing to stop the monkey. But, there is a brujo’ he stopped in mid-sentence. ‘You think the witchdoctor will help?’ she went on. I can still remember him looking at his hands, rough from daily work in the fields. These powerful hands carried guns in the war that created the monkey in his sister’s belly. But now six years after the war they were empty. ‘It’s all we know to do,’ he said.

As a mediator and teacher many of my tools rely on words. Sometimes, as I found in these two real-life moments and conversations, it only takes a few words in a story to summarize complex aspects of Truth. Both the stories relate to the theme of this book: Peacebuilding and Reconciliation. Both raise questions about the nature and meaning of peace. These questions are not raised as insights from sophisticated observers or theoreticians, nor from the rhetoric of politicians or even the most dedicated nonviolent strategist. No, the questions emerge from the lives of common people, protagonists in the swirl of war and the effects of violence. Their questions are simple. What change will peace bring us? What is to be expected from this peace?

As I look back across 20 years of working for nonviolence, conflict transformation, and reconciliation and as I reflect on the recent decades of peace accords two things stand out. First, objective assessment suggests there are significant gaps in our capacity to build and sustain peace initiatives. Second, direct interaction with these processes provokes contagious hope.

The hope is rooted in the resiliency of people like the two mentioned above, who, in spite of decades of obstacles and violence, keep taking steps toward peaceful coexistence with their enemies. Hope is rooted in the fact that the second half of the 20th Century, though rife with violent conflict, engendered the most prolific advancement of nonviolent conflict transformation activities systematically known in human history setting the stage for a potential singularity of peace-building in the 21st Century. The gaps emerge from a reductionism focused on techniques driven by a need to find quick fixes and solutions to complex, long term problems rather than a systemic understanding of peace-building as a process-structure. In this short chapter I will suggest that we must do two things to address this challenge. We must identify several key gaps that emerge from recent peace-building experiences and we must develop an adequate language appropriate to the hopes we hold.

Three Gaps in Peacebuilding

As a starting point I find the most significant challenges to peace-building in the 21st Century emerge from three gaps. By gap I mean an inability or insufficiency in our conceptual and practice frameworks that weaken our capacity to sustain a desired process. The three I will explore are the interdependence, the justice and the process-structure gaps. Given the brevity of this chapter I will limit myself to summary observations about each aspect and the needs that they suggest.

The Interdependence Gap

The Observation
Interdependence is built on relationships and relationships are the heart and bloodlines of peace-building. In peace-building there are many forms of interdependence. Most recognized is the idea that we build new or rebuild broken relationships across the lines of divisions created through and by the conflict. Using a pyramid to describe a setting affected by violent conflict I refer to this as horizontal capacity. the effort to work with counterparts, enemies, across the lines of division (See Figure 1). Most peace-building work, particularly in the sub-field of conflict resolution, has been aimed at improving aspects of relationships through negotiation, dialogue, and mediation by getting counterparts to meet with each other. However, if we ask the question ‘who meets each other to develop relationships?’ we find this answer: people who are at a relative equal status within the context of the conflict. Community people meet community people, mid-range leaders encounter each other, and of course, top level political leaders in the limelight sit across negotiation tables. In other words, the emphasis of dialogue has fostered horizontal relationships.


Figure 1: Actors and Peacebuilding Foci

The most significant gap of interdependence we face is rooted in the lack of responsive and coordinated relationships up and down the levels of leadership in a society affected by protracted violent conflict. This is what I have referred to as the vertical capacity: the ability to develop relationships of respect and understanding between higher levels of leadership with community and grassroots levels of leadership, and vice versa. To put it simply, high, middle-range and grassroots levels of leadership rarely see themselves as interdependent with the other levels in reference to peace-building until they discover they need them, usually when the process is under enormous stress and time constraints. If pursued the resulting relationship suffers manipulation or instrumentalist superficiality.

Correspondingly, we are hampered in our ability to create and sustain vertical and horizontal integration strategically necessary for implementing the kind of long-term peace-building we hope to put in place. The challenge of horizontal capacity is how to foster constructive understanding and dialogue across the lines of division in a society. The challenge of the vertical capacity is how to develop genuine recognition that peace-building involves multiple activities at different levels of leadership, taking place simultaneously, each level distinct in its needs and interdependent in effects. Strategic change in a system requires that horizontal and vertical relationships move in tandem on an equal basis. In far too many places and times vertical capacity has been weak. What one level of peace-building undertook was rarely understood by, much less conceived and conducted in a way that significantly involved other levels of the affected society. Yet all levels, at one time or another, are affected by and must coordinate their activities with each other.

In sum, the interdependence gap suggests that sustainability of peace-building require both horizontal and vertical relationship building and coordination. In conceptual and practical terms, the field of peace-building has concentrated more of its resources and capacity-building on the horizontal ignoring the vertical axis, leaving significant insufficiencies in the structure of the peace process to be sustained.

The Need
To address the interdependence gap we must find ways to:

• Increase the recognition that peace-building is an organic system that requires relationships and coordination of multiple activities, multiple roles, at multiple levels. No one activity and no one level will be able to deliver and sustain peace on its own.

• Increase the mutual understanding by each level of the particular approaches and activities required at the others. The orientation is toward awareness of the unique contribution each brings in order to build relationships of respect, provide greater points of coordination, and decrease the competitiveness of activity and control structures devised to protect turf but which ultimately limit the capacity of change and integration in the system.

• Build relationships before, during and after formal Accords reach ink, between people who are not like-minded, like-focused, and like-situated within the structure of the society. We need to bring an equal emphasis on vertical relationship building as we do to horizontal relationship building.

The Justice Gap

The Observation
Most people involved in protracted conflicts expect peace processes will provide changes both in stopping the direct violence and in addressing the structural issues they feel gave rise to the conflict in the first place. Particularly for settings of internal violent conflict, the latter will almost always require a systemic transformation of relationships in the affected society’s political, economic and social policies and ethos. In the past fifteen years peace processes have delivered a reduction of direct violence but have rarely attained the aspirations of desired structural change. Thus, there persists a deep felt perception in many peoples’ minds that to reduce violence peace compromises social justice. Let us explore this a bit more.

An expansive time view of any one of the most significant internal wars and their peace accord processes in the past couple of decades suggest an interesting paradox. It starts by the overall progression of conflict and its escalation to war, then negotiations and peace accords. First, situations move from latent status into open conflict and direct violence when people feel there is a significant issue of justice and human or group rights that must change and in which there exist few if any other avenues for achieving due recourse. People who take up direct violence are trying to address the perceived injustice or what Galtung called ‘structural violence,’ that is, they are trying to achieve systemic changes in the underlying economic, cultural, social, and political structures as those are perceived to detrimentally affect their lives.

As the conflict escalates there comes a time where the choice of means, war and socially sanctioned violence, for pursuing or defending against particular changes reaches a saturation point, or an exhaustion level. Mary Anderson suggests it is when people realize the ‘system of violence’ has become more oppressive than the initial injustice. In other words direct violence added onto the existing latent structural violence creates a situation in which everyone perceives themselves as oppressed and worst off than they were before. People then begin the process of re-evaluating their goals and methodologies, and they move toward negotiation and redefining their relationship. In the graph I depicted this as two separate lines, direct and structural violence which criss-cross each other over time.

In the past fifteen years these negotiations have resulted in a series of peace accords. A peace accord means that the direct violence line drops significantly, that is, the fighting stops. However, people expect the accords to address the fundamental issues that gave rise to the fighting, the structural violence, and that solutions will be produced on the same timeline as the diminishing curve of direct violence. This rarely, if ever has been the case. It results in what I call the ‘justice gap.’ The war is over, formal negotiations concluded, and changes have come usually in terms of increased space for political participation. However the expectations for social, economic, religious, and cultural change are rarely achieved, creating a gap between the expectations for peace and what it delivered.

The significance of the justice gap in the context of the challenges we face in the 21st Century is to ask ourselves the question where has most peace-building practice, theory, and funding been invested in reference to the overall progression described above? My observation: Much greater investment has been expended in the study and development of methodologies and practice for reducing direct violence than in transforming structural violence. We have focused our lenses more on negotiation and peace accord fashioning between groups and their representatives than in understanding the processes of structural change. The justice gap emerges in part because we have not adequately developed a peace-building framework that reduces direct violence and produces social and economic justice.

To address the justice gap we must find ways to:

• Increase the capacity of peace-building practitioners, both governmental and nongovernmental to integrate social justice building with direct violence reducing processes, two highly interdependent energies and foci, that are rarely held together at the same time.

• Broaden the understanding of peace-building to integrate the fields of conflict transformation, restorative justice, and socio-economic development. In most post-Accord settings these have shown themselves to be highly interdependent perspectives, practices and skills yet are rarely conceptualized or practised together.

• Reorient our investment (funding, research, and practice) such that we are not negotiation-centric at the expense of developing practices and frameworks for understanding how to create and sustain collaborative, nonviolent processes of structural change.

The Process-Structure Gap

The Observation
Peace Accords are often seen as a culminating point of a peace process. In the language of governments and the military the Accords are referred to as an end-game scenario. We fall prey to this thinking when we see the Accords as the way the war ended. In reality the Accords are nothing more than opening a door into a whole new labyrinth of rooms that invite us to continue in the process of redefining our relationships.

This is one reason I have preferred the words conflict transformation over conflict resolution. Resolution lends itself to a metaphor that suggests our goal is to end something not desired. Transformation insinuates that something not desired is changing, taking new form. When we add conflict transformation to peace-building we push the metaphor further. We embrace the challenge to change that which torn us apart and building something we desire. This focus on language pushes us to reconsider the idea of a ‘peace process.’ Process paints the image that peace is dynamic and ongoing. On the other hand I often hear people ask the question, ‘How will the peace be sustained?’ This question assumes a metaphor of peace as a product. In both instances our language fails us.

In recent years I have turned to theoreticians in what is sometimes called the New Science and found they encountered similar challenges. This approach includes quantum physics, chaos theory, self-organizing systems theory among others. For me two things stand out in their development. First, they had to shift out of old modalities of thinking in order to enter into totally new ways of looking at old realities. As Einstein was supposed to have said, no problem can be solved with the same consciousness that created it. Second, they had to develop new, or as the case demanded, retool old language to adequately describe the realities. One of their terms was a process-structure, a concept used to describe phenomena in nature that are, at the same time, process and structure. I have found this notion especially relevant to peace-building.

When we think of peace as a process we inevitably fall prey to critique that it is an endless dynamic that leads to no substantive outcome. When we envision peace as a result we fall into the trap that it is an end-state, only to discover that is neither an ‘end’ nor a ‘state’ and that if we treat it as such our desire to preserve or control it destroy its very essence. I believe that our language has limited our capacity to adequately describe the phenomenon we wish to understand and to the degree possible encourage. It has created a paradoxical hiatus reflected both in our theory and practice, the process-structure gap. Peace is neither a process nor a structure. It is both. Peacebuilding requires us to work at constructing an infrastructure to support a process of desired change, and change is permanent.

I use the metaphor of a river to illustrate this. A river is one of the phenomena the New Science calls a process-structure. When you stand up to your knees in a river what you see, feel and hear is the dynamic flow of water. It rushes around your legs with force and power, changing like the essence of water itself to get around any obstacle put in its way. On the other hand if you stand high on a mountain, or position yourself at a window of an airplane and look down at the river from a long distance what you see is the shape and form it has carved in the land. From a distance it looks static. You see it as a structure not a dynamic process. This is a process-structure. A river is dynamic, adaptive and changing while at the same time carving a structure with direction and purpose.

This is the challenge we face with peace-building. We must engender an adaptive, dynamic and responsive change process. At the same time the very process of change must have purpose and infrastructure to support its flow. In practice we have tended to think about peace as a process up to the point of the Accords, then suddenly, things should translate into structure, too often in purely bureaucratic terms. To conceptualize peace as process-structure moves us away from a myopic focus on agreements and events and toward a commitment of embracing the permanency of relationship building. Relationships are both dynamic and adaptive, yet they also take social, political forms that require accountability, vigilance, and willingness to change. We know this is inherently true of intimate personal relationships. We have been woefully insufficient in conceptualizing social, organizational, political and economic structures as responsive to relational needs and changing environments. When relationship becomes the centre what remains permanent is not a given form but the capacity to encounter and adapt, both of which are processes learned and relearned through conflict addressed constructively.

The Need
To address the process-structure gap we must find ways to:

• Understand peace as a change process based on relationship building.

• Reorient our peace-building framework toward the development of support infrastructures that enhance our capacity to adapt and respond to relational needs rather than being defined and driven by events and agreements.

• Reconceive long-term peace structures such that they reflect the inherent responsiveness often present in periods of active negotiation and avoid the trappings of isolating ‘peace’ functions in bureaucracies implementing time-bound mandates with little capacity to adapt and change to on-the-ground real-life needs.


The above discussion suggests we should adapt systemic and paradox-based lenses for understanding, responding to and developing the change processes for we wish to put in motion. I believe this must be reflected in our language. As a conclusion let me put forward a modest proposal and challenge that require a shift in practice and language.

At the writing of this chapter I find myself halfway through my fifth decade. If given the grace I may live to see the halfway point of the 21st Century. The year will be 2050, a decade when the last of my generation will pass the torch to our great-grandchildren. A decade when my friend in the Maze feared he would return as an old man to visit his great-grandson. What do we hope can be in place by the mid-point of the next Century?

Inspired by colleagues from the Justapaz Centre in Bogota, Colombia, I propose that by the year 2050 the word justpeace be accepted in everyday common language and appear as an entry in the Webster’s Dictionary. It will read:

Justpeace \ jest pés \ n, vi, (justpeace-building) 1: an adaptive process-structure of human relationships characterized by high justice and low violence 2: an infrastructure of organization or governance that responds to human conflict through nonviolent means as first and last resorts 3: a view of systems as responsive to the permanency and interdependence of relationships and change.

* John Paul Lederach is Professor of Sociology and Conflict Studies in the Conflict Transformation Program at the Eastern Mennonite University, USA. He served as Director of the program and the Institute for Peacebuilding from their founding in 1993 until mid-1997. Dr. Lederach has extensive experience as a peace-building practitioner, trainer, and consultant throughout Latin America, Africa and the United States, as well as in the Philippines, Northern Ireland, the Basque Country, among other locations. He has pioneered elicitive methods of conflict resolution training and practice, and is a widely published theorist in both Spanish and English. This article is based on his forthcoming publication ‘Justpeace 2050’.