Africa: Rebuilding War-Torn Societies

Cover story, Centerpoint, October 2008

Oct 01, 2008

The Woodrow Wilson Center held an awards dinner in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 30, the first ever held on African soil. The well-attended dinner celebrated the extraordinary professional and philanthropic achievements of two leaders, one from government and one from the corporate world. The event also generated great enthusiasm for the efforts of the Center's Africa Program. In fact, proceeds will help fund the Africa Program's activities, including leadership training initiatives, public policy forums, and publications.

Of particular interest to South Africans, however, was the peace-building and conflict transformation work the Africa Program has been undertaking on the continent, often in close cooperation with the South African government. It launched its first such capacity-building initiative in 2002 in Burundi in Central Africa. This Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP) has become a model for rebuilding war-torn societies, overcoming deep-seated ethnic hostility, and spurring post-war economic reconstruction. In 2006, further initiatives were launched in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia to strengthen cohesion among Congolese and Liberian leaders as those nations emerge from years of civil war.

"Our project is on the cutting edge of post-conflict reconstruction efforts," said Africa Program Director Howard Wolpe, a former congressman and presidential special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes Region. "We are increasingly being called upon by governments to consult and manage peace-building initiatives."

Portraits of South African Leaders
At the July 30 fundraising dinner in South Africa, it was noted that both award recipients helped contribute to the economic stability of South Africa after the election of its first post-apartheid government, but also played key roles in the anti-apartheid struggle.

The Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service went to South Africa's Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel, one of the world's longest serving finance ministers, whose leadership revived the nation's economy and thrust it into a leadership role in Africa and the global economy. Manuel was elected to the African National Congress and later to Parliament during the nation's first democratic elections, and then appointed Minister of Trade and Industry by Nelson Mandela in 1994, becoming Finance Minister a year later, a post he still holds today. The National Treasury reported a surplus in 2007 for the first time in the nation's history, largely thanks to Manuel's macroeconomic policy.

The Award for Corporate Citizenship went to Raymond Ackerman, founder and chairman of the largest retail chain in South Africa, who is renowned for his entrepreneurial leadership in breaking workplace racial barriers in the apartheid years and contributing to business recovery in his country, as well as ongoing contributions to education and social welfare for the disadvantaged.

At the dinner, Manuel congratulated Ackerman for a nearly 50-year career in which he "succeeded in changing the face of food retail in South Africa…lowering costs for families but also modernizing a sector of such magnitude." Manuel's first job, ironically, was bagging groceries in a Pick 'n Pay store, the enterprise started by Ackerman.

Reuben September, CEO of Telkom SA Limited, Africa's largest integrated communications company, chaired the dinner. An electrical engineer by training, his approach to business incorporates the principles of entrepreneurial innovation, integrity, and honesty in the workplace.

Leadership Training Initiatives
International funding raised by the Africa Program will support its ongoing training initiatives and will help spur new ones in other divided African societies. The BLTP, the Burundi initiative, continues its work supporting post-war economic, social, and political reconstruction in Burundi. Launched with support from the World Bank and USAID, with supplementary support from the European Commission and the British Department for International Development, the BLTP holds interactive workshops with Burundian leaders from government, the army, former armed rebel groups, and civil society.

Working across traditional lines of ethnic, regional, and political division to forge a cohesive network of leaders, the BLTP helps participants address challenges integral to achieving a durable peace. Participants learn to shift from a zero-sum mindset to one that recognizes interdependence and collaboration. They learn to rebuild trust and relationships that have been fractured by conflict. They strengthen communication and negotiation skills and rebuild a power-sharing consensus. The workshops involve simulations, role-playing, and other interactive exercises designed to strengthen skills in conflict management, group problem-solving, and strategic planning, which are reinforced during follow-up sessions.

The most recent BLTP workshop was conducted during March 2008, and involved a "training of trainers" for the National Army military academy. Since then, the local BLTP office, with funding from the UN Peacebuilding Commission, has facilitated a countrywide "Cadre de dialogue," convening political party leaders at the national and provincial levels for training in collaborative decision-making.

"We have also been engaged in consultations with the government and FNL, the last remaining active rebel group, to work with both parties on reintegrating the FNL into the security and political structures" said Africa Program Consulting Manager Steve McDonald, who added this training is due to get underway shortly. He said further conversations are underway to launch training for a strategic planning unit in the president's office and with the Council of Ministers to create the collaborative capacity to move development and recovery policies forward.

In addition, USAID agreed to fund a scholastic project in conjunction with Burundi's Ministry of Education that would develop a curriculum and teacher training program on peace education and conflict resolution for secondary schools. This project is expected to begin later this year.

Just west of Burundi, more training sessions are occurring in the DRC, a nation of 65 million people, including more than 200 African ethnic groups. Initially designed to help Congolese leaders and civil society groups prepare for their first multi-party elections in 40 years in August 2007, the initiative has continued to grow. Since then, more than 27 training workshops—involving almost 600 leaders from the political class, security branches, and civil society across a range of ethnic and political affiliations—have been conducted in six cities across the country, including in Kinshasa.

This year's focus has been the volatile Eastern Congo. From January through July, the Africa Program, through its local officer, the ILCCE, has conducted 13 training events. The workshops began barely a week after the Goma Peace Conference in late January. Many of these leaders, including almost all of the warring parties of Eastern DRC as of January 2008, had just signed the Goma Act of Engagement days earlier, and faced common concerns and grievances.

Quite a few participants from the Goma Peace Conference had previously gone through ILCCE training workshops and had come to grips with the three main issues dominating the workshops ILCCE would hold in the aftermath of the signing: lack of security; no central government authority or rule of law; and an overwhelming mistrust among all sectors of the Eastern DRC. During the workshop, many participants acknowledged openly that fear, rather than hostility or hegemonic ambitions, drove the local wars and unusual military alliances that prevail in the East. Other workshops held this year involved military elements, provincial authorities, civil society actors, and dissident officers.

This year, the Africa Program will resume workshops in Liberia, with support from the UN Development Program and USAID, and has designed a program for East Timor, sponsored by the World Bank. In addition, the Africa Program is considering launching two new initiatives in Togo and Cote D'Ivoire. Meanwhile, Howard Wolpe has helped organize a private working group on the Niger Delta, where endemic violence has disrupted oil production. The group is consulting with the United Nations and State Department to look at employing the Africa Program's conflict transformation model in the region. This model is also being explored for other African countries.

The awards dinner in South Africa had a double impact. In recognizing Manuel and Ackerman, it raised international awareness of the remarkable South African transition and engendered deserved pride in South Africans determined to continue to manage their state and economy effectively. And, it provided important financial support for strategies that contribute to conflict resolution around the African continent and to greater understanding of Africa among U.S. policymakers and the general public.

Experts & Staff