Supporting Local Leaders Working for Peace and Democracy in a Conflicted World: The Living Legacy of Raymond Shonholtz and Howard Wolpe

April 10, 2012 // 9:00am10:30am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity
Podcast (Audio-only): 
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The Legacy of Howard Wolpe: Leadership Engagement and the Burundian Case

“The key to sustainable peace, in Howard’s mind, lay in what people do the day after the peace treaty is signed and long before you begin to lay a competitive Western-style democratic template over a society.” Steve McDonald, Director of the Wilson Center’s Africa Program and a longtime collaborator of Howard Wolpe, spoke of his colleague’s passion and how his work demonstrated that “people were the key to resolving a conflict, not institutions or regulatory penal systems, or sanctions, or military intervention, or power politics.” Wolpe believed that the causes of a conflict could be addressed  “only by engaging the human element and transforming the way in which leaders think about each other and their relationship to their society.” In so doing, leadership in a divided society can overcome their differences and address the core causes of the conflict if they understand their interdependence

Wolpe’s approach to country specific situations, like 2002 Burundi,  “was met with cynicism” because it was considered too idealistic. He was concerned that the Arusha Peace Agreement’s imposed  transition had not  gotten the buy-in and commitment of all the key antagonists to the conflict, which had resulted in a return to conflict. Wolpe thought that direct engagement with the leadership to build  trust and communications was essential to successfully resolving the conflict. He consulted conflict resolution professionals to develop a model to engage key rebel group, military, government and civil society leaders and foster their mutual trust and cooperation.

McDonald and Wolpe knew that the “buy-in” of the Burundians was crucial in assuring the program’s success. In their initial meetings with local leaders, their suppositions regarding the “lack of trust and bias” among groups were confirmed. They asked all the leaders of parties, government, rebel groups, the army, and civil society to name for them the  people who “were essential to the recovery of the nation and sustaining the peace.”  From the responses, they compiled a comprehensive list of  key actors to include in the peace building process. “Time has proven [McDonald and Wolpe] right,” since “in the end it is the people, not power” and the ability of the “protagonists in the process” to build trust, negotiate, and cooperate that will make peace sustainable.

Raymond Shonholtz’s Lasting Impact on Conflict Resolution

Julia Roig, President, Partners for Democratic Change (PDC), spoke of Raymond Shonholtz’s legacy and how his work impacted the goals of  the organization. In 1989, Shonholtz founded PDC and as “a leader in the field of conflict resolution,” used the group to explore how an entrepreneurial approach to conflict mediation could be effective internationally.

Capacity building is contingent upon structures that enable dialogue between leadership factions in conflict-ridden countries. Shonholtz integrated the concept of multilateralism into PDC’s structure through the creation of “a global platform” from which leadership can effectively resolve conflict. As such, Roig continued, “[PDC] quickly became an organization that built [other] organizations and what that meant is that the leaders that [we were] looking to support needed to have an entrepreneurial spirit.” This approach demonstrated the importance of local leadership’s participation in the policy-making process by proving that sustainable conflict resolution is possible only when leaders are involved in its formation and implementation.

According to Roig, the “biggest challenges that face U.S.-based organizations” are finding the right partners to “connect with and invest in,” and promoting a sense of ownership among the leaders. Similar to McDonald, Roig highlighted the  importance of identification of “who needs to be at the table,” during peacetalks as “the concept of sustainability needs to be incorporated from day one.”

Wolpe, Shonholtz, and the “Human Element”

Andrea Bartoli of George Mason University, asserted that “[Wolpe and Shonholtz] were masters at this attentive, intelligent, and reasonable interactivity,” which is essential to conflict resolution. Reasonable interactivity is synonymous with relational responsibility or “this sense that there is something in our relating to others that affects the quality of the politics emerging,” said Bartoli. The human element is key because “the same people that make peace are the ones that make war, the ones that can destabilize are the ones that heal the others.” By recognizing this, development professionals are better equipped to engage internationally and accept the “inherent responsibility” of being global citizens in a world where liberty is at stake. 

Neil Levine of USAID, focused on the applicability of Wolpe and Shonholtz’s work to institutions. Contemporary conflict-resolution frameworks have sought to incorporate leadership on every institutional level of the peace-building process. Cognizance of how conflict resolution, nation building, and development  interconnect is inexorable. The goal of development in these countries should be “building spaces within societies where it is safe for people to come together.” This can can only be achieved if the human and institutional elements are reconciled.

The work of Howard Wolpe and Raymond Shonholtz has proven to be of great value in resolving conflict and building sustainable peace. Their emphasis on people and their inherent connection to democracy is seen across the discipline. Professionals and academics recognize their legacies as innovators and their contributions to the field.



6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Event Speakers List: 
  • President, Partners for Democratic Change
  • Director, Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Steve McDonald // Public Policy Scholar
    Former Director, Africa Program, Woodrow Wilson Center.
  • Dean, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution George Mason University
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