Dee Aker, is the Advisor for Strategic Peacebuilding, Joan B Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, USA. She met The Himalayan Times Perspectives to discuss the potential for Strategic Peacebuilding for economic prosperity in the context of Nepal. Excerpts:

In 2001 you established Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative. Tell us about that and your work in Nepal.

Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative was created as a part of the leadership of Joan B Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ). Women PeaceMakers Programme, the WorldLink Programme, which connects youth to global affairs were also created in 2000. When we assessed conflict in other countries and Nepal, we witnessed intense violence surfaced in Nepal during the decade long civil war. Thousands of people lost their lives in the conflict and the Royal massacre also took place in 2001. We were requested to visit and come back to Nepal to provide skills on negotiationand mediation.

I first visited Nepal in 1974 and I had also come just a month before the massacre in 2001. We have continued to work here since the civil war; this is my 39th visit to Nepal. The magic of Nepal is so seductive and the people are so fine. Despite the challenges people in Nepal are not frustrated and that vibe drives me. I travel a lot and I find the beauty and charm of this country very unique and this keeps us engaged.

What kind of impact has your initiatives had on the political and business environment of Nepal?

Our intention is to engage civil society with the leadership and come up with solutions. We have been here throughout the conflict and we have been quite successful in bringing the political parties together for negotiations and the peacebuilding process. We have analysed this complex process; underlying culture, histories and root causes. Further, we have also trained various groups of journalists, business people, women and organisations.

There is a glass ceiling in this country not only for women but also for young people. However, in these 15 years I have witnessed that glass ceiling breaking down. Many amazing young leaders have emerged who have infused new ideas which is a positive step.

Businesses cannot flourish in conflict. For instance, during the conflict in the country last year, almost all businesses and factories closed down in Nepal. Our role comes here, to bring people together who are working in isolation and find out what works out at the time of conflict. Peacebuilding requires capacity and relationship building at multiple levels. Peace and stability are pre-requisites for operation of any enterprise. Businesses cannot operate in isolation and there is no solution in creating a wall. The solution is in finding a common ground and reaping mutual benefits.

How challenging is it to bring influential leaders and the civil society to a single place for negotiations and discussions?

Yes it is a challenging task. However, if you have partners who are working on the ground and really care about the country and who are not just in it for self aggrandisement then it is not that difficult. I have worked in various countries and I have had access to the right people. Being a former journalist I had important contacts and that has helped me.

What are the main activities that you have been involved with in as a conflict resolution professional? What type of workshops do you conduct in Nepal?

I have worked across the globe in countries like Uganda, Colombia, Kenya, England and the US to support the inclusion of the voices of women, youth and other marginalised communities, in discussions and decisions related to conflict resolution and sustainable peace — including designing and leading participatory trainings/workshops in communications, negotiations, skills-building and leadership.

We have been invited to do workshops with various groups. In this process, we have partnered with local organisations and trained former combatants and women at all levels, right from uneducated women to women at top levels. Before attending these workshops the participants would look at the senior most people at the room before speaking. Gradually, after attending the workshops they are now confident, have a sense of self and understand that everyone has the freedom of speech. Women who had never ventured out of their homes now own their businesses and are involved with various organisations.

As a psychological anthropologist and conflict resolution professional, what do you think is the prevailing conflict in

Nepal?

The major challenge that I see as a professional in peacebuilding and conflict transformation is that marginalised people’s voices are not heard. It is difficult to meet everybody’s needs however a point of agreement can be reached where majority of the needs can be addressed. We have listened to their issues and even if we can’t fix it, we have tried to find people who can find solutions. There is no one solution to cope up with such complex challenges of conflict. However, I believe it is absolutely essential to understand and listen to the voices that are not heard and the press has to take a proactive role in doing so. Negotiation and strategic peacebuilding it crucial to cope up with emerging challenges of conflict as it cannot take place in isolation.

What is strategic peacebuilding in the context of Nepal?

Real strategic peace building is a process that is complex and has multiple actors in the context of Nepal. It is beyond conflict transformation, heals trauma, promotes justice and builds relationship at multiple levels. It creates spaces where people interact in new ways, expanding experience and honing new means of communication. Moreover, it requires values, goals, commitment to human rights and needs. Further it cannot ignore structural forms of injustice and violence. Founded on an ethic of interdependence, partnership and limiting violence, peacebuilding depends on relational skills.

Peacebuiling agreements cannot last if people are not involved. Peace happens from within. The whole community has to get involved to bring long lasting change and economic prosperity.