What role does culture play in conflict prevention and transformation? And how do cultural activities contribute to cohesion building within communities? Creative Exchange has started exploring these issues with a new initiative - Culture and Conflict Transformation in Burundi.
Creative Exchange advocates that development needs to work with culture in a holistic way: as a social environment which conditions values, beliefs and behaviours; as cultural resources, such as heritage, clothing, social hierarchies; and as 'artistic and media' projects which offer opportunities for expression, advocacy and solution-building.
In Burundi our five partners are community-based organisations using cultural projects as part of conflict resolution and peacebuilding with some of the poorest and most excluded – women, children, youth, and marginalised ethnic groups.
The project explored some of the wider cultural issues in Burund, such as: the value of Mutual Aid – the sharing of food and beer; tradition, language, ritual; social structures such as the Bashingantahe – groups of usually male elders which have played a key role in social cohesion and conflict management. It also looked at negative cultural features which may contribute to conflict.
In this wider context, cultural projects were seen to contribute to promoting resolution of disputes without resource to violence by: serving as a 'protected space' for exploring issues; as a means of building inter-ethnic dialogue; encouraging the community to engage in problem solving; mutual support and healing; a communications channel to give a voice to the voiceless.
Sadly, culture rarely figures in conflict analysis and strategies for prevention. This work, we hope, will start to expose the weakness of that position. In fragile states with deep inequality and poverty, the need for a holistic cultural approach exploring the cultural history and context, and drawing on local cultural resources and expertise, appears to be a strategically necessary part of building peace.
The full report on this project, authored by conflict specialist Judy El Bushra, and case studies of all the partner projects will be available on the Creative Exchange website in early 2008: http://www.creativexchange.org
Helen Gould is a network and research coordinator for the British organisation Creative Exchange.