How To Attain Reconciliation and Recovery After War

Christiana Jolaoso
6 min readFeb 26, 2024

--

While we can use ‘reconciliation’ in various contexts, here, it’s about a post-conflict situation, typically a protracted and sustained conflict. Picture the aftermath of a war or the end of a brutal dictatorship, where a new dispensation has begun, and a new regime struggles to reconstruct the broken society left behind. In this context, reconciliation is about repairing the relationship between the warring factions.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes reconciliation as “the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement.” As the United States Institute of Peace describes, “Reconciliation encompasses truth-telling, sharing of historical narratives, or dialogue to transform relations among groups affected by conflict and rebuild trust between the state and citizens so that former enemies can envision and realize a shared future.”

Nobody likes war, well, except those who profit from it. Why? War is devastating in a myriad of ways. It destroys lives and properties, stunts economic growth, and leaves lasting scars between the warring factions for generations to come. That means that the festered enmity from a previous war can contribute to the breakout of more wars. Hence, the importance of restoring stability and cordiality after war. As we shall soon see, reconciliation not only serves to prevent war but ensures reparations are made, that retributive justice is meted out, and that victims can heal from the pangs of war.

The Process of Reconciliation

Reconciliation is a long-term endeavor, progressing in tiny trickles over a long period. It includes the search for truth, justice, forgiveness, and healing. Yet, it’s seldom conclusively successful. In fact, in many instances, the parties that need to be reconciled hardly return to their pre-war relationship.

But reconciliation is not about restoring the love lost between parties. It seeks to ensure that both parties can effectively coexist for the collective good. Despite how slow and painstaking the process may be, it is a rewarding endeavor that can restore stability and ensure such a conflict is not reprised in the future. It is, in essence, an effort to consolidate peace. The best safeguard against a return to violent division starts from understanding the habits and patterns of cooperation that form the fabric of our interdependence.

So, what does this slow, painstaking process entail? United States Institute of Peace recommends that instead of presenting idealized notions of reconciliation, we should pursue concrete reconciliation processes that succeed in reforming relationships at various related levels of the community. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an all-encompassing concept of reconciliation in this manner can be pursued in three major stages, as succinctly highlighted below:

Seeking Non-Violent Coexistence

In the initial stages of reconciliation, it’s essential to aim for a certain level of non-violent coexistence between the parties involved. At a minimum, they must no longer be willing to cause mortal harm to each other. This unwillingness may be because they have become too weary to fight any further or realized the futility of causing harm to each other. Charles Villa-Vicencio, a Professor of Religious Studies and the Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which anchored public hearings regarding the apartheid regime and its atrocities, states that “At the lowest level, coexistence implies no more than a willingness not to kill one another — a case of walking by on the other side of the street.” That means the willingness must be present, regardless of what inspires it.

This stage of the reconciliation process requires first that victims and perpetrators on both sides be removed from isolation. Without interaction, the bitterness cannot be dispelled, and the reconciliation process cannot begin in earnest. That involves rebuilding and renewing communication and establishing an interdependent relationship based on trade, politics, education, entertainment, sports, or even religion.

Political figures, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious institutions, educational institutions, etc., have a crucial role in forging these relationships by fostering programs, initiating dialogues, conducting research, and making policies.

In this early stage of the process, it is also paramount to ensure the physical safety of the environment. That requires the responsibility of local and international policymakers and may entail international military presence on local soil. Organizations like the United Nations, ECOWAS, etc., usually have peacekeeping missions for this purpose. Also, concrete steps must be taken toward re-establishing law and order, a stable democratic government, and the rule of law.

Meanwhile. It’s important to note that none of the above conditions are enough to make conflict disappear. For the most part, parties continue to be enemies. The difference is that they are no longer interested in violence as a means to solve their grudge. Both parties in this state are willing to explore alternative means of redress, such as reparations, legal proceedings, etc.

Building Confidence and Trust

After ensuring nonviolent coexistence, the next step is to steer that budding reconciliation process toward trust. This stage is about building confidence in each other based on mutual trust. This process assists victims in employing empathy to decipher the guilt of the perceived perpetrators. It’s about helping the victim x-ray the enemy’s guilt and help them see that not everything is black and white and that the adversary may not be as hopeless as perceived.

In this stage, the victim detaches individual members of the group that perpetrated conflict from that collective ignobility, which is below the usual standards of human decency. That way, the generalizations, myths, and exaggerated accounts of guilt built by war propaganda are dismantled. The idea that all members of a rival group are actual or potential perpetrators is, thus, dispelled.

A sound legal system built on justice and fairness can be helpful to establish individual guilt precisely. Such legal action will not only procure justice but will also help build confidence and make the remainder of the perpetrating group less guilty in the eyes of the victim.

The 1994 Rwanda Genocide saw the brutal killing of members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group in a state-sponsored genocide. Over 800,000 people were killed by their fellow countrymen, sometimes by their neighbors and family members. In the aftermath of that civil war, more than 200,000 informal judges were elected to hear the trials of suspects accused of various criminal involvements in the genocide. The courts gave lower punishment to repentant people willing to reconcile with the community. Such functional justice institutions must be implemented to build trust and confidence.

Addressing Underlying Remote and Immediate Causes

After restoring non-violent coexistence and building confidence and trust between warring parties, it’s necessary to identify and tackle the remote and immediate causes of a conflict. For instance, in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–1970, the Nigerian Head of State at the time, General Yakubu Gowon, instituted a fast-tracked reconciliation plan. First, he created twelve new states, scrapping the previous regional system. Gowon also pardoned members of the Biafran Army and reintegrated them into the Nigerian Army.

In a press release on January 15, 1970, Gowon spoke about a need to “…re-commence at once, in greater earnest, the task of healing the nation’s wounds. We have at various times repeated our desire for reconciliation in full equality once the secessionist regime abandoned secession. I solely repeat our guarantees of a general amnesty for those misled into rebellion…We also guarantee the right of every Nigerian to reside and work wherever he chooses in the Federation as equal citizens of one united country. It is only right that we should all henceforth respect each other. There is no question of second-class citizenship in Nigeria… All energies will now be bent to the task of reintegration and reconciliation… There is, therefore, no cause for humiliation on the part of any group of the people of this country. The task of reconciliation is truly begun”. The true intent of this reconciliation plan is well represented in this short excerpt.

The most prominent part of this plan, however, was Gowon’s ‘Three Rs’ Policy. This policy of Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation was a plan to reintegrate the rebel secessionist Biafra into the Nigerian Federation. However, many decades later, it is hard to say that that policy has succeeded. The Three R’s Policy primarily focused on healing, integration, reconstruction of destroyed public infrastructure, etc., but it failed to address the underlying issues and grievances that triggered the war in the first place. The Nigerian system has continued to perpetuate the marginalization and alienation of the Igbo ethnic group ever since, both politically and economically.

It is not enough to say, ‘Let us forget the past’ while nepotism, sectionalism, and faux federalism still keep one group disadvantaged. The failure to tackle these issues headlong that has persisted to date. It’s also why secessionist groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) keep popping up every once in a while.

Thus, as part of the reconciliation process, it is important to investigate the factors that triggered a conflict and work toward resolving those issues. Such underlying issues could be marginalization, unfair distribution of economic wealth, electoral malpractice and manipulation, territorial disputes, or religious conflicts. After these issues are identified, all parties involved must work towards resolving them, redistributing wealth equally, encouraging religious tolerance, strengthening judicial and electoral institutions, and making society generally a pleasant place for everyone.

--

--

Christiana Jolaoso

Thoughts on peace and kindness and how our actions can give us the desired future. Summaries of stories with lessons that steer positive actions.