Use of indigenous language for conflict resolution

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, 

Human communication is inseparable from human language. People communicate with each other with language. Miscommunication and non-communication can contribute to conflict. It happens when communication is not enough with information or a misinterpretation of the words intended but a different meaning by which it is the beginning of miscommunication.

Conflict is a situation whereby individuals, groups, or countries are involved in disagreement over an issue. Usually conflict between different ethnic groups often results from different language contact. There are instances when an indigenous language has a proverb, a song, a story or a myth that paints another community or other communities in negative light. An indigenous language or autochthonous language is a language that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous people. An effective conflict resolution tool should take cultural and linguistic factors into consideration. Conflicts may be categorized with respect to whether they occur at the micro-micro, micro-mezzo, mezzo-macro or micro-macro levels i. e. among individuals, individuals and groups, groups and communities, and between community groups and government or within private or civil society organizations. Usually, conflicts are the result of problems created by people.

‘Conflicts must be understood in their social context, involving values and beliefs, fears and suspicions, interests and needs, attitudes and actions, relationships and networks’. Conflict created from misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is usually aggravated by the fact that one person/party underestimates or is ignorant of the range of value systems or mis-interpret the norms that exist in different language, cultures and social environments.

Again, language also plays a crucial role in causing and resolving conflict. Language is one of the communication means. The best language is the indigenous language. Conflicts are inevitably present in many interpersonal relationships; and their destructive/constructive character depends on the way they are handled.

Language can cause or mitigate conflict because of its ‘positive and negative powers’. When people are sensitive about their language, language tends to be a positive tool in life. People tend to tolerate, listen, understand and co-operative with those who have similar values and belief system. Since no society functions without culture, and culture is symbiotic with language. This is the inherent power of language plays a significant role in conflict management and peace building. Because language is part and parcel of culture, and culture in itself is a means in which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge and attitudes towards life. Language must have a place in the management of conflicts and peace building elsewhere.

The century old indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms focus on the principles of empathy, sharing and cooperation in dealing with common problems which underline the essence of humanity. Cultural approaches to resolving and managing disputes play a vital role in promoting peace and social order in communities. Language, cultural values and attitudes provide the basis for interaction and the norms by which individuals and communities in the planet.

Communication is instrumental in peace building. Peace building is defined as the process intended to address the root causes of conflict, to reconcile differences, to normalize relations, and to build institutions that can manage conflicts without resorting to violence. Peace building involves putting structures in place for removing the roots of conflict.

The Communication for Peace building work has its roots in the philosophy and practice of Communication for Development. In the arena of conflict transformation and peace building, communications have historically played a role in shaping the views of policy-makers and influencing popular opinion on conflicts. Communication is an irreducible element of peace building. Communication is central to many aspects of work in conflict and post-conflict settings.

There are four ways to conceptualize how communication has been applied to peace-building in case of conflict in a society, group or a community. First, one might look at the channels of communication flows between the following entities- (a) between individuals in conflict; (b) within a group where conflict exists; (c) within groups or communities in conflict; (d) between communities and organizations such as multilaterals, government, and NGO’s where cooperation and coordination are issues.

Peace has a certain quality. It has to go beyond the absence of violence and include also the development of social justice and political equality. This includes harmonious relationships between the different individuals and groups in society, and the availability of mechanisms through which grievances and discord can be managed in non-violent ways. This kind of peace is often called ‘positive’ peace having certain conditions of complete peace linked with notion of justice assessed by the moral quality of outcome of justice. Peace building can be pre-conflict or post conflict. The former tries to prevent a conflict from breaking out and later one is resolution of conflict.

In the era of globalization, a new concept of development emerged emphasizing cultural identity and multidimensionality. Generally, conflict resolution is a community process involving the identification of the root cause of the problem, and bringing all parties involved to address the underlying issues. The growing interdependency of nations and global issues such as economic and financial crisis, ecological and security crises gave rise to a new perspective on development and social change. The theory and practice of communication for development is an evolving field, with different approaches and perspectives unique to the varied development contexts. This participatory model also stressed the importance of cultural identity of local communities and of democratization and participation at all levels.

Development, peace-building, reconciliation and conflict resolution are complex terms which have no common definition and are often centered on developing more intangible outcomes such as changes in relationships and attitudes that do not lend themselves readily to quantification. In addition, evaluation is further complicated by the following factors that the outcomes from Peace-Building are essentially long-term, which makes short-term monitoring and evaluation difficult. It is difficult to isolate the impact of specific Peace-Building interventions from the complex political, economic and social contexts in which they are located.

The UN 1992 report ‘An Agenda for Peace’, which defined peace building as action to solidify peace and avoid relapse into conflict. The UN Secretary-General’s Policy Committee has described peace building as follows: “Peace building involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development. Peace building strategies must be coherent and tailored to the specific needs of the country concerned, based on national ownership, and should comprise a carefully prioritized, sequenced, and therefore relatively narrow set of activities aimed at achieving the above objectives.” In 2000, another report defined it as “activities undertaken on the far side of conflict to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war”.

Conflict use to leave deep-rooted sense of distrust and fear that must be addressed if there is to be a just and lasting peace. Reconciliation is broadly considered as a process centrally needed in societies emerging from violent conflicts. Reconciliation processes in post-conflict societies are often highly complex. It is believe that no intractable conflict can really end without some kind of reconciliation process if the parties to the conflict are going to interact again in the future. Therefore, a meaningful process of reconciliation must therefore be rooted in local social and cultural contexts.

UN is observing ‘The International Year of Indigenous Languages’ in 2019 that aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world. UN has declared 21st February as International Mother Language Day as per request of Bangladesh to show respect to historic language movement of the than East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The theme of International Mother Language Day 2019 is “Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building and reconciliation”. It has been taken with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation. It aims to improve quality of life, wider international cooperation and visibility and strengthened intercultural dialogue to reaffirm the continuity of indigenous languages and cultures.

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