By Farid Omar.
The field of citizen diplomacy, also known as Track-II talks, has taken an important role in conflict resolution mechanisms around the world. In the Middle East and elsewhere, Track-II Talks have helped build bridges among communities torn by war and factionalism.
Due to failure or shortcomings of key Track-I (official diplomacy) talks, peace activists, conflict resolution experts, peace-builders and communities in general would increasingly rely on Track-II Talks in attempts to resolve protracted conflicts around the world.
The primary actors in citizen diplomacy include peace activists, scholars, journalists, former statesmen and military officials, elder statesmen and other notable personalities representing various non-state sectors in the wider society committed to resolving conflicts within their states or communities.
In Africa, the field of diplomacy and conflict resolution has been dominated by state actors(government officials and heads of states) supra-national and regional groupings such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS etc) and armed actors challenging state structures including rebel movements, paramilitaries and other armed militias.
Ceasefires, truces and talk of peace deals have often been used by state and armed actors as an opportunity to consolidate their positions while at the same time, re-arming and strategizing for the next round of hostilities. As a result, conflict resolution mechanisms dominated by state and armed actors have had little impact in building lasting peace in the continent and in most cases, has only paved the way for renewed hostilities.
With peace processes heading for imminent failures in a multitude of African conflicts including the ongoing civil strife in Somalia, Congo, Sudan, and the Ivory Coast, citizen diplomacy, more than ever before, holds the key to unlocking a new formula for fostering peace in the continent through the direct involvement of citizen diplomats and peace delegates in fragile and failing peace processes.
This calls for increased and effective representation of delegates representing private citizens, trade unions, voluntary and professional associations, the women movement, faith groups and other non-state entities, in the realm of conflict resolution and conflict prevention and all other matters pertaining to improving regional security and building sustainable peace in Africa.
Citizen diplomacy as pertaining to Africa, has received little attention from peace researchers, conflict resolution analysts and even international bodies like the United Nations.
All stakeholders in the peace-building movement should wake up to the important reality that citizen diplomats have an important role to play in peace-making and peace-building and there is greater potential for this sector to not only build bridges among warring factions and communities, but also influence and provide state actors involved in Track-I Talks with the necessary terms and tools to effectively resolve long lasting conflicts in Africa.
Unlike Track-I (Official Diplomacy) talks, Track-II (Citizen Diplomacy) talks take place in a less sensitive environment. While it is sometimes difficult for state actors and their opponents to meet face to face, citizens always take the initiative to reach out to each other to find collective solutions to issues around conflict.
For example, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) have not only denounced each other, but never met face to face prior to 1993 to resolve the Middle East Conflict. But both Israeli and Palestinian citizens have been meeting and coming together for decades to find ways to end the conflict.
The 1993 Oslo Process was the product of successful rounds of talks initiated by citizen diplomats both Israeli and Palestinian, which helped pave the way for the official behind the scenes Track-I Talks involving Israeli government officials and leaders of the Palestinian Authority. This eventually led to the Middle East Peace Process, which culminated with the signing of the Peace Accord in the White House.
Track-II success in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world can be replicated in Africa. While it has been difficult for state actors and opposing rebel authorities in Africa to resolve long standing conflicts in places like Somalia, Congo and Sudan, the citizens of these countries and other parts of Africa who happen to belong to opposing loyalties have always come together to find ways to end conflicts in their nations and communities.
In order to foster a culture of peace and healing, it is imperative that the citizen diplomacy sector in Africa, which lacks adequate resources, be supported so as to build an active constituency of citizen peacemakers and peace builders. A vibrant citizen diplomacy sector in the African continent would go along way in eliminating obstacles to peace in the continent and further develop the necessary pre-requisites to peace in war-torn nations and communities.