01 July 2007

Stop misusing this word

As we say in my mother land, I'm "plum sick and tired" of the consistent misuse of the word "reconciliation" that has bounced about the international affairs world in the past six months or so. This most often occurs in the context of discussions of Iraq or Somalia, and in both cases the use is nearly always wrong. For examples, see here (near the end of the article) and here.

What all these politicians actually mean when they use the word reconciliation in either Somalia or Iraq is "cease-fire." That's right, cease-fire. This talk of reconciliation is a ruse. They use reconciliation because terms like cease-fire, armistice, etc., imply that Mr. Shit has met Mr. Fan, and the results aren't so hot.

Who's most responsible for this curious turn of phrase? Why, members of the Bush Administration, of course. We all know how well Iraq has turned out. Somalia, it seems, hasn't gone any better, even when we let Ethiopia fight it as our proxy.

Friends, the end of shooting/bombing/slaughter does not reconciliation make. Nor can reconciliation be agreed to via legislation, as is touted in Iraq, or in negotiations, as have been repeatedly delayed in Somalia. Reconciliation is a society-wide process that involves the pursuit of justice, the identification of truth, the factually informed assignment of historical responsibility, and finally (and most difficult to achieve), the transformation of conflict-generating and conflict-sustaining relationships into mechanisms for peaceable coexistence (see Nadim Rouhana, 2004). All this, quite obviously, cannot be accomplished by 5 or 50 guys sitting around in a room.

As much Somalia would benefit from a cessation of hostilities between the Hawiye and the Darood dominated Government forces, this wouldn't be reconciliation. It would be an end of fighting. Reconciliation could only even begin to come after this crucial step. The same holds true for the various patterns of inter- and intra-group violence seen in Iraq. The various political types that keep preaching this misnamed objective (the UN has gotten on board too, and the media hasn't questioned it), need to state their real short-term desires. They want a cease-fire. Of course, reconciliation can and should remain a goal for both Somalia and Iraq, but first things first.

No comments: