Poverty and Conflict: Severing the Link Written by Georgina Veldhorst & Fred Witteveen Presented to CITI Forum, October 29, 2008 Introduction In many countries where significant poverty exists, conflict also exists. So which drives which—does conflict lead to poverty or poverty lead to conflict? It is our view that both are true. War and civil unrest leads to increased poverty and large scale poverty or great disparity between the rich and poor provides a breeding ground for conflict. The question for this paper is “How do we begin to sever the link between poverty and conflict?” We will start this paper with a presentation of the dynamics of conflict using Deep Democracy Theory (Mindell, 1992; and Lewis, 2008) and a description of the impact of these dynamics on society. This will be followed by an outline of some the common response of leaders to the emergence of tension and conflict. The paper will conclude with some recommendations to tap into the wisdom that lies within the dynamics of tension and conflict for ending poverty in Kenya The Dynamics of conflict The dynamics of conflict are always complex. That is—regardless of whether the conflict is in the family, the organization, a group, or in this case, society, the issues at play have many layers and a long history. A metaphor often used in describing these dynamics is an iceberg but given we are in Africa, an onion maybe more appropriate. In either the case of the iceberg or the onion, what you initially see is only a small fraction of the views, values, beliefs, and emotions under the surface. In the case of the onion, there are many layers to get through before one gets to the core. What is on the surface tends to be the things we all know—the things we hear or read in the media. These tend to be the surface issues, or to use terms of Deep Democracy, those things that are at the conscious level and considered safe to surface. In the case of the post election violence in Kenya, it would be ethnic tensions. The views, values, beliefs, and emotions under the surface have many layers and numerous facets. These are the things that are not as safe to say, often spoken about in small intimate groups, hidden in unpublished reports, etc. These are said to be in the general unconscious as they are not commonly known to all. These maybe things like tension between rich and poor, past experiences and grievances, hopelessness that anything will change using normal channels, and distrust. Whatever the underlying issues, no one individual or group has the entire truth of the situation. Conscious A conflict can ebb and wane but unless the underlying issues are surfaced, and deeper and broader understanding is gained by all sides in the conflict, and a way forward is found from this increased understanding that all parties can come along with, the conflict does not resolve. The next time there is either a “straw Unconscious Wisdom that breaks the camel’s back” or an excuse to escalate the tension, conflict will re-emerge often nastier than the last time. The likelihood of people being willing to disclose some of their underlying views, values, beliefs, or feelings is dependent on a number of factors. In the case of the iceberg analogy, the degree to which people feel safe to share is called a “water line”. To surface more of the iceberg, the waterline needs to be lowered. The factors that impact the level of the waterline are indentified below. The degree of autocracy of the leader(s). The more dictatorial the leader the less likely individuals will surface concerns, perspectives, or emotions. The level of perceived risk of retribution from family, friends, colleagues, or others. The greater the perceived potential personal consequences, the less likely individuals will voice their true views. Degree of transparency. Increased transparency increases what is known by all and thus decreases the water line. Rank differences. The greater the perceived rank difference the higher the water line. Degree of predictability. The more predictable situations are over time, the lower the water line. The degree to which people think surfacing their view will make a difference. If past experience has demonstrated that surfacing a concern or perspective falls on deaf ears, people are less likely to waste their energy. Fear is a common element in many of these factors, and thus it is worth elaborating a little further on the concept of fear. Fear as it relates to group dynamics has two aspects, fear of speaking up and voicing one’s views and fear of listening and truly hearing what others are trying to tell us. This combination of fear results in both perspectives not being surfaced and not being heard. Remember, perspectives that are voiced or surfaced are said to be in the consciousness of the group and those that are not voiced are said to be in the unconscious of the group/society (Lewis, 2008). It is only those that are surfaced that can contribute to effective decision/policy making. When perspectives remain unvoiced or unheard, they do not disappear. At first they intensify covertly. Then they become more overt, even erupting in violence. In the Deep Democracy literature (Mindell, 1992; Lewis, 2008), this is called a saboteur or terrorist line. The following diagram illustrates a general progression from covert to overt behaviors of individuals or groups experiencing the effects of unheard views, values, beliefs, or emotions. Saboteur or Terrorist Line (Lewis, 2008 and www.deep-democracy.net) As a group or society moves further down the saboteur or terrorist line, the tensions and conflict begins to breakdown the relationships generally needed for an equitable and robust economy and occurs over a long period of time. This breakdown in relationships happens at both the group and individual level and involves a perception of one group loosing something (often unjustly) or having decreased access to influence, power, and resources. The breakdown in relationships results in dehumanizing responses in which animosity, stereotyping, and distrust increases. This dehumanizing process enables people to carry out acts of aggression and physical violence against one another and the degradation of institutions of civil society. The breakdown of relationships, followed by violence, the deterioration of institutions including generally accepted operating principles and standards, then leads to breaking of the human emotion and spirit. Once the pattern begins it becomes a downward spiral unless a self or other initiated intervention occurs. Aggression and violence towards people of a similar or lower rank may feel like a safer way to vent anger and frustration than violence to people of higher rank or power. If this is true, in the Kenyan situation, the inter-ethnic violence (individuals, property, churches) was safer than violence towards the elites/wealthy/those in power. If the frustration is not addressed and anger continues to build, aggression may change over time towards those of perceived higher rank. Each spiral or cycle is likely to get nastier and more destructive. As conflict grows, fear grows and takes on a life of its own creating barriers between individuals and groups. People develop clusters or camps within the larger group with very little communication between the different camps and between the camps and the greater whole. Prolonged or ongoing conflict destroys the fabric of a society or organization and the individuals within it. Eventually all sides suffer. The further an organization or society has spiralled, the more difficult and expensive the task of resolution and rebuilding. Response of leaders to conflict When tension and conflict start to increase, leaders’ fear typically also increases. When fear increases, there is an increased risk for leaders to surround themselves with likeminded people they trust. This has the consequence of reducing the diversity of opinion leaders are exposed to. This diversity of perspective is essential for wise decision is making. The decision making that does happen tends to be less transparent and aims to protect those in power (thus equity decreases), and has the effect of raising the waterline higher. As fear increases, there is a pattern of using force to maintain control. This has the impact of both raising the waterline and pushing people further down the terrorist line. If the use of force is successful in decreasing the violence—unless the underlying issues are heard and addressed—it will re-emerge in the future—nastier than before. As the structures of society either fail to adequately evolve or degenerate, all members of society increasingly distrust common institutions, structures, and one another. In this environment of mistrust, those in positions of power , influence, and wealth increase their security both within the country and outside of the country (i.e. able to move wealth off shore). Meanwhile the Middle Class are squeezed by increased cost of credit and inflation, and the poor are pushed to the edge of survival. Transformative Leadership People in key positions of leadership play pivotal roles in the emergence, duration, and intensity of a conflict. Transformative leadership can both prevent conflict and its downward spiral if leaders: Maintain neutrality (that is—do not take sides at a conscious and unconscious level), consider the deeper systemic issues, and demonstrate compassion for all sides. Continuously educate themselves by seeking to gain a deeper and broader understanding of the issues. If one thinks of each situation as an iceberg where what is commonly known to all is above the surface of the water, the majority of the issue is under the water line and is not known. The leader needs to search for and validate the issues and perspectives that are hidden under the surface. Good leaders seek out this information rather than wait for it to be given to them as there is a natural tendency for people of lower rank to feed those of higher rank what they “want” to hear rather than reality (Scott, 2004). Surround selves or seek out the perspective/skills/competencies of those that are different from themselves for better more sustainable decision making and policy development. Put aside personal gain and desires for the greater good. In times of trouble, self protection is a natural human tendency. Great leaders do the opposite. These same leaders resist the urge to keep people of lower rank dependent on them as a mechanism for maintaining their own rank/power. Instead they develop the capacity and independence of others thus decreasing rank difference. Balance the lure of short term success with long term sustainability. Understand the nature of humanity and thus put in place rules, policies, laws that balance access to resources and power and clear consistent consequences for abuses. Practice transparency and promote policies and practices of transparency within the organization or system. Transparency decreases the amount of information that is hidden and thus has the effect of lower the waterline. Many of these effective leadership behaviours, in times of tension and conflict, do not come naturally or easily. In fact, training (such as Deep Democracy) and ongoing personal work are required. Severing the Link between Poverty and Conflict For conflict transformation to occur and the gap between rich and poor to decrease the following three principles/components need to be present in sufficient levels (adapted from Lewis, 2008): 1. Cultivation of a common understanding that no one individual or group has a monopoly on the truth. 2. Commitment of Kenya’s social classes, ethnic groups, and communities to improving the situation and “staying in relationship” with one another. 3. Individuals and groups learn, grow, and change as a result of going through a conflict transformation process When transformative leadership is able to sufficiently imbed these principles/components within society, the links between poverty and conflict are more likely to be severed. As processes are used to increase the breadth and depth of understanding of the issues for all sides/parties, people see a way forward that is different from the past. Enlarged compassion and forgiveness for others will allow people to step out of the old patterns of relating into new ones.
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