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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Former congressman speaks about peace building experience in Africa

Published: February 6, 2009
Section: Gallery, News

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On Wednesday February 2, Dr. Howard Wolpe, Director of the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, discussed the challenges of conflict resolution and peace building in the process of state consolidation and democratization.

A former seven-term Congressman from Michigan, Wolpe served as a Presidential envoy to the African Great Lakes Region under President Clinton and directed post-conflict leadership training programs in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia.

In his presentation entitled “Democracy and Peace-building: Rethinking the Conventional Wilson,” he stated that the “way we go about peace-building is terribly flawed.” Wolpe challenged the conventional wisdom that moral and political pressure are the most effective means of deterring bad behavior by leaders. He claimed that while leaders may “come together to sign an agreement on paper, it does not mean they look at each other differently the next day.”

Instead Wolpe advocates for a holistic approach to negotiation that will lead to long-term and viable ends to conflict. One main aspect of this approach is to involve key members of the country’s society, not just political and military leaders. In Burundi, Wolpe recruited the Burundi Leadership Training Program (BLTP) “95,” a group of 95 leaders that include not just political party leaders, but also vital members of civil society including academic, business, media, and interest group leaders.

Burundi enjoyed an unprecedented success in implementing Wolpe’s program. His program had tremendous success in breaking down political and ethnic barriers between conflicting groups, and transformed Burundi’s institutions through unprecedented callobration. Almost four hundred national leaders from the police, civilian government, civil society, and military went through Wolpe’s training, as well as over four thousand local leaders.

Wolpe has a special connection to Brandeis as a member of the Coexistence International Advisory Board. The Wolpe event was sponsored by Coexistence International at Brandeis, Gen Ed Now Global Affairs Table, the Global Brandeis Fund and the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence.