By Ms. Munini Mutuku, IJR 2021 PAREN Fellow

Munini MutukuMunini Mutuku has for the last 15 years worked with diverse themes in the peace building and human rights field which include: transitional justice; minority and indigenous peoples’ rights; resource-based conflicts and environmental peacebuilding; economic social and cultural rights; alternative dispute resolution; community reconciliation dialogues and mediation; women and youth in the peace and security sector; amongst other thematic areas. Munini studied her first Masters Degree in Conflict Management in Berlin Germany and her second Masters Degree in Human Rights and Democratization at the European Inter-University Centre and University of Vienna. She is an Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA) Fellow at Columbia University in New York, and currently a PhD student at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, University of Nairobi. She works as a Senior Programme Officer at the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) in Kenya.

Dialogue, an inclusive process that brings together a diverse set of voices provides a platform where people not only talk, but they think and communicate with one another acknowledging each other’s presence and experience. Unlike other forms of interaction, dialogue requires self-reflection, a spirit of inquiry, active participation and the openness to listen and acknowledge the other. [1]

Dialogue is recognized by the African Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) as part of transitional Justice initiatives and as part of traditional and complimentary justice mechanisms used in traditional adjudicative processes.[2] Dialogues can be designed for all levels of society, though, it is critical that they are context specific and in tandem with the realities of the parties in question. This contextualization acknowledges differences as well as areas of common ground, and thus provides the opportunity for empathy amongst the parties involved.

In complex political contexts especially in post conflict societies, various forms and levels of dialogue offer unique potential to addressing long-standing grievances in order to advance reconciliation, transitional justice and eventually secure sustainable peace. [3] The legitimacy of dialogue processes in addressing long-standing grievances and complex issues of truth-seeking and justice (largely related to the past) must be upheld especially in the realm of majority and minority communities who often view these issues differently.[4]

Individuals at all levels of post conflict societies participating in dialogue processes ask, albeit in silent and unheard tones, a crucial question:

‘Does this process and the people involved respect me, my experience and my cultural background, or do they look down on me, talk down on me, and treat me in humiliating ways?’

These feelings are often triggered by past experiences which bear heavily on persons who have, even before the conflict, been unheard, discriminated and expected to quietly yield their collective and individual power in submission. These feelings are often those belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups. It can lead to the breakdown of dialogue which in turn creates a climate conducive to the emergence of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, further entrenching divisions, stereotypical attitudes and challenging the sustainability of transitional justice processes.

Perceptions and realities of disrespect and lack of recognition trigger a retreat into the apparently reassuring comfort of an exclusive community’ which further breaks down communication, stifles a peoples’ right to participate in the larger cultural, social and economic life of a society, and in public affairs of the community together with others.[5] This participation is aimed at enhancing civic participation which in turn adds value through diversity, enhances integration and cements social cohesion.[6]

The observed response to this question can spell consequences that can impact tremendously on the outcome of the dialogue especially if it is a negative evaluation. [7]

Spaces of dialogue ought to provide not only a physical space of presence but a safe space free of humiliation and stigmatization of all forms, reckoning the inviolability of the dignity of the human being thus upholding the ‘dignity and worth of the human persons’ as stipulated in the preamble of the United Nations Charter.[8]  Upholding equal dignity should be a fundamental value and a common denominator to dignifying dialogue and must further be reflected in the way members are treated, in the inquiry, the discussions, and the eventual outcomes of the dialogue process. [9]

Dignifying dialogue entails a reflexive disposition in which one can see oneself from the perspective of others.[10]As a form of social justice, it provides a right for people to speak out, be heard, and to listen to others do the same. [11]

[1] UNDP (2009) Why Dialogue Matters for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding

[2] African Union Transitional Justice Policy, (Addis Ababa: African Union, 2019).

[3] Sabharwal Gita (2017) ‘How Can Dialogue Support Reconciliation and Transitional Justice in post conflict contexts?’ Issue Brief Practices from Peace and Development Advisors, United Nations Development Programme.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Council of Europe: White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue – Living Together as Equals in Dignity.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Lindner G Evelin (2011), Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: A Global Network Advancing Dignity through Dialogue.

[8] United Nations Charter: Preamble

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rooney Eilish (2018), ‘Justice Dialogue for Grassroots Transition’, Issue 27, Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review, Accessed 10 November2021.