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Peace and Conflict Management

By doreenkatwesigye Aug 09, 2012 4102 Words

The East African School of Diplomacy, Governance and International Studies

Department of Good Governance and Peace Studies

Theme: Whose Community? Memory, Conflict and Tradition

Topic: Conflict and formation of memory

Paper Title: “Identity Formation after Conflict: Unhealed Memories in Framing the Future of the Society”

A Seminar paper by:

Katwesigye Doreen (2011-M161-10004) or

Mobile: +256 775541482


One of the foremost issues why there are threat perceptions, ethnic security dilemmas and lack of trust between nationalist and ethnic groups is the unhealed memories that have been inflicted on people’s identity after conflicts. And most of these conflicts have been as a result of intergroup clustering which leads to social identity, and this asserts strong in-group sympathies giving rise to out-group antipathies which in turn fuel intolerance. This paper therefore looks at how the unhealed memories have influenced individuals and social groups in framing the future of the society

Key words: conflict, memory, society, unhealed memory, identity formation.


One of the most important lessons to be drawn from the world wide politics of the late twentieth and twenty-first century is that many people of different ethnicities cannot, or will not, live together in peace. Peace has remained elusive (Noll 2011). In Rwanda the antagonism between Hutus and Tutsis lingers, Religious suspicion continues to manifest itself among the Roman Catholics and Protestants. Meanwhile in the Balkans, Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians all want to exterminate each other. As for the Jews and Palestinians, they are locked in an unresolved inevitable death dance. Such intergroup intolerance, hatred, and conflict seem to engulf wide parts of the world.

Who then is the culprit that accounts for this enmity? Numerous causes of group conflicts exist, but one factor that seems to link the many varieties of such strife is identity formation among individuals and groups. The root cause hostility may be strong peculiar group identification or identity formation and the many attitudes, values, and behaviors that flow from such attachments. In particular, the primal urge to feel part of a group or class of people, seems to be connected to an even more fundamental tendency to understand the other as different, often threatening, and therefore worthy of persecution (Seligman 2004). The root causes of intergroup conflict may therefore lie in the tendency of individuals to benefit psychologically from their group associations. Such societies from conflicts or with conflicts are characterised of problems like luck of shelter, food, water, poor security, diseases e.t.c but much as these societies have these problems, unhealed memories have become the most spear heading trouble and so becoming the main concern of this thesis.

Conflict discourse in identity formation

In understanding conflict as a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals, its outcome can not be fully predetermined. Conflict might escalate and lead to nonproductive results, or beneficial to the final product quality. Mayer (2000) views conflict as occurring along perception, feeling, and action. These different dimensions may help understand how complex conflict is and why conflict seems to proceed in contradicting directions. Thus, it may either be manifest or recognizable through actions or latent behavior (Christopher 2005). Similarly, (Wallensteen 2002) identifies some forms of conflict like interstate conflicts that happen between nation-states, internal conflicts and state-formation conflicts which include civil and ethnic wars, secessionist movements, anti-colonial struggles and battles over control of government. Aware of these, it can be said that in every society there are bound to be differences of opinion on all important matters where personal and collective differences interplay which in that matter forces people to identify themselves according to what may actually suit their interests. When competitive individuals or groups consciously try to annihilate and defeat subordinates in an effort to achieve certain objectives, conflict comes into existence. And this also shows that within memory where storage, retention and recalling of information as well as experiences take place, conflict may result in competing for scarce material and non material products. In relating this to society, one needs to realize that no matter the size, or link that binds a society together; be it religious, geographic, professional or economic, society is shaped by the relationships between individuals hence the issue of identity formation.

Identity formation

From birth on, every individual experiences the dynamics of defining themselves, and there are many factors that help one to develop their sense of identity or how they perceive themselves to be. Ryan and Deci (2003), suggest that, when human beings emerge into the world, they have no identity, but over time, they acquire identities. As everyone has a unique DNA makeup, each individual will have a unique identity whether it is one's name, family, heritage, or physical characteristic. Moshman suggests that as development progresses, individuals are increasingly likely to define themselves with respect to personality, ideology, and other such abstract characteristics. He continues to describe identity for adolescents as something that they "see identity as something they can and must create for themselves. For adolescents, identity is both a matter of determining who one is and a matter of deciding who one will be. For Ryan & Deci, the problem of identity is more salient today than at any time in history.

Even so, the range of possible identities is larger than ever before, and having multiple identities is becoming more acceptable. These authors suggests that its no longer common as it once was for identities to be conferred on people by relatively fixed factors such as birthrights, social and religious orders, or parental status. In fact, more expressions of identity are available as people are encouraged to discover their way into identities (Ryan and Deci, 2003). Through this one realises that identity formation process is more complex than the portrayed media and Web-based communications, on adopting identities.

Identity formation in framing the society

Intractable conflicts within and between states, regions, nations or societies often revolve around issues of identity. Threats to identity in the form of enemy images and ethnic security dilemmas are increasingly becoming common. In this, individuals and groups forge a social psychological need to belong, and they express this need through their social identities (or categories such as ethnic groups, nationality or political identification). Tajfel (1981) in social identity theory, individuals and groups have social identities that enhance their self-esteem and cohesiveness through the comparison of their own group with the out group. A society being a place of oneness among people, this has become a big hindrance as to what define the term society. One needs to realise that these social identities are descriptive (what the attributes of the group’s members are), prescriptive (how the members should behave and think), and evaluative (how the group compares to other groups) (Hogg et al., 1995). As Hopf (1998) noted, identities have three functions in the society: tell you who you are, tell others who you are, and tell you who others are. The function of telling you, who you are and your identity indicates interests or preferences. In the case of nationalist (or ethnic) group, individuals’ need for inclusion leads to socialization into perceiving themselves as belonging to a particular group, against another group (Katz, 1965). For example, Catholics in Northern Ireland perceive themselves as Irish, in opposition to Protestants who perceive themselves as British (McGarry, 1998). Such clustering of people into in and out-groups is not enough to trigger inter-group conflict; rather, it is the desire to maintain a high level of personal and group esteem that leads to the kinds of biases and stereotypes that are familiar to researchers of inter-group conflict (Rubin and Hewstone 2004).

Here the argument is that individuals have a basic need to view the group they belong to in a positive light in order that they can view themselves in a positive light as well (Brewer and Brown 1998). This need for self and group esteem provides a motivation for individuals to evaluate their own groups more favorably than they do to other groups (Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis 2002). By degrading the image on holds of out-groups, in-groups esteem is enhanced as individuals within that group feel more positive about their own virtues, capabilities, and motivations. In so doing, the psychological need for a positive self image is met, and the individual’s sense of well-being is enhanced, as social cohesion within the in-group is strengthened.

Identity formation after conflict in framing the society

An extensive body of social science literature over the years has sought to explain why countries descend into mass violence across lines of identity (see Horowitz, 1985, 2001; Eller, 1999; Young, 1976). Also a smaller amount of research has been carried out on how societies avoid conflict and how they rebuild after conflict (Prendergast & Smock, 1999; Weissman, 1998; Young, 1998, 1999). One conclusion of this literature is that the way in which memory and history are used can either encourage inter-group conflict or help to draw diverse groups together. In the case of Rwanda, in the years before the genocide the Hutu who were in power used an inaccurate depiction of a history of Tutsi, as coming from outside Rwanda to conquer and exploit. In so doing they justified the exclusion of the Tutsi from positions of power. This ideology of the origins of the Tutsi ultimately helped rally popular support for genocide (Des Forges 1999).

According to Kaufman (2001), myths and symbols help to define ethnicity. For him, ethnic violence arises from a constellation of three factors – myths that justify war, fear of annihilation, and opportunity for action. The question to ponder about is, if myths and symbols can be used to trigger mass violence, can they be used to unite and prevent violence as well? In this identities are not fixed but are a relatively flexible social construction, as argued by scholars of memory and identity (Anderson, 1983 et al). Just as myths, symbols, and memories have been used to construct identities around division and differentiation, social identities may also be constructed around commonalities in a way that encourages cooperation and peaceful coexistence. In many ways, one can argue that the Rwandan government’s decision to call itself as the Government of National Unity, gathers the idea to generate a sense of commonality.

Through stretching this understanding to frame society, the complexity of interrelations between the state, society and international or transnational forces in a globalizing world is inevitable. Here conflict is represented in a series of individual experiences of violence. On the other hand states are portrayed as failed service providers, separate from victimized and oppressed populations. Similarly, societies are viewed as being formed from violated or violating individuals, whose actions spring in a hopeless cycle of conflict. Such actions have a psychological nature rather than a political belief or an economic need. This shows that depending on how we approach the conflicts in our society, the determinant factor is on the value being attached to identities.

How are unhealed memories manifested after conflict?

Most people have gone through at least one stressful, traumatic, or tragic event in their lives. These difficult events leave an emotional wound, a memory that recreates the original pain whenever you think about it. These experiences usually cause a mix of anxiety, depression, and sometimes guilt.

Africa in particular has for long been a continent of conflict and violence. The violence of slavery and colonialism compounded the violence of the pre-colonial past. Indeed the cycle of violence makes Africa a continent with many unhealed memories and feelings, including those inflicted by conflicts between the many nations and even the religious communities that human beings represent. In the last decade, conflict has continued to cause intolerable human suffering and to undermine prospects of a better future in many countries and the continent as a whole. History tells that in Rwanda, the Tutsi monarchy had dominated the Hutu politically and economically for hundreds of years (Amadiume & Anna’Im 2000). In 1959, the Hutu rebelled against the Tutsi and gained control of the government and the economy. In 1994 when the Tutsi felt marginalized and started to fight for their rights, there was a back and forth extreme action by Hutus and Tutsis (Cobban 2007).

This overt conflict was ended when a Tutsi group gained control of the government in the same year of 1994. Much as the physical conflict ended, there is still the manifestation of unhealed memories within the two ethnic groups, whereby they have come to identify themselves as Hutus and Tutsis instead of one people. Further on 6th April, every year in Rwanda there is a public holiday to commemorate the people who passed away during the genocide. This however does not come as an honour, but as remembrance of their loved ones.

How have unhealed memories framed the societies?

In using case studies above, it is important to note the evolving questions and take caution on how far one should stretch memory to recap the past? The answer that springs spontaneously to our mind is that memory is not governed by the statute of limitations. Secondly, unhealed memory is the warp of the tapestry of history that makes up society. A number of well-known experiments (McGuire and Padawer-singer 1976; Hogg and Turner 1985) confirm the tendency of people to behave with preference toward members of their own groups and discriminate towards members of other groups. Indeed, the minimal group paradigm suggests that the mere act of telling an individual that he or she is part of a particular group, whether or not a previous relationship or common traits exist, is enough to trigger in-group favouritism and out-group bias (Tajfel, et al. 1971).

In Brewer’s work on the relationship between in-group identity and out-group hostility, she engages readers on the necessity of trust. For her, out-group discrimination is not an automatic function of in-group favouritism. Instead, out-group discrimination requires additional social structural and motivational conditions that are not inherent in the process of group formation itself (Brewer 2001).

Other scholars of social conflict have sought to refine social identity theory by noting that individuals do not belong to only one identity group, but rather to multiple identity groups. They suggest that these identities shift depending on circumstance and setting (Northrup 1989). For instance, a group of Caucasian students may not be overtly aware of their identity as Caucasian until the members of different race join their group. Individuals, in other words, are most aware of those identities that they feel are under threat. This phenomenon and its consequences for the group and individual have been well documented in research conducted on stereotype threats (Steele, Spencer, and Aronnson 2002). In testing these claims, they have been used to explain why the salience of ethnic identity is greater within minority groups that have experienced significant levels of prejudice and victimization.

In drawing from the Rwandan experience of Genocide, there were and are people in Rwanda capable of forgiving; for example, the survivors among those who in 1994 had helped others to escape or saved lives at the risk of their own. In this, unhealed memories serve to preserve intimations of the infinite possibilities of such regressions of the human mind-and the dangers they spell for the harmonization of goals in our world.

Characteristics of societies with unhealed memories

‘Applying the ideas of Holocaust survivor Jean Améry to present day Rwanda, the author argues that reconciliation after genocide is just another form of torture.’ “Reconciliation” has become a darling of political theorists, journalists, and human-rights activists, especially as it pertains to the rebuilding of post-war and post-genocidal nations. Nowhere is this more so than in the case of Rwanda. It can plausibly be argued, of course, that in Rwanda and in other places, like Sierra Leone and the Balkans, where victims and perpetrators must live more or less together, reconciliation is a political necessity. Reconciliation has a moral resonance, too; this is not just a mistake but a dangerous one; for it is doubtful that any sustainable peace, and any sustainable politics, can be built without a better, which is to say a tragic, understanding of those truths.

Rwanda tiny and densely populated, it still faces a problem that no other country has: the Hutu murderers and Tutsi survivors of the 1994 genocide live, side-by-side, in unprecedented intimacy. However, monstrous this may seem, Rwanda’s history clearly shows that all other options are worse. The government is dominated by formerly exiled Tutsis of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (imagine if Jews had ruled Germany after World War II). For reasons that are practical and perhaps moral, this government has mandated, from above, an official policy of national reconciliation, however subjectively gruelling that may be. As Philip Gourevitch (2003), Rwanda’s political requirements are “emotionally incomprehensible.”

Several years ago, in response to bulging jails and an overwhelmed, dysfunctional justice system, the Government of Rwanda made two decisions. In 2003, it released forty thousand imprisoned genociders and sent them back to their villages. And it has reinstated the traditional court called gacaca courts, community-based forums in which perpetrators and victims face each other and are judged by their neighbours; more than a million cases have been heard. These confrontations have been the subject of an enormous amount of international interest, and disputation, from journalists, anthropologists, NGOs, legal scholars, religious activists, and human-rights organizations; the gacaca trials have been praised as an “authentic” form of African justice and derided as kangaroo courts that elide modern legal procedures regarding rights and evidence (Aronnson 2002).

What becomes clear, especially in the remarkable trilogy of books on post-genocide Rwanda by the French journalist Jean Hatzfeld, is that forgiveness and reconciliation are of far less interest to the victims than they are to perpetrators. Indeed, the perpetrators speak of forgiveness with an outrageously obtuse sense of ease and entitlement. Hatzfeld (2003), a killer named Jean-Baptiste Murangira assures the author, “I am certain of being forgiven, because I confessed… Forgiveness will help us to forget together.” A convict named Adalbert Munzigura explains, “It will take time, and the effort will be hard, but this forgiveness is necessary.” And Ignace Rukiramacumu confidently asserts, “I know in the opposite situation, I would manage to forgive my offender,” then threatens, “If I am not pardoned, I will keep the attitude of an offender.”

Revenge and reconciliation are often posited as opposites, with justice as the mediator between the two. But the Rwandan victims understand far more wisely than either perpetrators or theorists how inadequate all these purported solutions are; each fails to address, to heal, to unmake, or even to lessen the crime of genocide and the unending pain it causes. The inability to believe or understand this kind of wild violence, inflicted on utterly helpless people, is not confined to the Rwandan victims or their rescuers. For some scholars, Hatzfeld (2003) torture was the paradigm of such cruelty and the necessary model for the concentration camps. Torture creates a kind of anti-world in which the torturer comes “to realize his own total sovereignty” precisely by “negating his fellow man. In the world of torture man exists only by ruining the other person who stands before him.”

Healing the unhealed memory

From 1950's, the ministry and writings of Agnes Sanford (Sanford, 1950, 1966/1984) began influencing pastoral caregivers from a variety of Christian traditions. Perhaps the best known current author of healing memories techniques is David Seamonds. He described his intervention in most detail in his work Healing Memories (1988). Great care is taken to make sure the client understands both the rationale and model for this approach. In preparing for the intervention, the client is asked to make a list of the most painful, troubling memories that have been seen as causing the most problems (Seamonds, 1988).

As such, healing past hurts or emotional wounds has been referred to by a number of names: inner healing, healing of memories and soul healing. Regardless of what you call it, this will address those hurts, those emotional wounds, that result from events in our lives such as rejection, abandonment, abuse, neglect, violence, insecurity and being embarrassed, shamed, terrorized, scared, manipulated or otherwise controlled.

According to Interdisciplinary Research and Consultation of comparative study of Church and Religious History in religious/cultural Borderlands, there are three basic processes to healing of memory i.e. walking together through history; The views and experiences of historical, cultural, ethnic, religious and confessional relations and aspects of the current conflict fields, taking share in the pain of others; and preparing the future together. These need further exploration in making meaning of individual and collective healing.


It has become clearer that attention needs to be focused on community processes that contribute to social identity formation. What seems missing in societies for example in Rwanda is acceptance of difference. Besides the Government of National Unity, another oft-heard slogan in Rwanda is, We are all one Rwanda; there are no Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. In spite of official attempts to erase ethnicity, ethnic tensions still simmer below the surface, with no way to address them. Institutions are therefore among the major influences on identity development and attitudes towards “the other.” This work suggests that institutions do serve as a focus of political manipulation as well as a forum where societal schisms are played out (Freedman et al., 2005). The governments’ attempt to develop a “super-identity” in order to create unity underscores a tension between the collective memory of origins and the question of state-building where the fear of a recurrence of violence is the driving force. According to Hintjens (2009), this “top-down and authoritarian” denial of a public expression of ethnic identity “has prevented the emergence from below of potentially more complex forms of political identification, which could form the basis for more inclusive forms of peace in future of the society.


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McGarry, J. (1998). Political settlements in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Political studies

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