Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Community-Based Training for Conflict Prevention in Vanuatu: Reflections of a Practitioner-Researcher

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Community-Based Training for Conflict Prevention in Vanuatu: Reflections of a Practitioner-Researcher

Article excerpt

This article presents a practitioner-researcher reflection on the 'kastom governance partnership'; an initiative of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs, the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (ACPACS), the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and AusAid aimed at building capacity for sustainable and peaceful community governance. The article presents a few of the 'content' lessons we have learnt from five years of community-based training aimed at grassroots dialogue around the spheres of community, conflict, and governance. The core of the reflection outlines ACPACS 'methodology' or process for community-based training as an outsider organisation. This methodology has been guided by experiential, elicitive, dialogical and participatory processes. It is posited that these are useful methodologies for outsider organisations to consider when engaged in Pacific regional training work.


As with many other post-colonial states, Vanuatu is facing intense pressures of change in virtually every dimension of social organisation and experience, from the most intimate to the most collective. The country's people and institutions are negotiating the complex push and pulls between what remains a reasonably rich subsistence economy and the capitalist market economy, and also between what are still vital customary governance processes embedded in that subsistence economy and the institutions and processes of a liberal state.

Vanuatu is, thus, in the midst of a dense and difficult dialogue of differences concerning the shapes of cultural, economic, social and political life. For ni-Vanuatu, (the people of Vanuatu) individual and collective identities are at stake in the most fundamental ways. This 'dialogue' is marked by a lively history of accommodations and creative interpretations as well as conflict; it is certainly not a simple replacement of indigenous with introduced systems (Brown 2007; Cox et al. 2007). Rather, niVanuatu people and institutions are grappling with the deeply challenging, at times conflictual, but also potentially generative processes of reshaping the way community is lived and institutionalised. Ideally the result will be the gradual emergence of a society and state that is able to make its way in the world but is rooted in and responsive to local values, aspirations and life ways.

The Work

In 2004, the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (ACPACS) was approached by the secretariat of the national organisation of customary leaders in Vanuatu, the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs (MNCC), to work with them in looking for ways to assist customary leaders to respond to some of the intense change dynamics being experienced within communities. After a year of conversation, ACPACS and the MNCC entered into a 12 month Community Partnership Program with AusAID (the Australian Government aid agency) as partner and funder. This initial program has been extended and will continue until 2013. For ACPACS, as a centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and for the MNCC, as a body bridging customary and national governance, the focus has been on supporting customary leaders to work with the conflictual processes of rapid, chaotic change in ways that reduce the potential for violence. The focus on violent conflict prevention, however, entails work across a range of themes, including enhancing local governance, around which all the partners concur.

A core component of the program has been communitybased training workshops hosted by regional councils of chiefs within the capital city and also in many outlying islands. These workshops are understood as structured contexts for facilitated conversations around questions that community leaders regularly face but rarely have an opportunity to work through together in a reflective context. That is, they are understood as 'difficult conversations' that could lead to innovative action. In particular, the workshops provide an environment for customary leaders and members of grassroots councils to reflect on, discuss and plan around:

* Challenges and pressures facing communities and their role in working with these pressures

* How to support good development processes

* Peace-building and working with conflict

* The interface between 'traditional' and 'introduced' governance systems and how to create good community governance. …

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