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The peacebuilders: Making conflict resolution permanent

Out of the UN comes a new idea for ending war. Peacebuilders: An intensive process that gives permission for foreign 'interference' in conflict resolution.

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They have never heard of the UN Peacebuilding Commission – nor have many ordinary citizens in any of the PBC's partner countries. But for Sam, the idea inspires fatigue: "Nobody needs to tell me not to go to the bush and take up arms. We are here at 7 in the morning and we leave at 7 at night. It takes an hour to get to and from home. We don't have time for fighting." Sesay nods: "It's the idle mind that thinks a lot of silly things."

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"We already have peace," Sam adds. "What we need is investment.... So-called donors need to push money into industry."

Freetown buzzes with this new feeling of being over it all. Even several hours from the capital city, in a town called Makeni, there's an impatience with the image of a war-haunted nation. "Obviously, the country is over the war. Obviously," says Alfa Kamara. He rattles off signs of progress: A paved road connects locals to the capital in just two hours, a trip that used to take most of a day. Tractors have begun to appear in the fields. Hospital visits are free for kids younger than 5.

But Kamara, an experienced mason and the father of two young children, can't find a steady job – or, at the moment, any work at all. Most of his friends are in the same position, he says. So he sits outside a small shop, near the pavement, and plays the lottery with friends. He comes here every day, trying his luck with small sums. (He's won only once, he says, the equivalent of about $15, or about 10 days of work.)

"We are very angry. Very angry," Kamara concedes. "But we are not going to take up weapons again."

That's because he feels heard; Kamara says radio call-in shows give him and his friends a chance to air their grievances and sometimes to talk directly to a politician. That communication was missing before the war, which made people resentful, he says.

Kamara's words are a peacebuilder's solace. Local government officials and international observers agree that a key cause of the war was the feeling by frustrated, unemployed young men that rebellion was their only option. Indeed, the PBC's financial arm has invested $4.1 million in youth employment and "empowerment" programs in Sierra Leone, hoping that targeting a cause of the past war will prevent future fighting.

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Getting the theory right is only part of the job. It's common postconflict wisdom that swollen armies need to be reduced, and ex-fighters from all sides reintegrated into civilian lives. But in Burundi, where ethnic conflict and civil war have ravaged the country since independence in 1962, the demobilization of ex-soldiers has been problematic. The PBC began working here in 2007; the last rebel group signed a peace deal in 2009. Yet the reintegration – of ex-rebels and redundant soldiers alike – has been delayed by interminable national politics. So in Gitega, a provincial hub two hours north of the capital city of Bujumbura, no one is counting on a promise like Kamara's.

"There were lots of promises for ex-soldiers from different institutions," says Jean-Marie Nindorera, who leads an association of nearly 150 ex-combatants near Gitega. "When they didn't come true ... [ex-combatants] were not satisfied."

"I can see they're just waiting, waiting. They're very angry," says Oscar Ndiswarugira, who works with ex-combatants on behalf of the Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation Under the Cross (MIPAREC), a grassroots organization. "Some of them are very powerful.... The issue is how long they are going to be patient."

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