For over six years now, Yemen has been at war. The country continues to go through cycles of peace talks, with no tangible results. In fact, some talks and agreements appeared to be like setbacks instead. Yet the UN-supported peace talks are and will remain the main frame of reference when talking about peace in Yemen. As if there was no peace to pursue beyond this formalized process. Thus, things keep moving in cycles, with hopes for an end to the war coming and going. However, the situation overall appears increasingly hopeless. Suffering, starvation, and death have become part of everyday life for Yemenis, while civil society actors and international organizations continue to work on making peace. In recent years, the international media has treated Yemen as the ‘forgotten war’ or the ‘worst humanitarian crisis in the world’. These discourses shape the way we all approach Yemen. We are all moving in this cycle together. How can we break out and begin thinking and moving forward?
With our work at the Yemen Policy Center (YPC) we want to contribute to peacebuilding through a discussion which not only sheds light on local politics but also scales up creative local solutions to the national level. We do so through rigorous field research, conducted by our sister organisation, the Yemen Polling Center, coupled with an imaginative approach to social and political identities and everyday national politics. At YPC we believe that “the peacebuilder must have one foot in what is and one foot beyond what exists”. Only then can we begin to think outside of the box and generate a new impetus for peacebuilding.
John Lederach – professor in international peacebuilding, with experience in Colombia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, and Somalia – argues that “moral imagination” is required to “generate constructive processes that are rooted in the day-to-day challenges of violence and yet transcend these destructive patterns”; “moral imagination” is the capacity to rise above “divisions and reach beyond accepted meanings”; it is the discovery of “untold new angles, opportunities, and unexpected potentialities”. To enable this moral imagination, space for creativity must be given. At YPC, we want to combine empirical political analysis with creative visions for Yemen’s future to enable the moral imagination to emerge. We call this space the ‘Kaleidoscope’, and it will serve as a source for inspiration.
What will this Kaleidoscope approach entail? We want to combine perspectives, explore new angles, and bring thinkers and experts together. We want to work across disciplines, combine fiction with research, and inspire everyone to think beyond boundaries. Concretely, we want to think about resilience and it’s manifestations within communities. We do recognize that resilience as celebrated and often romanticized by international organizations can be problematic as it avoids structural change and places responsibilities on individuals and communities. But we also understand resilience as a form of resistance on the part of individuals and communities in the face of great odds. We want to think about local politics and peace initiatives and their potential to inspire other grander initiatives. We want to bring experts from different fields together and let new ideas emerge. We want to understand the capacities, drivers, motivations, and more behind local initiatives and identify elements that can transcend scales and contribute to peace elsewhere. We want to create ideas, create visions, and inspire. We will do so through an approach that combines research with storytelling, which seeks to learn from local politics, and imagine how lessons from the local could be applied to the national.
While we want to inspire those working on peace in Yemen to approach their work with fresh eyes, we recognize that the media plays a big role in the way Yemen is seen. The stories and research results of our project make for a rich and diverse collection of material that holds the potential to enrich the media narrative. The current dominant discourse which casts Yemenis as victims is not constructive to peace. For that reason, we want to support journalists and media platforms in diversifying their Yemen coverage and work towards a shift in discourse. While we recognize that it’s a long road, we are working towards the end that a shift of perspectives and eventually politics will make the change that can make peace in Yemen possible.
German Federal Foreign Office
Mareike Transfeld and Jatinder Padda
Gizem Isik (German) Fatima Saleh (Arabic)