Coexistence vs. Peacebuilding

Angela Khaminwa

Program Officer for Outreach and Communication, The Coexistence Initiative

Sarah Peterson

Program Officer for Dialogue and Mainstreaming Coexistence, The Coexistence Initiative

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Is coexistence distinct from the sort of larger notions of peacebuilding that tend to encompass relationship building?

A: I think coexistence and peacebuilding differ. Coexistence is about changing individual mindsets. Coexistence work is about changing the way individuals think about those who are different from them. Peacebuilding has that aspect to it but it also has a structural aspect to it. Peacebuilding is about creating infrastructure in a country that supports development, that supports peace, and that avoids conflict, violent conflict. Coexistence work as it has been discussed today has been located primarily at the individual level and at the community level.

So in many ways they kind of overlap in where they effect change because there is some coexistence work that is moving towards making institutional changes which is part of what our organization is trying to do. How do you move from changing the way individuals think to creating policies that promote some types of behavior? Peacebuilding comes from a different angle. I see it as top-bottom and I see coexistence as bottom-up, in terms of the direction. You were going to say something?

S: I was going to agree with you but also that you can add, the ideas that you mainstreamed , the principles of coexistence, into the peace building process. So if you are creating policies, you have a society, it is a new society, it is going through some kind of political reform and it is forming new policies and new government. Implicit within that new government, ideally, you have the principles of coexistence present so that the policies accommodate all groups equally; you have equal representation in their social practice too.

You also have the sense of coexistence that the community is open to all groups no matter how diverse it is. That's sort of the ideal end; to actively embrace diversity and the spectrum that we've been talking about, but that coexistence, when you think about the spectrum, coexistence is most effective probably when it is accompanied by the peacebuilding process. And the peacebuilding process is most benefited when it is accompanied by the coexistence.