The first part of our two-piece contribution on peacebuilding and justice explores the links between justice, peacebuilding and entitlement, and discuss the phenomenon of heroes’ entitlement by referring to the case of Namibia. The phenomenon of victims’ entitlement will be explained in the second part, using the example of post-genocide Rwanda.
Justice and peacebuilding
In 1992, the then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali announced the agenda for peace. Justice became an important element that could strengthen and solidify social peace and cohesion. So to overcome feelings of revenge, issues of justice and reconciliation are today part of the peacebuilding framework.
Most post-conflict justice approaches focus exclusively on victims and their needs and rights or, respectively, on sanctioning perpetrators. However, justice is a multi-faced phenomenon and political violence does not only produce ‘victims’ but also other categories such as ‘heroes,’ which also call for just and fair treatment. Most likely, their perception of justice will differ from the perceptions of other groups.
For peacebuilding purposes, however, it is necessary to look beyond individual perceptions and claims. Social justice means ensuring that chances in society are appropriately distributed, and that everyone has equal access to rights and opportunities, an important consideration to help support sustainable peace.
The roots of entitlement
Generally, people tend to understand their fate as zero-sum, so that the feeling of entitlement as reward or compensation can be transferred from the ‘original’ scene to completely different areas. Psychologists, for example, have found that shortly before important exams students are eager to help others because they think this would pay off in later deserving and receiving a good mark. Such effects have been observed for individuals but also for collectives. Social psychologist Vamik Volkan, for example, has shown that nation-states tend to develop ‘selfish’ or expansive behaviour after victimising experiences, driven by the feeling to balance their unpleasant fate.
The economy of entitlement in Namibia
Namibia represents an example of heroes’ entitlement where the brave fighters for independence felt entitled to rule the country. From their perspective, they earned and deserved key positions in government because of their past deeds. The context of this heroic political culture and the difficult social conditions in Namibia put in motion an economy of heroes’ entitlement.
Not only does the current government still defend its claim to power with reference to past merit, in order to get access to resources and acknowledgment, different social groups have begun to claim hero-status. Claims to any form of entitlement have centred on past merit. This has widened the circle of entitlement feelings.
First were the veterans of the liberation war, who were given posts in enlarged security forces after they protested against their living conditions. Second were the so-called struggle kids – children of former SWAPO activists who were born in exile – who recently rallied under the banner of the “Children of the Liberation Struggle” to lobby for privileged access to government jobs. They legitimate their claim by their kinship and were labelled as a “category of people deserving a special treatment” by the former Prime Minister Nahas Angula.
Other groups, however, like the so called detainees that were suspected by SWAPO of treason and arrested and tortured or former SWATF fighters find no place in Namibia’s post-independence society. They remain not only unacknowledged but also excluded from the core of Namibia’s citizenship: the liberators.
As the Namibian case shows us, for individuals it might seem necessary and acceptable to deviate from the principle of equality formulated by John Rawls, and to expect superior performance and heroism. But if countries like Namibia develop an economy of entitlement, leading to exclusive rights and undemocratic and clientelistic allocation of positions, social justice and peace will be threatened.
The second article in this two-part series will focus on Rwanda.