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November 5, 2013

The Father of Peace Research

Johan Galtung is a Norwegian professor and author, widely regarded as the “Father of Academic Peace Research.”  He is a mathematician, sociologist, political scientist and the founder of the discipline of peace studies.  His pioneering and continuing efforts have inspired the creation of Peace and Conflict Resolution academic programs in universities throughout the world.

Galtung was born in Oslo in 1930.  He experienced World War II in German-occupied Norway, and as a 12 year old saw his father arrested by the Nazis. By 1951 he was already a committed peace mediator, and elected to do 18 months of social service in place of his obligatory military service. After 12 months, Galtung insisted that the remainder of his social service be spent in activities relevant to peace, to which the Norwegian authorities responded by sending him to prison, where he served six months.

During his 40 year career, Johan Galtung has been a visiting professor at 30 schools on 5 different continents. He has written more than 100 books and over 1,000 articles about peace and conflict resolution, ecology, health, global governance, sustainable development and economic reform. In 1959 he stated the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo and directed it for 10 years. In 1964, he launched the Journal for Peace Research at the University of Oslo. In 1993 he co-founded TRANSCEND – A Peace and Development Network for Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means which has members in more than 50 countries.

Galtung first conceptualized “peacebuilding” by calling for systems that would create sustainable peace. He envisioned peacebuilding structures that would address the root causes of conflict and support local capacity for peace management and conflict resolution.

He is one of the authors of an influential account of news values which are the factors which determine what coverage is given to what stories in the news. Galtung originated the concept of Peace Journalism, which is increasingly influential in communications and media studies.

Galtung is also strongly associated with the following concepts:

  • Structural violence – Widely defined as the systematic ways in which a regime prevents individuals from achieving their full potential. Institutionalized racism and sexism are examples of this.
  • Negative vs. Positive Peace – The concept that peace may be more than just the absence of overt violent conflict (negative peace), and will likely include a range of relationships up to a state where nations (or any groupings in conflict) might have collaborative and supportive relationships (positive peace).

Galtung’s opinions and predictions have sometimes made him a controversial figure, but his lifelong contributions to the field of peace studies and conflict resolution have earned him a lasting place among the key figures in the global peace movement.

October 26, 2013

Liberia Marathon Commemorates a Decade of Negative Peace

Despite a rainy forecast on August 25th over a thousand runners turned up in Monrovia for Liberia’s second organized marathon since the end of the civil war. The “Liberia Rising, Together” marathon is one in a series of events that have been held this year in commemoration of 10 years of peace in the West African country.

Liberian Race Ellen Johnson Sirleat MarathonAmong the runners was President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Flanked by members of her staff and close associates, Johnson-Sirleaf jogged a stretch of the course along Tubman Boulevard as a gesture of solidarity with marathon participants.  “I am running in the spirit of celebrating this year of peace,” Johnson-Sirleaf said as she caught her breath to waive to passing runners. Alluding to the nexus between sports and development, the President added, “A healthy body means a healthy mind.”

Liberian Race Winner Nathan Naibei MarathonThe marathon also attracted international runners, including the winner of the men’s marathon, Nathan Naibei. A native Kenyan, Naibei completed the marathon in 2 hours and 33 minutes. “I’m happy, although this race was not as competitive as other marathons. The weather was also not that favorable to make a better time,” Naibei, who has won three other marathons, opined.

A race for all Liberians

Apart from the full marathon and a 10K alternative, a race for disabled persons was arranged for participants in wheelchairs and crutches.

Liberian Race Alex Kerkula MarathonNursing blisters on his hands chafed from maneuvering his wheelchair to a fourth place finish, Alex Kerkula expressed deep satisfaction for having surpassed his sixth place finish in 2006, “I thank God, I’m happy.” For Kerkula, a sense of accomplishment is a rare feeling. As an aspiring Hipco (Liberian rap) musician, Kerkula spends most of his time hustling on the streets to save up money to record his songs. Among the songs he has released is “Equal – Don’t Hit Me, I’m a Human Being,” in which he raps about the challenges of being disabled in Liberia. “In Liberia, we suffer hard. Nobody helps us,” Kerkula laments.

Coming off a first place finish in the crutches race, a shy smile crosses Emmanuel Nyumah’s face as he imagines how proud his family will be when learning that his arduous two-week long training paid off. In the book-selling business, Nyumah plans to use the cash prize awarded to the winners to invest in more books.

Nyumah feels as though he has come a long way after that fateful evening of Christmas Eve 2004 that resulted in the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Nyumah was traveling overnight in a truck carrying fish on the notoriously pothole-ridden road connecting Monrovia to Gbarnga when the vehicle overturned. During the three months he spent at the JFK hospital, Nyumah recalls, “I felt like I had lost the whole world.”

Negative peace in Liberia  

Recognizing that there are still many obstacles to overcome after Liberia’s gruesome 14-year civil war, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Eugene Nagbe, maintained that the marathon represents “a vote of confidence in the Liberian people.”

Echoing those sentiments, one 10K participant named Omaru stressed, “You need these types of events to make people know you are on the rightful path to peace.” In a country where most unemployment rate estimates hover between 80-85 percent, Omaru notes that, for the youth in particular, the race offers an opportunity to contribute to society in a positive manner.

johan galtungFor a brief moment, the marathon provided ordinary Liberians with a distraction from their daily struggle to survive. It was an opportunity to celebrate ten years of interrupted negative peace in the Galtungian sense.  Johan Galtung is widely regarded as a driving force behind the development of an academic discipline for Peace and Conflict Studies. Among many notable theories attributed to him, Galtung made the distinction between positive and negative peace along with developing the concept of peacebuilding. Negative peace refers to an absence of large-scale violence, while positive peace goes beyond that definition to include provisions against structural violence which hinders, among other things, democratic processes and social mobility.

While the marathon infused many Liberians with a sense of accomplishment and confidence, most Liberians are still reeling from the legacy of the war and the reality that the benefits of development have been disproportionately felt in the country. The gap between rich and poor continues to be unacceptably wide and so is a source of much resentment. That a marathon was held in one of the poorest post-conflict countries in the world is a massive feat, but not necessarily a sign that the country is out of the woods quite yet.

Not unlike Nyumah, when he goes home Kerkula expects to receive accolades from his family. And tomorrow he will be back on the streets, hustling to get by.