Some thoughts by Professor Pamela Machakanja, Africa University, Zimbabwe

It is imperative that peace and mental health practitioners move away from using linear approaches, to collective approaches that stress the importance of interdisciplinary, multi-level, multi-sectoral and integrated responses to psychosocial and peacebuilding interventions.’

From the 23rd to the 25th of September, IJR and its Finnish partner organisation FELM co-hosted a 3-day co-creation workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe aimed at jointly creating a collaborative approach to psycho-social support and peacebuilding. The workshop was attended by Zimbabwean individuals and organisations working in the two disciplines. The workshop was opened by Professor Pamela Machakanja from Africa University in Mutare who made the following opening remarks:

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am humbled to have been asked to give opening remarks in this important 3-day workshop where we are going to share ideas and experiences with the aim of coming up with a holistic context-sensitive strategy or model that integrates Mental Health, Psychosocial support (MHPSS) and Peacebuilding as a process that strengthens people’s well-being as part of the peacebuilding/reconstruction agenda.

This workshop is also an attempt to shift our traditional mind-sets of looking at these interrelated disciplines as isolated and unrelated. Instead, mental health and psychosocial services should be seen as an integral, holistic approach to peacebuilding that addresses individual psychological and community relations, healing and recovery needs. As such, the proposed model envisioned in this workshop is one that would embrace local or indigenous knowledge systems aimed at strengthening the social fabric of our society. It is a holistic approach that integrates the theories and practices of MHPSS and PB for the purpose of laying a strong foundation for the attainment of sustainable PB outcomes in (post-) conflict  and natural disaster-related settings such as Cyclone Idai which we experienced recently where many are struggling to come to terms with deep psychological traumatic consequences not to mention the destruction of homes and infrastructure. Ladies and gentlemen, we all know how psychosocial support interventions are implemented can either contribute to or impede, peacebuilding and healing processes. In Zimbabwe, for example, we are all aware of the rise in gender-based violence which mostly manifests as domestic/intimate partner-related violence where 1 in 3 women aged between 15-49 experience some form of violence leading to mental and psychological disorders and substance abuse among our youth with statistics hovering above 60+%, situations which point to the pressing need for both counsellors, social workers, mental health and peacebuilding practitioners to work in collaboration and create strategic synergies if they are to respond with success to these dynamic conflictual life situations in holistic and sustaining ways.

Peace and mental health practitioners must move away from using linear approaches, to collective approaches that stress the importance of interdisciplinary, multi-level, multi-sectoral and integrated responses to psychosocial and peacebuilding interventions. Thus, drawing from health, psychological and anthropological approaches, the MHPSS and Peacebuilding framework should emphasise the inextricable link between mental health and broader social experiences. Ladies and gentlemen, we are also aware that Peacebuilding is generally understood as a comprehensive process that encompasses a range of approaches, activities, and actors that aim to prevent, manage, resolve, and transform conflict to positive peace. Within this broad scope, peacebuilding and MHPSS can be both a process and an outcome, operationalised as a multi-levelled, multi-sectoral, and multi-staged integrated process.

This integrative approach recognises the closely networked circular interaction between an individual’s psychological state —the realm of the mind, cognition, and emotions —and his or her social environment, especially relationships with others in the family/community ecosystem. This workshop also reminds us of John Paul Lederach who stands as one of the writers who challenges top-down approaches to peacebuilding, advocating for bottom-up inclusive approaches which give organic perspectives to inclusive participation and interventions that facilitate and sustain capacities for mental-physical well-being, non-violence and secure relationship building that enhance cultures of peace, societal social cohesion. For scholars and practitioners here present reconceptualising the complex dynamic processes of holistic peacebuilding strengthens the idea that effective peacebuilding must be based not merely on peace agreements signed at the macro-level, but more importantly must focus on the empowerment of communities affected by different conflictual situations, building peace from below, in order to enhance sustainable citizen-based peacebuilding and inclusive psychosocial support initiatives. From this perspective of peacebuilding from below, solutions are derived and built by multiple actors using local resources. Attention is also paid to indigenous resources which use multi-track, multi-level, multi-disciplinary and participatory processes where local people are empowered to actively participate in the peace and reconciliation processes essential for nation-building Such bottom-up, multi-disciplinary and multi-level and multi-sectoral approaches become both a practice and an attitude. 

As practitioners, we are therefore called upon to see people affected by traumatic events or living in conflictual situations not as a problem, but as resilient agents or survivors capable of coming up with solutions to complement our efforts. Also, collaboration offers opportunities to work together in coming up with sustainable community transformation, healing and improved integrated psychosocial peacebuilding policies, programmes, and institutional practices. Lastly, I would like to express my appreciation and warm thanks to the organisers of this workshop, whose purpose is to facilitate discursive engagements in search of new knowledge that offers unique frameworks, renewed and innovative efforts at managing conflict and reinforce pathways to preventing human suffering in holistic and sustainable ways. As one local proverb says, it is in the shelter of each other that we as a people learn to live in peace, harmony and co-existence. With these few words, I thank you’

The workshop was concluded with a resounding sense of agreement that by bringing together, the fields of MHPSS and PB, stronger and more effective outcomes would be attained for each area. There was a firm commitment from all participants to continue to work together to learn about one another’s work and to work on developing a model for a collaborative approach jointly.