Letter: Political realities of peace-keeping

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The Independent Online
Sir: James Roberts's stimulating article ('A way out of the apocalypse', 8 September) suggesting that the UN should continue to work through clan elders in the absence of government has a romantic ring, but also a serious application which goes much wider than Somalia. Aid agencies have for years worked with traditional chiefs and valued the relationship, because their authority at village level has generally not been undermined by the nation state. It is not just essential that they be involved: they already are.

The problem arises at the intermediate, regional level where the clan has achieved a political and military strength out of proportion to size and territory - often through colonial bias. Pretoria still provides the most flagrant example. But this is not just occurring in Africa. Kashmir, Cambodia and Northern Ireland show how hard it is to go back to an original expression of clan.

While devolution is a fairly safe guiding principle, democracy is often either wishful thinking or a sham (look at lusophone and francophone Africa). Isn't it time we dropped it? The political reality now requires that negotiations have to go on at several levels of representation. While majorities obviously have to be pacified, minorities as well as traditional forms of government should be given a higher status wherever possible in peace-keeping arrangements.

This in turn means that nations, while avoiding too much paperwork, must give far more support to the UN and the many voluntary agencies who are doing their dirty work for them.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN MONTAGU

London, SW11

9 September

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