Clark, UG conflict resolution partnership showing progress- Kirton
Forty students register for first course By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
July 19, 2002

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The three-year partnership programme between the University of Guyana (UG) and Clark Atlanta University (CAU) on `Democratisation and Conflict Resolution' is beginning to show visible signs of progress, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Dr Mark Kirton, says.

In an interview on Wednesday, Dr Kirton, a project director of the partnership programme, told Stabroek News that under the first phase of the US$200,000 project, UG will, for the first time during this session, offer a course in conflict resolution and conflict analysis.

He said that 40 students have registered for the course and he now hopes UG will develop more courses in a programme on conflict analysis and resolution. For the course, he said, the Department of Government in the Faculty of Social Sciences has devised a course outline, which was approved by the regular university committees.

In addition, coming out of the brainstorming sessions and workshops conducted at UG, Georgetown, Rose Hall in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) and St Ignatius in Region Nine (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo), Dr Kirton said, the partnership was now putting together a manual dealing with the experiences on case studies. The objective, he said, was to provide communities with the manuals and training so they would not have total reliance on external mediation.

The brainstorming sessions, which started in Georgetown, involved among others, non-governmental organisations and other members of civil society.

The three-year project, which started last year and was being funded by the USAID through the International Partnership Program of the United Negro College Fund Special Projects Corporation, Dr Kirton said, could emerge as a sub-regional programme, not only for Guyana, but for Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago which have similar political and ethnic conflicts due to similarities in those countries.

He said that UG already had a partnership arrangement with the University of Suriname, which was initiated even before the UG/CAU partnership, and examines challenges in politics, governance, and the development of conflict resolution skills in small communities. Because of the current structure with the Atlanta, Georgia-based CAU and the UNCF Special Programs Corporation, Dr Kirton said, "we don't only want to engage Suriname but also the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago." However, he added, "we haven't spoken to T&T definitively as yet."

Noting that workshops were held in Georgetown and in communities in which the people were predominantly of East Indian and Amerindian origin, Dr Kirton said, that this year the project will be doing studies in three communities of which one will be predominantly East Indian, another African and the third, a mixed community.

It was brought to his attention that Buxton on the East Coast Demerara had, for over a year been the scene of conflict and the question was asked why a workshop or seminar was not held there. Kirton said that the project had not identified one particular community, but being a dynamic one it would have to look at the so-called hot spots, which are emerging.

He said it was important to understand that while there were some limitations, the project was trying to create a core of skilled persons from all segments of society. It is the hope, he said that next semester, the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education through collaboration with the Department of Government would offer short courses in those communities that were challenged at present.

Asked about responses to the workshops held in Rose Hall and at St Ignatius, Dr Kirton said that they were good. In Berbice, instead of the traditional issues of ethnicity and political conflict, which were expected, he said, the cases articulated by the community had to do with social and security problems such as family conflicts, spousal abuse and suicide. Noting that these were emerging priority issues, which could not be left behind, he said that the project has had to broaden its scope.

To this end the Department of Social Work at UG and the Social Work Department of the CAU are in discussions on the issues, he said, adding that conflict resolution went beyond political strife.

The two departments have already started to look at possible areas of cooperation.

At the meeting held in the Rupununi earlier in the week at which the US-based Coordinator of the programme, Dr Cedric Grant, and the Executive Director and Vice President for International Programs of United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation, Shelby Lewis, among others were present, Dr Kirton said that they found issues of culture emerging. He gave the example of the movement into the Rupununi by Guyanese of East Indian and African descent and their potential to dilute the culture of the indigenous people being a cause of concern.

Royalties going to the state instead of going back towards the development of the indigenous communities was also another source of worry.

Dr Kirton and the team, which also included Dr Michael Scott and Barbara Thomas-Holder of UG; Dr Ganga Persaud of the CAU; Sophia Clarke from the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy within the Organisation of American States, attempted to go through techniques to identify, reduce and manage conflicts.

Lewis told Stabroek News that what was important was not so much the nature of the conflict but the process that the project was developing that will help people avoid, address or resolve the conflict. The partnership between CAU and UG, she said, was a project for which UNCF Special Programs only provided start-up funds.

To ensure the institutionalisation of the project the partnership would welcome additional funding so that it would not be a one-shot activity.

The international partnership programme, Lewis said, linked universities - historically black universities and colleges - in the USA with universities all over the world. Such partnerships currently exist in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.