An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Davin Bremner '76: Peacebuilding and conflict resolution

Davin Bremner ’76, back left, an independent conflict resolution professional and owner of, with Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and African peacemaking colleagues Ntobeko Mzolo (South Africa) and Viviane Ralimanga (Madagascar) at a retreat for peacebuilders in Hermanus, South Africa, October 2017.

Peacebuilding and conflict resolution  |  Netherlands and the world

October 2018

By Paula Bock

Life Journey: In 1979, I went around the world on Semester at Sea with Lakeside '76 classmates Doug Burke and Peter Most. Everything international, academic, and related to peacebuilding began with that experience. In August 1990, I found myself in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela had just walked out of prison; community conflict work during South Africa's political transition was career defining and life changing. I've visited and worked in remote places: South Ossetia; Bougainville, Papua New Guinea; Aland Islands, Finland; Gagauzia, Moldova; Kathmandu. I've worked with the Naga people, the Ogoni people, and the Cabindans. 

On ‘ubuntu’ (translated as ‘I am because we are’ or ‘people are people through people’)

Our humanity depends on the quality of relationships in our communities and societies. Our opportunities in life are defined by connections to other people; our problems can be solved through cooperation and mutual respect. If people have "lost" their ubuntu through violent or dehumanizing conflict, we can find it again through restoring valued relationships and harmony in the community. 
My work assumes a set of fundamental human needs: identity, security, understanding, participation. While the needs are universal, the social structures that allow people to feel safe, recognized, and included are different in different places. Conflict transformation is a process of figuring out why existing structures are failing to allow those human needs to be satisfied  (apartheid being a perfect example — the institutionalized denial of identity, security, participation); then figuring out what would satisfy those same needs in the specific cultural/social context. 

I've worked with more than a few 'freedom fighters' who were on someone's list of 'terrorists.'- Davin Bremner '76

On fisherman becoming Somali pirates 

Most people don't realize Boko Haram didn't name themselves “Western education is forbidden.” That name came from people of a different community disrespecting and mocking them. While they adhere to a fundamentalist doctrine, Boko Haram initially created a separatist movement to withdraw from what they saw as a corrupt society. They were radicalized after the Nigerian government killed several thousand of them, including their original leader. They have a story. The Somali pirates have a story. They were originally fisherman. But the failure of the Somali government allowed illegal foreign fishing, and worse, dumping of industrial waste into their waters, destroying the fisheries. They organized originally to defend their fishing industry and livelihoods. People can become radicalized when they have “lost their ubuntu,” when their human needs are denied. My work involves creating safe spaces for dialogue where these stories can be told, heard, shared, explored. 

This article was first published in the Fall/Winter 2018 Lakeside magazine. Paula Bock is innovation and communications strategist for Mobilizing Myanmar, an initiative leveraging Burma’s smartphone revolution to connect women and the poor with economic opportunity. She’s the mom of a Lakeside 10th grader.