Diana Francis

Personal story and profile

I was born in November 1944, to conscientious objector parents, and at the age of fifteen began my life as an activist in movements for peace, economic justice and human rights (later also in the green movement).

Having graduated in English at Oxford University and qualified as a teacher, I spent a good many years at home with small children, but remained active in the peace and other movements and served on various committees. I also joined the Society of Friends (Quakers).

In 1981 I joined the Steering Committee of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). Three years later I became its President and served in that position for eight years. IFOR had branches or affiliates in more than forty countries and I travelled a great deal, meeting activists from many different backgrounds and cultures and learning from their experiences of resisting violence and working to address conflict.

IFOR and its membership were, at that time, focussed mainly on nonviolent action to confront structural injustice and tyranny. We were inspired by the work of our sister organisation, Servicio (Service for Peace and Justice in Latin America), whose members were involved in courageous action in the face of brutal repression.

Then, during the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, with the support of IFOR members an IFOR branch was formed there and organised an intensive programme of nonviolence training. Its members  played a key role (with the support of the Catholic Church) in organising the mass demonstrations of ‘people power’ in which President Marcos was overthrown, when his tanks were stopped by nuns and others, offering the soldiers flowers and cigarettes and the army turned against him.

This remarkable display of ‘people power’ was quickly followed by similar events in Nepal and Bangladesh, and before long in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. Soon, in South Africa, the apartheid regime was brought to an end, not by the activities of the armed wing of the ANC but by the popular uprisings by its members in the townships and sustained civil resistance, with the Anglican Church under Desmond Tutu’s leadership playing a key role.

We had moved, in remarkably few years, from a world in which Gandhi and Martin Luther King had provided the only two well-known examples of large-scale and effective nonviolent action, to one in which the shape of international politics had been radically altered by the power of ordinary people.

One might have expected this astonishing and protracted series of events to have altered world views on the potential of nonviolent power and the ‘necessity’ for war. Alas, it would seem it did not.

Furthermore, the upshot of the changes that people power brought about was not peace in those lands but, in some cases at least, new versions of bad government, new victims and new forms of social unrest. In what was Yugoslavia and in different parts of the former Soviet Union ‘identity conflicts’ began, as nationalist demagogues sought to gain popularity and fill the power and identity vacuum that sudden change had created.

In this situation, the language of struggle seemed less than apposite. ‘Coexistence’ seemed more to the point and for the last couple of years before the end of my IFOR presidency (in 1992), we began to focus on bridge building and the idea of ‘conflict resolution’.

I trained as a mediator and began to train others. I had meant to focus on conflicts and peacebuilding at home, as well as continuing to campaign for the demilitarisation of the UK’s ‘foreign policy’, but because of my international experience I was soon drawn back into international work.

As a consultant in constructive responses to conflict I worked mostly with people in areas suffering political violence: in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, South and East Asia, Africa and Northern Ireland. I have played the roles of trainer, facilitator, mediator/conciliator and long-term accompanier with armed and unarmed actors, helping them to work out how best to end violence and move forward, as well as to build their skills to do so. I have helped organisations to evaluate and strengthen their work and working relationships, and facilitated important and difficult conversations in a wide variety of contexts, involving both military and civilian actors.

I have had long connections with  International Alert, Conciliation ResourcesResponding to Conflict and Quaker Peace and Social Witness but have worked for a great many other peacebuilding organisations and academic institutions based in the UK and beyond.

In 1995 I became Chair of what became known as the Committee for Conflict Transformation Support (CCTS), a professional network formed in the UK in 1992. Its purpose at that time was to enable a coordinated response to the growing crisis in the former Yugoslavia. As time went on it became a forum for reflection on practice, in whatever part of the world.

My doctorate (awarded by Bath University in 1998) was based on four years of action research related to my own practice as a trainer and facilitator. Later I was for several years involved in supervision of fellow practitioners doing similar research.

Since 1993 I have acted as a practitioner-consultant in constructive responses to conflict – most recently in SE Asia and the South Caucasus., of whatever kind, mostly with local people in areas of political violence, in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, South and East Asia, Africa and Northern Ireland. I have played the roles of accompanier, trainer and facilitator, both with single ‘parties’ and in meetings between opposing groups. I also help organisations to evaluate and strengthen their work and working relationships and facilitate important and difficult conversations in a wide variety of contexts.

I have had particularly long and close connections with Conciliation Resources, Responding to Conflict, Quaker Peace and Social Witness and International Alert, but have worked for a great many other organisations.

Please click on Professional Profile for further information about my work as a consultant.

I have written a great many articles over the years, on war, conflict transformation, gender and nonviolent power, as they relate to the values and praxis of peace building. For many years I was co-editor of the CCTS Review and contributed papers and articles to it. I have also written four books, three of them published by Pluto Press. The first, People, Peace and Power, was based on my doctoral research and has been widely used by practitioners and students of conflict and peacemaking; the second, Rethinking War and Peace, makes the case for the abolition of war, and the third, From Pacification to Peacebuilding, reviews the successes and failures of conflict transformation and argues that if we want to get beyond fire-fighting we must tackle the global military system. (A related article entitled Making Peace Global, was published by Taylor and Francis.)

Since the ‘Arab Spring’ and its aftermath I have been thinking hard about the challenges and limits of nonviolent people power. I wrote an article for Peace News, the longer version of which is available on this website and I continue to exchange ideas with colleagues.

My most recent book, the fourth, called Faith, Power and Peace, was commissioned by British Quakers and delivered in lecture form to an audience of more than a thousand. Over the years I have done a great deal of public speaking, in a wide variety of contexts, but that was the most daunting.

While I still undertake a small amount of ‘field work’, my major focus now is to work with others to create new thinking about what constitutes human security and how it can be achieved. Rethinking Security (link www.rethinkingsecurity.org.uk), which I helped to create, brings together peacebuilding organisations and individuals, academics and campaigners, with a wealth of experience and expertise and a commitment to global peacebuilding.

Having seen that the prevailing military approach – based as it is on controlling or destroying enemies rather than addressing the major threats to people and planet – is in fact one of the major drivers of insecurity, we promote fresh thinking about what security really means for people and how it can best be created. In this we seek to make common cause with the many organisations, in the UK and beyond, that are working for peace, human rights (including migrant rights), democracy, economic justice and environmental protection.

The world can seem chaotic and the threats are many and urgent but, with kindness, intelligence and determination, a change in direction is still possible. We need not destroy each other along with the earth we inhabit but can rather create a global society that enables people and planet to flourish together.

My contact address is info@dianafrancis.info