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Peacebuilding in Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tee” Essay

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Updated: Dec 31st, 2021

We live in a troubled world. Several problems confront humankind, and war or the absence of peace is one of them. In recognition of this reality, we are told of the war on terror right in the introduction of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. The book states thus, “…ineffective way, we as a nation conducted the war on terror (Mortenson 5).” There are so many actions that have been taken in an attempt to make the world a peaceful place. But the peace seems to be a distant mirage. The debate that continues to attract attention is whether personalities or effective institutions will eventually act as the panacea to lasting peace in the world. In this essay, I argue that effective institutions and not personalities will play a major role in peacebuilding. This is the thesis that I will support using relevant examples from Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson is a humanitarian individual who has done extensive charity work in Asia, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The book entitled Three Cups of Tea is a detailed account of his experiences in this region while trying to reach out to poor people.

To start with, effective institutions will create the required environment for people to lead their lives without any problem. There are numerous reasons why people fight. The competition for resources is one of them. But what if the institutions in a country are effective to the extent that the available resources are distributed fairly among the people? Then the outcome will be that there will be no reason to go to war. The capacity of institutions is far much higher compared to the potential of personalities. In three cups of tea, Greg Mortenson had to experience security problems while trying to reach out to the poor people of Afghanistan. This is due to the fact that the institutions of the country are not effective and therefore cannot avail a secure environment for their people as well as people who want to help, such as Mortenson. Thus from this standpoint, the ultimate solution to the problem of lack of peace is the creation of strong and effective institutions.

Leaving the above aside, effective institutions are the only entities with the resources in terms of finances and infrastructure to adequately deal with the problem of lack of peace. Why is this so? Greg Mortenson did his best to uplift the lives of poor people in Afghanistan and Pakistan by helping in the construction of schools. The following statement shows the mental deliberations Mortenson had as he went about building the schools, “He swept aside the doubts about his ability to build the school that had nagged him for the last year, as Abdul had briskly cleared the tea tray. The next day it was time to begin (Mortenson 59).”This shows Greg’s dedication despite doubts about his ability. But this is all that he would do. Peacebuilding requires big investments in the form of personnel and structures. The personnel will come in handy in dealing with the crisis, while the structures will help handle collective decision-making when discussing matters pertaining to peace and conflict. Is this an undertaking that individual persons such as Greg Mortenson can do? It is not possible for personalities to carry out such activities on their own. To exemplify this, as the United States decided to invade Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks, an individual or a personality would not have made any difference in trying to moderate the US military activity in Afghanistan. Mortenson contends that the attackers played tricks in wild Afghanistan. “In the years following 9/11 and America’s war to topple the Taliban, these remote and craggy areas would attract bands of Taliban and their Al Qaeda benefactors, who knew how easy it would be to lose oneself in these wild heights (Mortenson 79).” Dealing with such felloes requires not personalities but institutions. Institutions such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are the ones that are trying to deal with the terrorist cells believed to be in Afghanistan while at the same time trying to assist the people of Afghanistan in forming a stable government with effective structures which can then be used to deal with crime that triggers conflict. Had it been possible for a personality to play a major role in peacebuilding, then the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as other parts of the world, would not exist. Personalities like Mortenson would have moved in and done their work to restore peace. But this has not happened even in the presence of such people.

Thirdly, the personalities themselves have shown the significance of institutions by initiating programs aimed at establishing institutions. In Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson invests in the construction of schools. In the book Three Cups of Tea, we are told this, “He decided to stay in Korphe until he understood everything else he had to do to bring the school to life (Mortenson 103).” A school is a crucial institution in the process of peacebuilding if it is used properly. There are, of course, schools that are utilized by extremists for the training of more extremists. Such schools do not serve as effective institutions for peacebuilding but instead serve as breeding grounds for more perpetrators of violence. In schools, the learners can be taught the concept of tolerance for other cultures as well as the value of peaceful coexistence. Schools can also serve as career pathways for young people who then gain the ability to get into employment that assists them in meeting their economic needs. Mortenson understands this clearly, and this is why he had to invest his resources in establishing schools in Afghanistan. The extent to which he goes to raise money for building a school in a village in Afghanistan demonstrates how valuable this institution of learning is, not only in helping the people attain self-sufficient in economic terms but get in the pathway to peace. From this angle, effective institutions take to carry the day as far as peacebuilding is concerned.

Besides the above, effective institutions are more important in peacebuilding compared to personalities in the sense that they are long-lasting. If effective institutions can be defined broadly, then Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute become part of the institutions that we are talking about in this essay. In the introduction to Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, we are shown informed of Mortenson’s NGO and its work. The book says, “And as I found in Pakistan, Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute does irrefutably, have results (Mortenson 5).” When viewed from the point of existence, a personality can live for a given period, and as effective as the personality may be, the work will stop once he or she is dead. But effective institutions have the potential of lasting long so long as the leadership is sound. The fact that the institutions covered in this essay are described as effective means that they are managed in the best way. Therefore the ability to last long comes with the opportunity to carry long-term peace-building programs. This is a sure way of ensuring that people of a particular region who are benefiting from such institutions enjoy the fruits of peace for long. A connection to Greg Mortenson, in this case, is again important in that his understanding of the significance of effective institutions as opposed to personalities is clear. This is why he ignored his appeal and effort and instead proceeded to establish an institution, which has the potential to carry on with the good work that he is doing even when he becomes unable to do the work anymore. Is it all true that institutions play an important role in peacebuilding?

On the other hand, the fact that institutions have been around for long in such places as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and yet we have problems of war contradicts the thesis that effective institutions are more important in peacebuilding than personalities. In fact, personalities such as Greg Mortenson have been able to do recognizable work compared to institutions. For example, the educational institutions of Afghanistan are not in a position to construct schools in most parts of the country, but Greg Mortenson, a personality, has been able to do much. Three Cups of Tea tells us that “the people of Braldu had been promised schools by the distant Pakistani government for decades and they were waiting still. Patience was their greatest skill (Mortenson 104).” This shows how institutions can sometimes fail. David Oliver, in the introduction to Three Cups of Tea, puts it rather plainly when he says, “Though he would never say so himself, he has single-handedly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and independently won more hearts and minds, than all the official American propaganda flooding the region (Mortenson 5).” This further proves how personalities can do what institutions such as governments cannot do.

In conclusion, the long-lasting nature of effective institutions, the example given by personalities who have pointed in the direction of creating effective institutions, the immense infrastructural potential of effective institutions, and the fact that effective institutions create the required environment that supports peaceful existence underscore the significance of effective institutions in peacebuilding. Personalities can do good work but not on a large scale and not for long.

Work Cited

Mortenson, Greg & Relin, Oliver. Three Cups of Tea. New York: Penguin Group Inc.

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