Louis Bickford

Louis Bickford, PhD, has been working in the transitional Justice field since 1994 with institutions such as the Ford Foundation; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the International Center for Transitional Justice; and the United Nations, as well as various other foundations and international organizations and has published widely on transitional justice, memory, and human rights. He is the founder and CEO of Memria.Org and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University and New York University.

Issue: Radical Critical

Transitional Justice is a professionalised and internationally accepted policy field. But do its implicit and explicit foundations still hold good? Which of its underlying assumptions, patterns of thinking or practices should be critically reviewed?

Radical critical blog series

This blog series examines the field of transitional justice through a critical lens, asking challenging questions and exploring ways in which it is relevant today. Through a small number of carefully-selected interviews, the series intends to provoke debate within the field and help lead to innovation and adaptation.

Interested to contribute?

Great! If you would like to write a blog post, get in touch with us.

Contact us

Wounded leadership, wounded institutions

The blind spots in the field
27. Oktober 2020
Oleg Stepanov | Unsplash

Nomfundo Mogapi, Executive Director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), urges that the areas of mental health and psychosocial support should receive more attention in the transitional justice practice, considering psychosocial healing not only indispensable for victims, but also for the leadership and intitutions.

Nomfundo Mogapi is currently the Executive Director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) and the lead of the Mental Wellness Initiative for COVID 19. Ms. Mogapi is a clinical psychologist by training. She has over 20 years of experience in the mental health and psychosocial sector. Her areas of expertise include integrating psychosocial expertise within policy and programming on a range of issues such as leadership, human rights, peacebuiding, governance, democracy and transitional justice. She has a passion for providing and understanding the psychosocial healing of individuals, institutions and collectives.

Transitional justice has always been a multi-disciplinary field, drawing on law, political science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and history, among others. But that doesn’t mean that all disciplines have been equally influential. Indeed, many of the interviews for this blog series have highlighted the ways in which legal scholars and lawyers have played a disproportionate role in building the field. 

One of these is Nomfundo Mogapi, a psychologist by training and the current Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa, a preeminent nongovernmental organization in this field. I interviewed Nomfundo on April 7th, 2020. From her early experiences in transitional justice, she has worried about the “lawyerization” of the field and, to this day, she believes that other disciplines, including psychology and anthropology, should receive more attention. In particular, she argues that the areas of mental health and psychosocial support have “been neglected” in part because “you have to convince lawyers mostly, and show them that mental health and psychosocial support is not just about supporting victims. It's not just about reparations component of transitional justice, but it affects all the different elements of transitional justice from reconciliation to accountability, to truth telling through guarantees of non-repetition”. 

Leadership and institutions might also be traumatised

Nomfundo has brought this disciplinary approach to all her work, from direct support to individual victims to understanding and addressing collective trauma at the societal level. Over the years, she has become increasingly fascinated by the importance of understanding leadership from a psychosocial perspective. For her, “leadership is one of the key, key, key issues ... the people that we expect to lead societies have such high levels of trauma and wounding, they themselves don't remain unscathed by what happened in the society. They also enter their leadership role with the same levels of wounding and trauma. We know trauma changes the way in which you see the world, the way in which you respond to the world”. 

For Nomfundo, this realization is an especially important component of the “institutional reform” pillar of transitional justice: “I would say, over and above changing the laws and training people on Human Rights, you also need to understand what I call the wounded nature of these institutions. How these institutions are likely to carry the same cultures that perpetrated the violence”. And the “most important thing that shifts institutional cultures is leadership. If an institution wants to change the culture, then you bring a leader who … has the capacity to be awake to themselves and their own trauma, you transform others by being transformed yourself. If you're not transformed, you then shape the culture. You see it in families, right? If you don't deal with them, trauma and abuse at home, when you are a father or a mother, you will perpetuate the same culture”.

The need to offer healing and psychosocial support for leaders 

To address these challenges, Nomfundo feels that “we also have to integrate emotional resilience, emotional awareness and healing” for people in leadership positions in addition to victims, survivors, and others, for them to understand and deal with their own trauma. “Because even the most well-designed instruments in the hands of leaders that are broken and wounded are much more likely to be dangerous. So yes. If I was to redesign an approach to transitional justice, I would definitely ensure that mental health and psychosocial support are integrated from how we design the strategy, how we design interventions, the mentorship and the advice, and the support that we give the leaders”. She suggests, for example, training “managers to see when the trauma of staff members is standing in the way of them doing work” and creating internal programs and funds for self-care, including of institutional leaders that would allow them to say "Look, your trauma, whether it's of the past or whatever, it's actually standing in the way. You need to go either for coaching or counseling." This means linking up the disparate fields of leadership coaching and transitional justice, which often “speak different languages”.

Understanding leadership is also an important component of the “truth-telling” pillar of transitional justice for Nomfundo: “truth telling shouldn't just be about what individuals did, but it would be around holding the institutions accountable and really understanding [them]. Because when I talk about institutional culture, it's embedded within the systems of the institutions. It's embedded within the procedures and processes of the system. It's also embedded into how people interact with each other, what's acceptable, what's not acceptable. So if then the truth-telling really highlights the role of institutions and what was it about institutions that enabled them to perpetuate the violence or become silent observers in it, it then begins to help us to identify places of intervention, right? Just like we would have spaces of interventions with individuals. And those could differ. I mean, definitely, there's a very strong relationship between leadership and institution. I'll give you the leader and their personality, I'll show the kind of institution that they have”.

Please send us your feedback and opinions to: tj@frient.de

Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft Frieden und Entwicklung (FriEnt) ist ein Zusammenschluss von staatlichen Organisationen, kirchlichen Hilfswerken, zivilgesellschaftlichen Netzwerken und politischen Stiftungen.


Arbeitsgemeinschaft Frieden

und Entwicklung (FriEnt) c/o GIZ

Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 36

53113 Bonn

Tel +49 228 4460-1916

E-Mail: info@frient.de