Peace in Africa: Essential Background for Development
WCIU Journal: Area Studies Topic
by Abdou Maiga
This article was first published in January, 2012 in the WCIU Journal issue, Peacemaking in Africa, based on papers from a conference by that title.
Many men and women rebel with indignation at the idea that peace between people is a dream, as they realize that humankind has followed a path of violence. World War II cost the lives of millions of people. Millions of people continue to perish with victims of war and violence of all kinds. There are many African countries that invested hundreds of billions of dollars in armaments, which would have been sufficient to provide a comfortable standard of living for African people and to initiate development in many areas. Unfortunately, war-related destruction and widespread insecurity continues even today in many of the continent’s countries for reasons that are difficult to comprehend. It is urgent that Africans realize that in time of war what people need most are not only humanitarian programs aimed at providing them with food, medicines, and development initiatives that could save or preserve lives, but also programs of peace and reconciliation. What are the challenges for this approach and what are the implications for humanitarian and developmental structures in Africa today?
In times of conflict, it is important to promote sustainable development. Nevertheless, actions must be directed necessarily to the promotion of peace, because without it, development would be inconsistent or even impossible. Ad hoc support or emergency programs in times of war or conflict are insufficient; there is a dire need to take time to reconstruct thousands of shattered lives and to rebuild divided communities. Such an approach requires a process of involving strategic actions that can serve as bridges for economic and social challenges that are engendered by war. It is true that nowadays the risk of African civil wars and wars between nations have dropped significantly. However, the modes of conflict and violence have changed: now, more than 1.5 billion people live in a fragile state or are affected by conflict or in a state of very high violent crime. A development based on non-renewable resources, where most of the wealth is concentrated within a fraction of the population leads to an inescapable situation of social instability and violence.
The future of the world cannot rely on oil because making energy is a major challenge that causes the problem of access to water and food security. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of people in Africa still lack access to clean water and do not eat their fill. It also is estimated that in many countries the use of natural resources have played a role either in the beginning of a conflict or in its continuance. This is the case, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where reliable witnesses report that its natural wealth was the determining factor in bringing conflicts that exploded in recent years. This strife has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and in serious violations of human rights. Thus, the exploitation of minerals and other types of trafficking such as ivory and rhino horn have greatly contributed to the purchase of weapons of war in several African countries. It is understood that all these anarchic operations and widespread abuse of these resources seriously damaged the long-term human and natural capital of the continent with obvious implications for human health, the quality of the land, the ecosystem, and the wildlife.
On the other hand, is it possible to realize that the structures inspired by the values of the Kingdom have a clear responsibility vis-à-vis the nature that reveal God. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Therefore, all actions for peace in conflict areas must also take into account the preservation of nature, for it is humanity’s responsibility. It is a promise that should be considered in the form of priesthood: to help people in times of conflict not only to make peace with man but also with nature.
Where are the efforts of NGO-inspired values of the kingdom in regards to nature? These efforts must be in the sense of better management of water resources and preserving biodiversity. Pending the full and final release of all the creation with the second advent of Christ, “We know that, until now, the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs.” This approach in the consideration of the environment must be part of a coherent plan for conflict prevention. If it is neglected there will be almost certainly open warfare for access to water and food security, which would cause massive displacement of populations, infant mortality, and other vulnerabilities. Even more so, the conflict in Africa may cause many violations of human rights and it will slow down all development efforts.
In starting with the premise that peace is a prerequisite for development and recognizing that peace and development are inseparable, there still remains a fundamental question. How is it possible then to prevent conflict, and how to work on the rehabilitating peace after conflict? The need to take account of better management of natural resources is a known fact, but it demands a focus on peaceful arrangements and nonviolence, as violence begets more violence. “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
It is impossible to forget that in the Scripture war and injustice are stigmatized. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” People in international development have a responsibility, along with their organizations, to work with a Kingdom-perspective, and to face the troubles that are affecting Africa. It is urgent to recognize that the superficiality of lacking commitment to the Lord, or the lack of courage of Christians in Africa to denounce injustices, and the act of blaming God instead of the devil have contributed greatly to endanger peace and to exacerbate ethnic and community tensions.
Wars have destroyed many communities, divided homelands, and broken millions of lives in many African countries. Yet even today, the violence continues incessantly and with massive and individual brutality. Who will continue to believe that peace is merely a vague ideal or aspiration? Who will work to make peace a reality for the people of Africa? Consequently, Africans must welcome and support all programs whose goal is to search for peace in Africa and in the world. It is imperative in times of conflict to support dialogue between the antagonists, using peaceful logic for conflict resolution, compromising when necessary, and making concessions in order to achieve a genuine peace. Such an approach is a priority if there is to be consistent and sustainable development. What are the implications?
A rehabilitation program for the various NGOs in Africa stands out as an imperative, in order to develop action plans that encourage peace and promote the reduction of societal crises. The fundamental principle of development is essentially peace, and its corollary conflict resolution, through negotiation and inter-communal dialogue. No development is possible without serious peace. Wars and other violent conflicts result in disastrous human, environmental, and economic devastation. The conditions of war are often the result of human development problems: a problem of access to clean water, or inadequate food supplies, or widespread poverty. In this sense, the achievement of peace requires primarily the fight against poverty, the promotion of human development, and initiatives against all that destroys the environment.
The rehabilitation of peace implies a respect for human rights, and a culture of peace that leads to disarmament through dialogue and negotiation. It is therefore essential to build peace at all levels using various methods and strategies. It is impossible to stop conflicts with just monetary donations, but it is the responsible duty of everyone to behave in a manner that does not exacerbate ethnic divide. Reducing community tensions and promoting reconciliation between peoples are endeavors that require a strong spirit of moral and ethical generosity. Such behavior requires major changes because the search for peace and reconciliation of people is never easy. All the efforts in these communities must be founded on the principle of rebuilding peace if there is to be any effective accomplishment in influencing conflict groups. The outpouring of generosity that is needed in the face of violence in the world is considerable. Africa, in particular, must be placed before God’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” From a kingdom perspective, people of faith need to work for the progress and security of Africa by taking the necessary steps to prevent any threat to peace and by contributing to the development means to achieve real lasting peace. It will entail the reduction of military buildup on a negotiated basis. There also must be action against the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world, and the continuous struggle against terrorism and global crime. People must unite against the Chinese adage that “war must be eliminated by war.” Yet, there is an alternative, which does not use weapons: it is Christ’s love for the world. It is for the redemption of souls, and for the restoration of creation that Satan corrupted.
A number of prerequisites must be in place if there is to be true peace. Among these one should recognize that:
1. A simple desire for peace is not enough because peace cannot be produced by the simple generosity of the human heart. Unfortunately, human natural inclination often resorts to envy and to harm others. Man always has been the enemy of man.
2. The origin of the lack of peace comes mainly from the internal rebellion of man against the divine injunctions.
3. People should cease to underestimate or deny the existence of Satan’s power and of its opposition to this world. By not taking into account the activity of Satan in this world, it is not possible to be ready for a massive mobilization for the destruction of his work in this world. All his work is the enemy of peace, and thus, for sustainable development.
In order to be intentional about building peace, it is essential to analyze the root causes of the problems and conflicts existing in, among, and within communities, and to understand how to mitigate them. To do this requires being modern, progressive, and scientific in intentional actions without being a conformist. The Christian mission in this world is to reveal the reality of Christ and the reality of the world. The quality of relationships with others depends mainly on a personal relationship with God. The problem is not fundamentally about weapons of war or nuclear energy but about the human heart, its pride and arrogance. Satan obscures the discernment of humanity, although its creative genius can get perform artistic and scientific feats. Therefore, it is urgent that people have in their Kingdom-view actions plan that takes into account all dimensions. It is impossible to speak about peace and rehabilitation and to ignore Satan and the principle of evil that drive men to despair and distress, since violence exists in this world because of Satan’s strategy. If the world does not realize that Satan is the adversary of God, then people will not understand why there is no peace.
The rebuilding of the peace is inseparable from community reconciliation, as can be seen in Rwanda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea follow in this process. The steps to build peace for a genuine reconciliation of communities in times of conflict require individual and community dimensions. These can be understood through the following dimensions:
It is vital to emphasize the quality of relationships with others derived from what is maintained with God. This is why the individual dimension involves love, patience, humility, and prayer.
Instinct guides all the behavior of animals. For humans, it is love that should be the guide. Love illuminates humanity and opens its mind to action. If human beings are considered as unique, created in the image of God, then human responsibility is to love. The good or bad actions of men are the product of his inner being, so the true value of a man lies not in what he has, but what he is.
Love is the greatest of divine gifts and the essential rule in building true peace. It lays the foundation for a genuine reconciliation in communities in conflict. Love leads people to pay the price for peace and to seek it at all costs. It determines the degree of commitment for this peace. Because of love, there is awareness that it is necessary to take risks when engaging in the way of peace. Without love all else is unnecessary (1 Cor 12:1-3), so it should guide the Christian approach to the restoration of peace and the triumph of reconciliation.
The restoration of peace after a conflict requires a great amount of patience. This is because very often, the roots of conflict are very deep and can be traced back several decades in the area’s history.
Recognizing the need for patience not only helps us to focus on long-term goals, but also helps us to be persistent in waiting for the results. There is no “fast food” in peace building and reconciliation. Patience is necessary in dealing with others preferences, faults and various backgrounds and experiences.
Internal healing is also an important part of the restoration of peace, yet it takes a lot of time. This is particularly important for donors, who may be looking for faster results, to keep in mind.
Humility is the antithesis of pride and selfishness, which are unfortunately rooted in our hearts. Pushing us to be arrogant is one of the devil’s strategies. Yet any effort to restore peace on our side requires recognition of two unavoidable realities: firstly, the reality of sin and of our own downfall, and secondly, the need to believe that God is sovereign and because of that, he controls the world.
This also implies that the sovereign grace of God is deeper than the whole system of evil and its manifestations in the world including the hatred and rivalry between men. Humility helps us realize that whatever the problems are, within each of us lies the image of God and this helps us to discover that there are also many human values that unite us. This can develop the basis for community understanding and to promote peace and reconciliation.
All the things mentioned above - loving the communities we are called to serve, the realization that peace is built over time, a patient and a humble dependence on God’s sovereign grace to leads us - flow from prayer and intercession. Active love is inseparable from a life of prayer since both love and prayer are the manifestations of the Kingdom and necessary for true restoration of peace and a reconciliation of hearts.
The Community Dimension
The Community dimension involves the work of mediation, justice, and reconstruction.
If we want to get involved in situations of conflict and achieve concrete results for the restoration of peace, we should first analyze deeply the causes of conflict. Extensive research on the history of warring communities, their current living conditions and the different actors who must be involved in future negotiations should be our primary considerations.
In mediation, knowledge of the diverse communities becomes a necessity in order to find the words and appropriate behaviors to avoid pitfalls in communication. African forms of conversation may vary from one community to another and recognizing and acknowledging the different styles can lend credence to the mediation. To do this, the choice of vocabulary, tone of our words and even dress play a crucial role in our efforts and results. This aspect of mediation should be considered very seriously if we want results.
A successful mediation should seek to:
• Establish an appropriate framework for dialogue
• Encourage the cessation of hostilities and other forms of violence
• Secure people and property
• Healing of various injuries in the war
• Build mutual trust
• Seek a peaceful coexistence
• Affirm the right to be different
To achieve the above results, the choice of the mediators will be critical. A mediator in times of conflict will have an excellent knowledge of the general culture, be a person who seeks to know and understand others, be a person of consensus and be humble, discreet and honest. A mediator is a very important position and so should not just be entrusted to just anyone. It is important because it involves the healing of people, restoring broken relationships and establishing a solid foundation for a harmonious development.
No restoration of peace is possible without the triumph of truth and justice. Responsibility for the conflict must be determined and the culprits identified. This is justice. Even if there is mutual forgiveness, knowing the degree of wrong done by each party in the conflict promotes healing of hearts and the healing of resentment caused by the conflict. No real work of forgiveness is possible without the truth is being known about the causes of conflict and responsibility taken by the various groups. Once the responsibility for the wrong has been identified, forgiveness must intervene to prevent acts of blind revenge. Without forgiveness entire communities can be eliminated from the map, which is the opposite of peace and reconciliation. However, justice must be done and in some cases, the perpetrators must be held accountable for atrocities, because without justice, peace is fragile and temporary. Justice creates a sense of relief. We should avoid, at any cost, a feeling of impunity but also guard against blind revenge.
Without reconstruction the rebuilding of society will not be a reality, because many conflicts are caused by poverty and social and economic insecurities. To remedy the consequences of conflict, it is essential to set up development programs that affect childhood, health of women and children, education, micro-finance and other rehabilitation projects for the dignity of women such as income-generating activities. It would also help to develop structures of social, economic, political and reliable ways to ensure lasting peace.
This requires the creation of appropriate economic activities, the revitalization of public administration and implementation of fair and just laws and principles, even in the financial realm and not just for the benefit of an oligarchy. A framework for fair elections and a system of political alternative must be created.
The “Dar es Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region,” supports this approach by encouraging the participating heads of state to “Promote effective participation of the different socio-economic actors, specifically the private sector, civil society, women and youth in the consolidation of democracy and good governance…”
In terms of challenges and their implications, our organizations should no longer remain indifferent to the needs of peace, because peace is a prerequisite for development. If we aspire to see our various programs of aid and development in Africa more inclined towards sustainable development, we must make the search for peace our primary concern. We must act in a way that our actions for peace can also work towards the physical and social well-being of people. Peace is essential to any sustainable development action.
1. World Bank, Report on Development 2011. http://wdr2011.worldbank.org/fulltext
2. Romans 1:20
3. Romans 8:22
4. Matthew 26:52
5. Proverbs 14:34
6. Exodus 20:13
7. International Conference for Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region, First Summit of Heads of State and Government, “Dar es Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region”, Dar es Salaam, 19-20 November 2004.