“In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or people, but to each and every member of those communities.”
Late Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General.
I write this on the day that the passing away of Africa’s greatest global peacemaker Kofi Annan, former Secretary UN General, is announced.
I am not going to try to write a eulogy, just mention my personal memory.
What I most remember of this great international diplomat is his typical soft spoken quiet voice and calming tone, causing his words to express a carefully weighed opinion. His measured attitude made him look as if he always carried the dove of peace on this shoulder. We must thank our God for his life and work and pray that we try to imitate his example.
Africa is no stranger to conflicts, wars and even genocide.
I intended to title this column ‘Conflicts, Wars and Genocide in Africa’, but then felt that it would be better, approaching this deplorable phenomena of ultimate human violence, from the positive side of conflict resolution and peace-building.
Conflict Resolution and Peace-building
Conflict resolution is the method and process involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of conflict or war and eventual or possible retribution. Committed involved negotiators or mediators attempt to resolve conflicts by actively communicating information about their conflicting motives or ideologies to the other party or parties (e.g. intentions, reasons for holding certain beliefs) and by engaging in collective negotiation. Dimensions of resolution typically parallel the dimensions of conflict in the way the conflict is processed. Cognitive resolution is the way disputants understand and view the conflict, with beliefs, perspectives, understandings and attitudes. Emotional resolution is in the way disputants feel about a conflict, the emotional energy. Behavioural resolution is reflective of how the disputants act out their behaviour. Ultimately a wide range of methods and procedures for addressing conflict exist, including negotiation, mediation, mediation-arbitration, diplomacy, and creative peace-building.
Peace-building is an intervention technique or method that is designed to prevent the start or resumption of violent conflict by creating a sustainable peace. Peace-building activities address the root causes or potential causes of violence, create a societal expectation for peaceful conflict resolution, and stabilize society politically and socioeconomically.
Conflict Resolution and Peace building in practice.
Putting out the fire before it gets beyond control and preventing it to flare up again is a simpler way of describing conflict resolution and peace building.
This makes it however still easier said than done. The above definitions are, being definitions, rather theoretic and can hardly ever be applied the same way in practice. A search for successful examples mostly results in more directions to more theory, programs, rules and preconditions.
However, an excellent example of a successful mediated conflict resolution was the Camp David Accords in 1978, where US President Jimmy Carter was successful in mediating an agreement between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin. Sadat and Begin shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for the Agreements that were brokered out of those Accords.
Small conflict, sometimes high intensity: Northern Ireland. 600 years of British rule, and discrimination brought to an end with the Good Friday agreement, well, almost. A few people carried on the “armed struggle” for a few months. As with many conflicts, a difference of religious opinion was just an excuse to hate the other side.
For Africa the ending of the apartheid era in South Africa and the long running war in Angola come to mind.
That reminds me of a telling incident in Ethiopia when the war with Eritrea was at its most intense. A young man, who I met casually, told me ‘I hate Eritreans.’ When I asked him ‘Do you know any?’ he replied ‘No but I just hate them.’
Unfortunately there are also some well-known examples of absolute failure of conflict resolution. The UN and International community failed to prevent and even stop the civil war and genocide in Rwanda as well as the War in Iraq.
The ongoing civil war and virtual genocide in Ambazonia Southern Cameroon only had a brief spell of consultation. When this was aborted as one party arrested some of the mediators the conflict flared up and slid into war and genocide.
Sounds of wars and rumours of war
“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”Matthew 24 v. 6
The above quote from the Holy Bible has proved to be highly prophetic and as valid nowadays as it was almost two thousand years ago. Just think of what the world went through since the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Throughout the centuries, the dark ages, the middle, the enlightened and the modern, there have been and still are the sounds and rumours of wars.
My Sounds and Rumours of wars.
I was born during World War II, but was too young to have an active recollection of it.
When I worked in Tanzania in the early 90s the Rwanda genocide of 1994 happened and the local press showed pictures of bodies of massacred Rwanda Tutsis flowing down the Kagera River into Lake Victoria. People around its Western shore stopped eating fish….
The genocide in the relatively small country took place a 1200 km from Dar es Salaam, so far away. However the stream of mainly Rwandan Hutu refugees in April 1994 suddenly made the refugee camps the largest ‘city’ in the country.
I was posted at the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa, when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the ugliest old-fashioned war with low technology, but extremely high casualties.
Though this also happened more than 600 km away, the presence of war was all over, tight security at hotels, markets, and airport and traffic crossings. Propaganda of Ethiopia’s success in winning on TV, radio, newspapers, banners and musicians wearing military fatigue was overwhelming. Some of my Ethiopian friends suddenly became so fanatic that ‘the war’ became a no go topic between us.
Now in 2017 the civil war and genocide in Ambazonia, Southern Cameroonis the Sound and of war I hear almost daily, as I am an Ambazonian ‘moyo’ (in-law) by marriage. Daily reports of violence, killings, and massacres just keep coming and the world is too busy with other things.
Referring again to the quote of late Kofi Annan at the beginning of this column, where he says that ‘peace belongs to each and every member of those communities’ I think he means the internalizing of peace. So when peace is not just accepted but has become a belief, an ingrained conviction, it will be the best condition for a lasting sustainable peace.
For further reading I recommend this interesting in-depth description of a case study:
“Conflict Resolution and Peace Building in Africa as a process: case studies of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo” by Prof. Gaudens P. Mpangala University of Dar es Salaam. Available on:
*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org