CONFLICT PREVENTION AND PEACE BUILDING  

                                IN THE AFRICAN CONTEXT

                                                                 By

 

                                                       Dr. Ade. Adenekan                             

                             Executive Director, Pan-African Reconciliation Council and

                                          African Centre for Peace Education

 

(Being the paper presented at the "PEACE NOW NIGERIA " symposium and exposition held at the Lagos City Hall in Lagos , Nigeria , on Tuesday, December 17, 2002 )

 

 

“What I want to bring out is how a pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. And each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that”. Dorothy Day.

 

Your Excellency, the Executive Governor of Lagos State , Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu,

Honourable Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamowora,

Honourable Chairman of this August forum

My Lords spiritual and temporal,

Colleagues from the civil society groups across the country,

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

 

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today as an active stakeholder in this august assembly and may I seize this golden opportunity to commend the brilliant foresight of the organizers of the forum for their well considered approach to move our dear country forward in their own little way in terms of peace building particularly at this crucial moment of our contemporary history of a novel civilian to civilian political transition the heat of which can apparently be felt all over the place for the past few months.

 

In opening this address, I would like to refer to the introductory statement of the United Nations’ Charter which is: ”to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life time has brought untold sorrow to mankind and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal right of men and women and of nations large and small. And to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained etc…  Obviously to what extent these objectives have been achieved since the inception of the organization in 1945 can better be seen than imagined particularly when the world had witnessed nearly three hundred wars, most of which occurred in the developing countries owing to internal rather than external factors

 

According to the existing records over the last 50 years, more than 22 million people have been killed in intra-state wars, 90% of which were civilians while internal displacement had caused immense suffering among the survivors: refugees, internally displaced persons, the traumatized and victims of landmines which made the whole societies to be wrecked and development set back for years.

 

Existing records indicate that the peace and social justice dilemma of Africa did not start just yesterday but since a group of callous and inhuman people met with impunity in Berlin towards the end of the 19th century to “share” countries of the continent among themselves. The geographical entity known as Nigeria today came into  “existence” just 25 years after the first Hague peace conference of 1889. Lagos , its former seat of government having been ceded to the British crown in 1861 and which the latter socially brutalized and politically strangulated for the next 100 years. During that extremely dark period our culture was totally bastardized, our environmental psyche disoriented and our traditional civilization strangulated. Up till now, if a typical Nigerian school-going child is asked who discovered river Niger , his answer, no doubt, will be Mungo Park as the colonial masters had taught his fore-bearers. This is notwithstanding the fact that the famous river has been there long before the fore-parents of the “explorer” himself were born.

 

The way the erstwhile British colonial masters wedged both the ‘northern and southern’ protectorates of Nigeria together in 1914 still leaves much to be desired and this is the major cause of bloody crises here and there. Be that as it may, the country is sitting on a keg of gun powder if those in the saddle of political power today cannot devise a way whereby all ethnic nationalities in the country can negotiate their terms of peaceful corporate existence at a roundtable otherwise may God forbid the whole Africa having another Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan in its hands. This is in view of the fact that every fourth African is a Nigerian and the continent has had its enough share of refugee and internally displaced persons problems and cannot apparently absorb more.

 

In retrospect, the greatest problem for us all over Africa today and obviously for some years to come is the unrestricted inflow of small arms and light weapons which fuel all the civil conflicts that we have had to contend with since independence in the 1960s. Apparently, over 300 merchants of death – manufacturers of these destructive weapons - spread across more than 70 countries in the northern hemisphere have clandestinely exported more than 100 million weapons into the continent and there is hardly a day when incredible caches of arms are not seized by the customs at our various border points.

 

Since the end of the World War II in 1945, nearly all countries of Africa were enmeshed in one form of bloody conflict or another. This ranges from communal disputes, ethnic or tribal differences as well as economic, political and social impasse. Countries have also been up in arms against themselves because of borderland disputes, land tenure system and common proprietary rights. Whichever way one looks at it, these crises often induces loss of lives and properties, destruction of cultural heritage, economic and drastic fall in standard of living.

   

With the cold war over, the need for alternative weapons market was highly felt by these unscrupulous arms and ammunition manufacturers in the west who eventually found the continent a thriving spot. For them to smile to the banks in most cases, they have to directly or indirectly create bloody conflicts in the erstwhile peaceful environments in Africa by aiding and abetting internal insurrections through their ready supply of lethal weapons of mass destruction to conflicting parties in exchange of naturally endowed resources like gold, diamond, oil, rubber etc.

 

With the emergence of civilization which made enlightened African citizens to fight for their political emancipation, the colonial overlords, not willing to totally surrender power had to raise up local puppets and sycophants who they manipulated to succeed them when leaving the saddle of power. Backing these ‘new leaders’ with all-coercive means and financial wherewithal, they ensured that there was no brooding of opposition. This enables them to directly and indirectly cart away both the economic and natural resource of their erstwhile colonies like no man’s business.  The puppet leaders would, in turn, oppress their own people, throw human rights laws to the dogs and finally become laws in their own ignominious rights with the former colonial masters pulling the strings either directly or indirectly.

 

One can vividly imagine the Nigerian-Cameroonian crises over the oil rich Bakassi peninsula, which naturally by fact and by law belongs to Nigeria considering   the political, social and economic rights of the people. The learned European judges of the world court did not waste their time in sampling the feelings of the inhabitants on the spot and identify their rights to self-determination before awarding the spurious judgment on a clandestine agreement signed on their behalf by the colonial overlords and which dates back to 1913. Before the United Nations’ initiated conflict resolution process ever began, the conscienceless arms dealers went to President Olusegun Obasanjo and alerted him about the need for Nigeria to buy arms in large quantities because Cameroon had plan to bombard Nigeria in the no distant future while at the same time they went to President Paul Biya of Cameroon and told him the same cock-and-bull story. Had both leaders not allowed sense of maturity and benefit of doubts to prevail on them, sooner than later, the two countries will be up in arms against themselves so that million of their innocent lives will be lost and properties destroyed like no man’s business.

 

 

Considering the foregoing points one can see that it is not totally in the interest of the powers that be in Western hemisphere that the developing countries particularly in Africa should be at peace with themselves since independence in the 1960s and this is the reason why they clandestinely initiate one form of conflict or another among them. We all, perhaps, know how they started in the Congo in the 1880s,  many years before the country became independent and what comes to mind was the conquest of the rainforest Equatorial Africa by King Leopold of Belgium . Just because he was stifled by his country’s parliamentary democracy and wanted to rule at all cost even if this was impossible amongst his people, he had to contract the American explorer, Henry Morton Stanley to go to the hinterland of the continent and purchase as much land as he could.  Stanley eventually negotiated some bogus treaties with about 450 tribal chiefs.

 

Armed with these clandestine documents, King Leopold convinced the then powers in Europe that he was the bona fide owner of the Congo basin, an area more than 50 times the size of Belgium . To further suppress the indigenes and owners of this vast expanse of land, he had to send a small but heavily armed soldiers from his country to the Congo . As the military is often wont to do, it started unabated the conscription of African youth for its rank and then went from village to village seized women as hostages and subjected men into a life of servitude in the indigenous rubber plantations. Those who resisted conscription were killed on the spot while some were beheaded or have their hands amputated. One of the King’s officers had to say: “I killed a hundred people but that allowed five hundred others to live” while another said: “To gather rubber in the district, some must cut off hands, noses and ears.”

 

The survivors of gun attacks or mutilation had to work as slaves to shore up profit on the rubber trade. As the men were on forced labour, the women became victims of rape and other forms of human indignity. After all said and done, the Congo between 1880 and 1920, lost nearly half of its population while an estimated figure of eight to ten million Africans died as victims of the King’s inordinate motive and quest for profit.

 

In the course of time, continuous international pressure forced Belgium to take over the country while forced labour continued unabated. The country amassed large quantities of rubber, ivory, diamonds and other precious minerals, it gave nothing in return: no schools, hospitals or any other infrastructure except the one ones that could ease the export of the country’s resources abroad. Someone even said that the uranium used to manufacture atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed and maimed thousands of people in that part of Japan came from the Congo .

 

When the country became independent in 1960, Belgium with other western countries, continued to exercise economic influence over it ostensibly because of the then raging cold war. In 1961, Patrice Emery Lumumba, the most brilliant of the Congolese leaders became its first prime minister. He was eventually seized, tortured and murdered by the then Colonel Joseph Mobutu (obviously with the connivance of the CIA) just because he (Lumumba) stood firmly against western control of the Congo ’s natural resources. Mobutu himself eventually became the country’s leader in 1965 until his ignominious death after so many years in the saddle of power.

 

Since the past 40 years of post-independent Africa , there is hardly any country that has not got its own share of bloody civil strife induced by these conscienceless arms dealers. After the fatal and continuous range of blood letting in the Congo basin in 1961, it was the turn of Nigeria from 1967 – 1970; then Senegal and Mauritania, Liberia, Sierra-Leone and currently Cote d’Ivoire, which up till two years ago was regarded as the most peaceful in the entire West African sub-region.

 

 More than one million innocent and hapless people have lost their lives to the ever-raging genocide in Rwanda . According to the report of the panel set up by the erstwhile Organization of African Unity (OAU) to look into both the immediate and remote causes of the gory event, blames were apportioned as follows:

 

-         The Roman Catholic missionaries who concocted a bizarre racist anthropology pitting allegedly superior Tutsis against allegedly backward Hutus;

-         The Catholic hierarchy, with its unique influence in Rwanda that failed to condemn the genocide while it was being planned, and while it was occurring or since;

-         The Belgian colonial masters who introduced apartheid-like ethnic identity cards that were later used to identify and murder the Tutsis;

-         The French government’s intimate partnership with a Rwandan Hutu government and military that were up to their necks in inciting hatred for, and vicious attacks against any and all Tutsis;

-         The U.S. government’s insistent refusal to allow the United Nations Security Council to dispatch a serious military mission to Rwanda before the genocide, although it was universally known that a terrible disaster loomed;

-         Washington ’s subsequent stratagem to block reinforcements once the genocide was in full force;

-         The Belgian government’s withdrawal of troop protecting 2,000 Tutsis in a school yard, leaving every one of them to be slaughtered.

 

Against this background as well, anyone who observes the mind shattering pictures of genocide and ethnic cleansing in many African countries in the news media would always wonder if the hapless victims were God created beings. The unimaginable irony of it all is that the weapons used for these senseless mass killings are not manufactured in Africa but imported from the Western countries despite the United Nations arms embargo in most cases.

 

To counter this ugly situation, the United Nations and other regional bodies are urged to do everything humanly possible not only to discourage the manufacture of arms of any description but also that these weapons never find their ways again to any African territory. There must be a strong determination and willful persistence to heavily penalize any individual, corporate boy and country that violates arms transfer laws to any warring country.

 

All regional and inter-regional governmental bodies are implored to pay more attention to peace-building right from the grassroots populace rather than the highly cost ineffective and counter-productive “peace-keeping” endeavour – an ill-wind that has never blown and will never blow anyone any good. On their own part, the civil society groups should be more determined to develop skills on peace education, promote vigorous peace initiatives, fact-finding, mediation, conflict prevention and resolution.

 

 Apparently, the fate of Africa lies in the hands of we Africans more so when we know where the shoe pinches. We, therefore, passionately appeal to the international community to help us pool all our available natural resources to feed our teeming millions, equip us more on science as well as on the information and communication technology skill and empower us more to be masters of our own destiny. The sinister era of manufacturing for us bombs and bullets to kill ourselves is over and help us to ensure that peace reigns supreme in our hands so that we may hand over a banner without stain to the coming generation.

 

What is peace building ?

In his preface to “Prevention and Management of Violent Conflicts, Mr. Jan Ponk, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands said: “In third world countries, economic, political and social transformation is moving at such a rapid pace that traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution have been eroded while new ones are not yet in place. Internal conflict occurs when the process of state formation is still incomplete, when the state is the domain of privileged groups who turn deaf ears to the grievances of those who feel excluded from economic or political entitlements. The underprivileged may resort to violence or if there is a lack of institutional capacity within a state, the ruling elite may try to govern by naked power.

 

Peace building means creating a countervailing power to violence by strengthening local capacity to handle conflicts in a peaceful way. This needs to be directed towards both the government and the civil society. It may take such forms as contributing to good governance, fostering the development of a democratic culture, encouraging interaction across ethnic, tribal or cultural divides, promoting individual security, stimulating a free press and lessening inequalities. Traditional development activities directed towards poverty alleviation and providing opportunities from development and growth can also be regarded as peace building.

 

According to item no 11. ( Para 7) of the United Nations General Assembly document no. A/55/377 “The contents of education for a culture of peace and nonviolence should promote the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behavior corresponding to the definition provided by the resolution establishing the International Decade (2000 – 2010) namely, knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours that:

-reflect and inspire social interaction and sharing based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, human rights and social justice, tolerance and solidarity;

-         reject violence and endeavor to prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation;

-         guarantee the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the development process of their society. Nothing, of course can be more altruistic for transforming humanity to environment where “lion and lamb will eat grass together as one of the holy books says.

 

The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st century note that the process can be successful only when citizens of the world understand global problems. They also have to acquire the “skills to resolve conflicts and struggle for justice in a nonviolent way, live by international standards of human rights and equity, appreciate cultural diversity and respect the earth and each other.” It also observed that such learning could only be achieved with systematic education for peace.

 

From 11 – 15 May, 1999, over 600 civil society groups embracing over 50,000 people from all walks of life met in the beautiful city of the Hague, in the Netherlands met under the aegis of the Hague Appeal for Peace and came out with a 10 point agenda that was presented to the United Nations. The points in that agenda are that:

 

(1)   Every parliament should adopt a resolution prohibiting their government from going to war, like the Japanese article no. 9

(2)   All states should accept compulsory jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court of Justice.

(3)   Every government should ratify the International Criminal Court and implement the land mines treaty.

(4)   All states should integrate the New Diplomacy, which is the partnership of governments, international organizations and the civil society.

(5)   The world cannot be bystanders to humanitarian crises; every creative diplomatic means must be exhausted before resorting to force, then under the United Nations’ authority.

(6)   Negotiations for Convention Eliminating Nuclear Weapons should begin immediately.

(7)   The trade in small arms should be severely restricted.

(8)   Economic rights must be taken as seriously as civil rights.

(9)   Peace Education should be made compulsory in every school of the world.

(10)                       The plan for the global action to prevent war should become the basis for a peaceful world order.

 

The Hague Appeal for Peace, a brainchild of the International Peace Bureau also supports the emergent Global Campaign for Peace Education with all its vigor and vitality. This is by making it a point of convergence for all individuals and groups across the world. Those that are committed to the goals of the project carry out the campaign in each country, community and school. The coordinating offices are both in New York and Geneva

 

As far as we are concerned at Pan-African Reconciliation Council, peace movement, obviously, is a group of persons that seeks to discern concrete problems confronting its society and which they can resolve in a nonviolent way. The myriad of problems differs from country to country and linked to culture, population, urban or rural environment and that is why it is necessary to study nonviolence, its philosophy and religious dimension for the purpose of training on the strategy and tactics of solving them.  

The need for the civil societies to develop skills on peace education, promote vigorous peace initiatives, fact-finding, conflict prevention and resolution cannot be overemphasized and this is the crux of our existence over the years. It is equally necessary for an appropriate mechanism for conflict prevention particularly through traditional methods of Africa to be put in place.

 African Centres for Peace Education and Training aims at developing a comparative curriculum which will encourage a preventive policy that takes into account socio-political, economic, cultural and technological issues. This way, we can mobilize all available human and material resources for ensuring a purposeful peaceful corporate existence and pressurize our governments so that, among other things, they will be tended to reduce arms and defence expenditure, re-allocate financial resources to science and technology. They must not, as well, ignore peace education for all and sundries as a corner stone for national development and grassroots integration.

 

For this very laudable purpose,  we have drawn up a seven-year plan of activities to meet this daunting challenge and this can be seen at our web site: www.peace.ca/africa.htm  We have,  thanks to the Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace, equally floated a free of charge electronic mail service since 1999. The mission is to apply modern is to apply modern information technology for the promotion of communication and build on one of our primary missions: ‘advancement of search for peace in Africa and the world. It is intended for the people of Africa and others alike, to facilitate computer communications worldwide.  The objectives are to:

(1)   Provide an international communications medium to support African’s community and world peace goals, and to participate in fellowship and sharing of ideas.

(2)   Provide a platform for peace information dissemination through posting of newsletters, bulletins and publications etc….

(3)   Share fundraising ideas and successful peace-building projects that might be useful to other people of Africa .

(4)   Share information and increase fellowship through communications around the world thereby enhancing international peace and understanding of different peoples and cultures,

(5)   Develop friendships and increase fellowship through communications around the world thereby enhancing international peace and understanding of different peoples and cultures, and

(6)   Promote the UNESCO Culture of Peace within and around the world.

 

Currently, our main task in the sub-region is the Global Campaign for Peace Education, a project that emerged during the centennial Hague Appeal for Peace global conference of 1999. The purpose is to develop capacities for challenges of unprecedented proportions with an effort to build on 45 years of UNESCO peace educators and associations for the ultimate purpose of implementing the 1994 plan for peace education as endorsed by ministers of educations of 144 countries across the world.

 

Our ultimate focus

Since peace is not just the absence of war, violence and hostilities but a situation whereby everyone has access to all good things of life including basic freedoms, our educational curricula should be multi-dimensional. The ultimate target will be for our governments to:

 

-         Reduce arms and defence expenditure and direct more allocations to education and health.

-         Re-allocate financial resources to improve science and technology;

-         Support all peace, social justice and human rights networks accredited to institutions.

-         Promote conflict prevention, reconciliation and resolution.

-         Develop and support programs that will enhance and sustain peace, social justice and human rights.

-         Support sub-regional inter-governmental groupings to increase their roles in conflict resolution, prevention and management of internal crises.

-         Establish “peace fund” for conflict prevention, management and resolution as well as early warning systems.

-         Ensure gender parity in peace negotiation and conflict resolution.

-         Make peace education compulsory in all our educational institutions

-         Educate peace keepers to respect human rights, criminal and civil procedures and

-         Sensitize local communities on the role of women and youth on the Culture of Peace.

 

Our ultimate goal is to put in a place an exemplary forum of excellence, research and conflict resolution in the interest of not only Africa but also the entire global race. A typical strong foundation is already laid and we hope you will join us in building the expected strong edifice of peaceful corporate existence and social justice. Thank you for the patient attention.