What role should indigenous approaches to peace-building play in post-conflict reconstruction in Africa? How can these be harnessed more effectively? This article from the African Journal on Conflict Resolution argues that indigenous value systems can contribute to the peaceful reconstruction of Africa. However, it is important to find a balance between traditional values and progressive values such as gender equality.
Peace can be defined either negatively or positively. Negative peace is the absence of violence. Positive peace is the presence of reconciliation and co-existence on the basis of human rights and justice. Social solidarity is vital to the achievement of positive peace. It means that members of a society share a common concern for the welfare and well-being of each other.
In Africa, many indigenous peace-building traditions emphasise the importance of social solidarity. One such tradition is a world-view called ‘ubuntu’, which is followed by communities in eastern, central and southern Africa. The idea behind ubuntu is that all humans are interdependent. We are human because we belong, participate and share in our society. In ubuntu societies, maintaining positive social relations is a collective task in which everyone is involved. Key lessons for promoting peace and social solidarity which can be drawn from the ubuntu tradition are:
- Public participation is important in the peace-building process because it promotes social solidarity
- It is important to support both victims and perpetrators as they go through the difficult process of making peace
- Acknowledging guilt and remorse, and granting forgiveness, are valuable ways of achieving reconciliation
- It is important to refer constantly to the essential unity and interdependence of humanity
- It is important to live out the principles which this unity suggests: empathy for others, sharing common resources and working cooperatively to resolve common problems.
In practice, promoting social solidarity means confronting corruption and promoting power-sharing, inclusive governance and the equitable distribution of resources. To enable indigenous approaches to play a significant role in the reconstruction of Africa, education and training programmes based on African cultural values should be established for government and civil society actors. However, it is important not to romanticise indigenous approaches. Such approaches must be combined with modern values such as gender equality so that all members of society are included in peace-building. Other steps to be taken include:
- Conducting interviews and research to document indigenous peace-building traditions
- Preparing teaching and training materials and developing curricula to transmit indigenous approaches
- Establishing partnerships between inter-governmental organisations, educational institutions, professional teachers’ associations and non-governmental organisations to disseminate and share the training material and curricula
- Acknowledging the positive role that indigenous approaches can play in government policy on peace-building
- Working towards Pan-African solidarity between all African communities, rather than only between African political and business elites.