No 72 October 2006.5
Promoting peace in a violent Africa
The African continent has never had more need of peace than at this time. How many calls and messages for peace have we not heard lately that have been foiled by events a few days later? Violence in Africa has many aspects: war, injustice, famine, impunity, embezzlement of public funds for the profit of individuals, etc… War, summit of blind violence, is often the consequence of great injustices and frustrations of people who feel wronged in their rights or penalized by authorities. Peace is not only stopping the use of arms; it is development, well-being, tranquility, freedom of citizens and promotion of an equitable justice for the rich and the poor, for the powerful and the weak.
Africa and its violence
Contemplating the African continent, one is horrified by the suffering of so many people. For many decades people in Africa have been living in the horror of unspeakable wars. Undoubtedly African riches have always been plundered since the division of the continent in Berlin. But nowadays, this plundering is done through third parties by supporting bogus rebellions and creating zones of war and violence. In the most remote areas insecurity is now the daily bread of peasants: they do not want to cultivate for fear of falling into the hands of militiamen. So famine is added to the fear of losing one’s life: children are malnourished on most fertile lands. Moreover those peasants add to the numbers of urban unemployed, victims of organized looting by dictators themselves threatened by the trend of democratization.
Jean-Marc Ela writes: “Families disrupted by the rural exodus, cramped in small houses in cities or dislocated by tensions and conflicts that are getting worse with more inequalities and impoverishment, cannot take charge any more of other people’s children. Many young people are left to themselves in areas and streets where they are exposed to delinquency, drugs or aids”. Moreover different rebellions recruit their members in poor districts, shanty towns and dislocated families. Soldier children are mostly from underprivileged sections of African towns. They are promised fallacies, quick and easy money, at the risk of a premature death.
The economy of many African countries is paralyzed because of looting of businesses, closing of many public sector and state enterprises. Many men find themselves unemployed. The survival of families rests essentially on women who are still exploited and marginalized in African societies after independence.
The education system is running out of steam. Because of the lack of financial means in a system where women do not count, one prefers sending boys to school at the detriment of the family: girls without schooling become mothers precociously.
Moreover, even though it exists in African circles, witchcraft is strengthened and maintained by newly founded churches. These religious movements deliberately refuse to explain the poverty that strikes African families in a socio-political context and are encouraged, if not supported, by influential political people. Their approach encourages the status quo, main cause of the pauperization of African masses.
The peace of politicians
The history of political negotiations to stop African crises shows that they are often imposed from outside, dictated by external and internal interests. Hence peace efforts are slow to produce effects.
Nonetheless peace cannot be achieved without the support and contribution of politics. That is why, in Africa, we must change our way of thinking about political power. It is no more sufficient to change people at the head of States; the thing to do is to promote a conception of power as a “service”, reasonably paid of course, but with the aim of furthering the interests of people, the respect of the common good, the values of democracy and of human rights, while establishing the effective liberation of the political sphere and fighting against impunity and the reign of the arbitrary under all its forms.
The taking of power in Africa by arms, coups or violence of all sorts has never brought a happy solution to our populations. People do not realize this enough. Each time politicians have tried to derail the train of democracy, force has always supplanted justice, arbitrary over rights, with as a consequence violence at all levels and a multitude of catastrophes.
Be that as it may, the way to democratization remains the profitable way for Africa. It favors the participation of all to the national life at all levels, it promotes tolerance, acceptance of differences and resolution of conflicts by peaceful means. Finally while ending violence by arms, it prepares fertile grounds where a lasting peace will grow and bear fruit.
Raising the moral standards of the African political area
To achieve real peace in Africa, it is urgent that African politicians strengthen their soul by practicing virtue, freedom and tolerance and by putting the interest of the nation as the foremost preoccupation of their political actions.
Besides opportunism there is corruption. Many projects initiated with the idea of development fail because those responsible are either incompetent or unconscious.
Corruption applies to the whole tribe. All tribes fight to put their own tribesmen at the top of the State in order to get rewarding jobs. This tribalism, as well as this regionalization of the political life, has as a consequence the impunity, support and promotion of dishonest and incompetent men.
In view of so many deceptive situations, many Africans consider politics as “the domain of lies, hypocrisy and deceit by dirty tricks”. That is why some bishops speak of “moralizing political life”. But to raise the standards of political life, politicians must be educated and initiated to the values of respect of the human person and of every human person in all circumstances, of freedom, of the essential equality between all human beings.
The peace of the people who suffer needlessly: exorcize the fear of being different
Moreover, many politicians, short of arguments, invoke more easily ethnicity or tribalism to keep or conquer power. Africa needs now more than ever a peace wanted and built by all her sons and daughters, irrespective of their origin or social rank.
In order to build a less suffering, less humiliated Africa, it is necessary to transform an enemy into a partner.
Elections are the occasion to realize democracy. To ensure their success, it is not enough to organize them. It is also necessary to educate voters to understand what is at stake. It is in this perspective that the Congolese bishops have launched a vast campaign of civic education in order to train “people ready to treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated; people ready to accept the truth and freedom of others; people preoccupied humbly to propose their truth so that in a real dialogue they contribute to building peace in justice”.
The Church teaches peace
In Africa the problem of peace cannot be discussed without mentioning the role played by the Catholic Church that has made the promotion of peace her favorite theme. Strengthened by her faith in Jesus Christ who asks her to be a promoter of peace, heir of the humanist, biblical and ecclesial tradition, the Church in Africa feels obliged to educate her Christians to work for peace. The reason of such a commitment is theological: “The Church is called to be, in a unique fashion, the instrument of the Kingdom of God in history. Peace is one of the signs of this kingdom present in the world and the Church accomplishes a part of her essential mission in making the peace of the kingdom more visible in our time.”
Fostering peace is to train for freedom, to enhance the potentialities and build the personality of the educated. It is to educate for love and not for selfishness; it is to educate for the entire humanity, in a planetary and universal perspective; it is to educate for the future and for change.
Educating by non-violence
The best education therefore advocates peace instead of injustice and greed, non-violence instead of revenge. To choose non-violence is to break the infernal circle that wants to imprison Africans into resignation so that they may become the artisans of their own history, of their destiny. It is to refuse the fatality of violence and to proclaim that violence is but a possibility of human nature besides goodness, and that because of his nature man is able to be at the same time violent and good.
However to educate Christian Africans to non-violence is not to deny acts of violence but to prevent conflicts and to stop them from exploding, to appease the offended party and redress the offender by trying to suppress the offense.
Reconciliation for an effective and lasting peace
The efforts of the Church are not limited to the education of men and women for peace; they continue in the ministry of reconciliation: this is the final aim of the Church’s process. Acts of violence are the fruits of divided hearts and of spirits not reconciled with themselves and with others. A lasting peace cannot be achieved if the challenge of reconciliation is not attempted. Ugandan bishops put it well: the road to true peace necessarily has to go through reconciliation as the only answer to revenge. This conviction finds its foundation in the very Gospel of Jesus.
The option for reconciliation is motivated by the desire for unity. It can be likened to the building of an ant-hill: « When an ant-hill is destroyed, the workers do not begin discussing to know who caused the disaster or is responsible or who will give work or will enjoy most privileges. On the contrary all ants join forces to rebuild the ant-hill with determination and consultation, each ant or category of ants accomplishing its particular task, so much so that after a few days the ant-hill stands up once again. »
All policy based on arrogance of the powerful and on impunity cannot be but an obstacle to the true unity necessary to resuscitate Africa.
The stretched hand of victims must not leave torturers insensitive. Victims’ right to speak must be recognized as well as the right to speak about the alleged evidence brought forward by accusers. Victims have the right to be heard without any premature condemnation. Nowadays if many statesmen cling to power, it is because they have no guarantee to be forgiven, especially in this period when international tribunals have the power to bring them before the courts anywhere at any time.
There is no reconciliation without forgiveness, but a forgiveness given that calls automatically for repentance. Forgiveness and repentance make of victim and torturer new creatures.
In Africa there is tribalism, corruption, the reign of the arbitrary and embezzlement of public funds; but the Good News brings hope and at the same time a task to the believer: « He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor. » (Luke 4, 18-19)
The Church in Africa has to educate for the civilization and the culture of love so as to build a peaceful Africa. This education requires a catechesis the objective of which is the conversion of politicians as well as of citizens so that each becomes the builder of a true haven of peace.
Michel Fortin, M.Afr.
* Summary of an article written by Michel Lobunda Selemani, SJ, Alfajiri College, Bukavu, in Téléma (04/05), December 2005.
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