Africana Plus

No41 June 2000.4

UN 2000
The culture of peace


When we consider our world, it often looks as if it is caught up in an unprecedented cycle of violence. Anger seems to be everywhere, from fist-fights to cannon-fire, from marriage-breakdowns to world wars. Everywhere there is discord and disharmony.

Let us think of Africa. Between 1959 and 2000, there have been thirty-three armed conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, leaving seven million people dead. Angola, the two Congo’s, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Algeria: the list of African countries at war or torn apart by civil conflict is endless. Except for Algeria, where, in spite of the amnesty promised by President Bouteflika, the war, based on oil revenue, is entering its eighth year, all the other countries are extremely poor. There are wars involving child-soldiers and mercenaries, there are unspeakable atrocities, not to mention the enormous weight of debts and the terrible cost in human misery. Sub-saharan Africa dominates the list of the forty-eight "least developed countries", and a growing proportion of their populations lives in absolute poverty.

How can these problems be resolved? Are we simply to wash our hands, or can there be a counter-attack? "Don’t bother me with other people’s problems", some say; "I’ve got enough of my own". Others on the contrary say that we are disciples of the Master and have an obligation to be architects of peace. Where shall we take our stand between these two positions? Certainly we consider that we belong to "the good world". We wish harm to no one. But there are situations in which good sentiments are not enough. Not to do ill is not the same thing as doing good.

The General Assembly of the United Nations has proclaimed the year 2,000 as the International Year of the Culture of Peace. A manifesto has been produced calling for one hundred million signatures which can be presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations next September. The document is sponsored by a group of Nobel Peace prizewinners who met in Paris on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. They included Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu, Jose Ramos Horta, Nelson Mandela, the Dai Lama, Elie Wiesel and Carlos Ximenes Belo. They were the first to sign the manifesto.

The document is not addressed to government leaders but to ordinary people whom it wishes to make sensitive to the need for peace. It calls for every human being to bring to expression in his daily life the values and attitudes implied in a "culture of peace". Everyone can become a messenger of tolerance, solidarity and dialogue in his family, in his work, with his friends, in his town or region. Here is the text of the manifesto:

"The year 2000 should mark a new departure for us all. By acting together we can transform the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and non-violence. This demands the participation of everyone. It offers to the young people of the rising generation values which make it possible to fashion a world of dignity and harmony, of justice, solidarity, freedom and prosperity. The culture of peace makes possible a real development, the protection of the environment, and the personal growth of every human person. Recognizing that I must accept my share of responsibility for the future of humanity, and especially for today’s and tomorrow’s children, I commit myself in my daily life, in my family and at work, within my community, my region, my country to the following attitudes:

In presenting the Manifesto, Federico Mayor, director general of UNESCO, the organism which will co-ordinate the activities of the International Year, said: "Today more than ever, the cause of peace needs this movement to counteract centuries of the culture of force and oppression. At the dawn of a new century and a new millennium, we must make a new departure for a culture of peace and dialogue, of non-violence and tolerance."

Referring to the twentieth century as a century of violence and death, he continued: "We have paid enough in human life. Now we must buy peace. The great challenge facing us today is one of mutual respect and listening."

The director general noted the importance of the struggle against poverty in seeking to construct a culture of peace. We may not forget the vicious circle of war and misery: FAO has just warned that twenty million Africans have been reduced to famine conditions by war in fifteen African countries because it is impossible to get help to them. According to UNICEF there are in Africa ten million abandoned children under the age of fifteen. At the special meeting of the Security Council, the Tanzanian ambassador declared: "There is a crucial link between poverty and conflict and this is something which the United Nations must bear in mind when it asks Africa to settle its problems…Democracy is the best means of eliminating poverty. Liberty, solidarity, democracy and peace are the pillars on which we can build the future. United we can write a new future. We have to realize the potential of united action…Let us cultivate peace as a daily task. Peace is like freedom. It is not something which is given to us but something we have to construct."

Above all we should not think that we have no contribution to make in bringing peace to the world. Sometimes a grain of sand is enough to bring a war machine grinding to a halt. The drop of water is indispensable for creating rivers and oceans. Why should we not join our voices to the great chorus for peace? Do we not have good news to proclaim?

We must never give up. It is better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness.


Michel Fortin, M. Afr.


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