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African Seeds of New Hope and Nonviolence

Echoing and heeding the call from Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda, first president of Zambia, to “redouble our efforts for justice and for a true African humanism,” the two of us, as editors and authors of Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (2009) and the forthcoming Seeds Bearing Fruit: Pan African Peace Action, do affirm the great potential of the peoples of Africa. Kaunda’s foreword to our first volume called on scholars and activists alike to help create and sustain a society that celebrates human diversity and validates the contributions of every African (as well as Africa-loving persons and organizations), in the pressing quest for social justice, peace, and true independence. It is clear that real empowerment will only be realized when people the world over have control over their own resources and labor. In preparing for our fruit-bearing second volume (and for the WRI conference on Nonviolent Livelihood Struggles), we have come across many examples of nonviolent resistance to both militarism and to the grassroots impact of neo-liberal globalization.

The following three situations illustrate just some of the creative movements taking root right now. These snapshots serve to shine light on some little-known but powerful initiatives:

  • A local Catholic priest in Angola, Padre Jacinto Pio Wacussanga—president of the radical human rights association ALSSA—has taken a leading role in defending the rights of the landless laborers against the “new” military landlords. In 2003, he and his colleagues received repeated death threats. But they are convinced of the strength of nonviolence as a means of changing society.

 
WRI’s own Jan Van Criekinge has written about how the independent media, human rights organizations, and churches in Angola are helping to stabilize the peace so much desired by the great majority of the population. “The consolidation of peace,” Jan has noted, “depends primarily on how the reconstruction process addresses the profound social divisions, political alienation from the one-party state and its institutionalized corruption on all levels, and the poverty that sustained the war for so many years. The reconstruction should, in the first place, meet the needs of the millions of desperately poor people living in rural communities who, completely isolated from large urban and economic centers and confronted with the deadly consequences of widespread land mines in their daily lives, have so far seen too few tangible benefits of peace.

“The resettlement of some four million displaced persons and war refugees continues to be a cause of some concern. But major confrontations have been avoided so far, due to the mediation of churches and other grassroots initiatives.”

  • More and more, local groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo understand the need to work on their own and heed the pleas of the young people who have been most affected by the wars. The Kinshasa-based Ligue des Femmes pour le Développement et l’Education à la Démocratie (LIFDED) is one such group, and their executive director, Grace Lula, is also affiliated with Pax Christi International. LIFDED’s work has centered around the training of women and youth in nonviolence, conflict resolution, human rights, and empowerment.

LIFDED and Lula introduced us to Reverend Biasima Rose Lala, leader of the Great Lakes Ecumenical Forum and coordinator of a children’s aid project that serves both Kinshasa and Goma. She reiterated the connections between economics and violence in the Congo today. “The country is not poor, but we have had bad management of resources that have not been well shared. People are frustrated and we go to war; parents are killed, children become poorer, and the vicious cycle continues.” Lala became a member of the DRC Parliament in order to help monitor the policies created and resources allocated. “On June 3, 2008, the legislature voted in a bill for the Protection of Children,” she noted. “The government is in the best position to deal with children’s issues, but we have to put the resources into education and child protection. We must fight against corruption in government, and create local projects that keep in place the long and rich tradition of African solidarity with one another. We must make people aware of being a nation and as a nation must protect what we have. Power is not a way of taking for individuals; power is a way of serving others. I am hopeful about the future. . . but it is not easy or quick to change people’s mentality.”

Georgette Nyembo is another strong Congolese woman, a church activist who prepared election observers for the Ministry of Reconstruction. She noted that the first step in rebuilding the Congo is, as it has ever been, making clear to every child that “there is a choice between the gun he’s had and the other, nonviolent, lives which he could lead.”

  • One form of protest used by the women in the Niger Delta is the threat and use of nakedness. Historical accounts of female opposition show that this form of protest was common to women in eastern Nigeria. For the eastern communities, nakedness in public is considered a “serious and permanent curse” capable of causing physical, economic and political impotency among the men for whom the women disrobe. Such a threat of nakedness usually creates serious alarm among the men folk who are guilty of provoking such a threat, since such an exhibition is usually considered an extreme and weighty form of demonstration. To warrant this, women must have been pushed to their limits, and before it gets to the stage of stripping, male offenders often push for hasty negotiations in order to avoid the debilitating effects of this type of women’s protest.

Nigerian scholar Ifeoma Ngozi Malo brought us stories of how the strategic tool of nakedness “stripped” the offender of all credibility in the public and private spheres. No men, even those from outside the affected communities, ever questioned the use of nakedness—they feared it! Women have stormed the compounds of men they had grievances with, and held their offenders hostage. They refused to let the offenders leave—and danced, sang, and threatened the offender with nakedness. In some cases, they would physically sit on the offender with clothed (and sometimes unclothed) behinds. 

The threat or actual use of nakedness, Malo reports, has never been made lightly. Indeed, before any such action is undertaken, the women issue a warning to the offenders on their proposed course of action. When such threat is issued, the offenders usually request a peace meeting with the women to prevent such a course of action. This technique has been used among the local communities who have their means of survival and their environment threatened by the activities of multinational corporations like Shell, Chevron, Mobil, Texaco, and Agip. Women’s groups tend to use the method only when their oppressors have pushed them to their limits, and they see no other alternative to get their oppressors to “redress” a wrong.

The people of Africa have the capacity and commitment necessary to question existing structures and relationships, to develop truly African voices of peace. Critical assessment of war and violence on the continent today requires all of us (Africans and those in solidarity) to be activist-students and teachers both: harvesting the seeds already planted and planting new ones along our way.

WRI agitator and Pan Africanist elder Bill Sutherland reflected on the fact that decades past, when the continent was filled with the excitement of the end of colonialism, the seeds of the troubles to come were already present. In these new stories told during apparently difficult times we can see, according to Sutherland, the “seeds of new hope.” The world-changing peace movement that will liberate Africa must begin in every African’s backyard. We hope that these examples prove inspiring; we all must dig deep and get our hands dirty for a just peace.

Elavie Ndura-Ouedraogo and Matt Meyer

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