PEACE AND CONFLICT IN AFRICA
One report shows that out of 41 major conflict zones in the world 15 (36%) are found in Africa. There are major conflict zones in 28 African countries where people lose life. On average one out of every two countries in Africa is dealing with some form of local conflict and flashpoints. However, nearly all these conflicts are triggered within ethnic or cultural contexts. It may not be possible to eliminate conflict altogether for the very reason that no society can be totally free of conflict because people will always have differences of opinion and some degree of competition for resources or positions of advantage. It would be more reasonable to assume that conflict in a society is anticipated and can be contained. The cushion model, shared here, puts forward that the very roots of conflict in Africa are the very means by which it can be contained. Culture may in reality actually serves to contain human conflict. When culture fails then conflict erupts.
Peace and conflict in society are cushioned by six blankets. These blankets flex and reflex according to the ebb and flow of conflict in society without breaching the public peace. Dr. Deus defines conflict as “a discomforting difference”. These differences may be minor or they may be major. However, if they are contained they will not be a threat to the general public’s peace. Only when all of these cushioning blankets are breached that conflict becomes overt, out of control and socially destructive. The object of this theory is to use all the six blankets to ensure conflict does not get out of control.
The first blanket of conflict is the culture of a group, community, organization or nation. Culture is a set of accepted social norms that ensure that a society survives and thrives, but also regulates social intercourse. In ethnic communities, these customs and traditions ensure life is predictable and provides for the organization, management and resolution of differences and grievances. In other words culture imposes order on chaos and conflict. Culture is therefore a crucial blanket that cushions society from conflict and maintains a peace. But this is not only true for ethnic communities; it is just as important in wider society such as urban setting where communities share resources. There must be an urban culture that ensures conflict is minimized. Successful organizations take measures to ensure their organization cultures facilitate business peacefully and minimize conflict to ensure success. Nations need to create cultures that regulate social behavior to minimize conflict. These cultures will not be regulated by laws and edits as much as by national values, integration, acceptance and national pride that inspire ownership and patriotism.
If the cultural blanket is weak and nations fail to blend cultures so that the cultural blanket is like a mix of “oil and water” or a mix of “iron and clay”, then the blanket will be breached by conflict as people begin to view and interpret issues from personal rather than national perspectives. Perspectives have no regulatory framework, they merely depend on the way “I believe things to be”. Perspectives are easily accentuated and often punctuated by, group, community and ethnic divisions. Of course this is a recipe for social upheaval.
Once perspectives are formed, people begin to take positions. When these positions become entrenched, it is easy to find political forces to marshal support for a cause. What began as failure to regulate social interactions begins to fester like a sore pimple and accumulate pus like a painful blister. At this point it should be clear that something is wrong in society and that measures need to be taken to restore harmony within the breached national culture and harmony in social intercourse.
Once positions begin to emerge over an issue, the next phase of conflict follows quickly as groups look for resources to fund, solidify and entrench their positions in preparation for the obvious next phase of a power struggle for dominance and control. Social cohesion, of course, has become weaker as each successive blanket is breached and conflict accelerates and is brought to the surface.
At this stage in the conflict the issues that were at the root of the conflict no longer matter, the central issue at this point of the conflict is to take “power”. The power struggle is the most dangerous stage in the escalation of conflict because reasonable issues are set aside while adversaries are converted into “enemies”. The object of this stage of the conflict is to gain the advantage and take control at all costs. Society pays a high price for this level of conflict that often far outweighs the desired benefits of the protagonists. At this stage, patients suffer when medical staff go on strike, civil wars cost lives while women and children suffer for what they know not. Even if the initial demands may have been reasonable the resultant destruction are not justifiable. However, it is at this point that society itself begins to call for resolution of the breach in the six blankets so that life can go back to normal, but if politics lacks the maturity to return social harmony, it will only light a vicious flame.
Politics is a critical blanket in the peace and conflict cushion because people listen and respond to political leaders who voice the concerns of the people. However, politics on its own is unlikely to gather enough steam to get public attention unless it is backed by power. Hence the ease with which politicians attach themselves to armed struggles to legitimize and enforce their objectives. While armed factions and disenfranchised groups will legitimize themselves by identifying with a political faction as a representation of the people. It at this point that conflict explodes into the public domain and consumes all achievements, development and constructive engagement. Public conflict sucks in friend and foe alike and in like measure. Unfortunately it is only at this point that political solutions are sought to limit public conflict while no effort is made to repair the breach in the other six levels of the Peace & Conflict cushion. It is no surprise that such solutions are only temporary and never long term.
There are many lessons we can learn from this cushion theory of Peace & Conflict, but perhaps the most important is that the eruption of major social conflict is never an overnight affair, but rather the result of a breach of an assumed social Peace & Conflict governance protocol. Peace can only exist alongside managed conflict. Laws, policy and institutional frameworks that favor inclusion, harmony and the formation of norms that enhance and protect local, cultural and community interests and ownership of national goals at the social and community level are important governance processes that secure long-term peace. This model provides us with a peace & conflict barometer that can be used to measure conflict levels, and create strategies to weather and manage conflict. The cushion model also provides nations, governments, organizations and communities with a framework to build and establish institutional framework to de-escalate and control conflict before it becomes too costly for society and establish long-term peace.
©Allan Bukusi, December 2013