• peacebuild
  • women
  • knowledge
  • peacemaking
  • peacekeeping

Making Choices for Peace: Aid Agencies in Field Diplomacy

alt Opongo, Elias
Published by: Kenya: Pauline Publications Africa, 2006
ISBN: 9966-21-145-3

Reviewed by: Raymond Aina, MSP PhD Candidate, Faculty of Theology, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium
In the African Journal on Conflict Resolution Volume 7 No. 1, 2007

Peace is a journey, starting from the interior of the persons involved, but aimed towards a re-creation of the community for the sake of justice and wellbeing after disasters. So, in (proactive) intervention during a humanitarian crisis, ‘aid delivery’ is not enough. Aid agencies need to embrace comprehensive peace-building. That is the principal thesis of Opongo in his Making Choices for Peace. So, he proposes ‘field diplomacy’, a vital tool in post-conflict peacebuilding, as integral to aid agencies’ activities.

Opongo’s thesis is argued in eight chapters ranging from the background to the proposal, and culminating in the kind of efforts, as well as structural and spiritual supports that are imperative for the proposal to work. Chapter one identifies what Opongo calls the gaps in the way contemporary humanitarian assistance is carried out, particularly as they result from the ethical dilemmas that aid workers constantly face. In the second chapter, Opongo deals with challenges that sustainable peace-building poses to field diplomats. The principal challenge is for aid agencies to move beyond their traditional neutrality because in the face of suffering and injustice one cannot be uncommitted to reaching the root causes.

Pacific spiritualities and commitments to non-violence without a strategy of engagement for peace are useless. This strategic engagement is the focus of chapter three. If aid agencies are adopting an effective hermeneutics through the strategic engagement outlined in chapter three, then they are inevitably adopting a broadly inclusive approach to conflict intervention. This is what Opongo, in the fourth chapter, calls ‘participatory advocacy’. Part of that advocacy is peace education. What he proposes as ‘integrative peace education’ in chapter five is multi-dimensional because it focuses on systematic analysis of various public structures and the transmission of values that improve interpersonal relations and structural reforms.

Field diplomats are human beings, with needs and experiences that require attention. While the sixth chapter focuses on psychosocial tasks, chapter seven is about kinds of spirituality that help spiritually-challenged field workers. The eighth, and final, chapter is exceptional because of the ‘voices’ that speak in this chapter. This chapter shows Opongo’s daring approach – combining professionalism (Prendergast, Asefa) with interpersonal (Lederach) and liberative-praxis (Gutierrez) approaches.

Together with my appreciation of Opongo’s effort, I also offer some critical Raymond Aina comments, however. First, I am, as an ethicist, drawn to Opongo’s ethical evaluation of the moral dilemmas facing aid workers (see pp. 37-45). He expresses his reservations about casuistry crippling aid agencies. I join issue with him by offering that human agents – in this case aid agency workers – need to fulfil six primary conditions for actions based on proportioned reasoning towards the required end in conflictual circumstances. (1) They must pay attention to the foreseeable social implications of the choice they are about to make. (2) They must ensure that the choice is universally tenable, or, in other words, that it can bring harmony and human flourishing if practised everywhere. (3) They must determine whether contextual conditions are in favour or not in favour of the envisaged action. (4) They must pay attention to the wisdom gained from past occurrences. (5) There must be widespread consultation for input on experiences and discernment. (6) They must make sure that there is room for religion-informed contributions. The bottom-line is a dialectical relationship between personal and communal discernment and intellectual contributions.

Second, it is intriguing for me that Opongo spent twenty-nine pages on ‘psychosocial support’ but a paltry ten pages on ‘spiritual support’ for aid workers (see chapters six and seven). It leaves one with the question: where does Opongo’s priority lie? I think Opongo could have enriched us more, in chapter seven, if he – as a priest who is actively involved in the field – had offered us some suggestions on how to approach the pastoral (spiritual) care of aid workers.

Third, I admire Opongo for allowing the voices in the final chapter to speak freely, because the first ‘voice’ (Prendergast) in my opinion is highly critical of Opongo’s vision of ‘Aid agencies in field diplomacy’ (sub-title of his work). Anyway, he does not need Prendergast’s endorsement. Let the readers and the aid agencies with their field workers make up their minds on what aid agencies are: needs-based do-gooders or active agents of change? I agree with Opongo on his vision for agencies – just as Asefa does, I surmise – although with a caveat: they must tread with caution, and ‘do no harm’. For those desiring some practical way of coping with the spiritual effects of death/suffering and the stress of those in the field, the interview with Gutierrez is it! It should be read, I suggest, as a continuation of the short chapter seven. I highly favour this interview because it presents the ‘spirituality of peace’, which Opongo notes in Making Choices for Peace: Aid Agencies in Field Diplomacy his general conclusion as one that is inspired by our common capacity to resist and overcome evil – even if the prognosis is not optimistic (p. 185).

Opongo has added his voice, as a professional and ‘field diplomat’, to the notion that peace is possible in Africa and other parts of the world. What is clear from Opongo’s work is that there is no sustainable peace-building without the heart. Time and again, we are reminded: there cannot be just peace without empathy and vulnerability.

Finally, central to the proposal of Opongo, though unmentioned, is the metaphor of ‘covenant’. Opongo is calling on aid agencies and their workers to enter into a deep relationship with those they are ‘caring’ for. Hence, it is crucial, as Opongo offers and I concur, that there must be holistic preparation of agency workers that consider this, because people do not enter into any ‘covenant’ without prior preparation of the whole person. ‘If you cannot stand the heat, you have no business in the kitchen’, is an English saying. Perhaps, we need to recover this in the contemporary search for peace. A commitment to common values based on respect and acceptance of religious, cultural and political differences can assure a more reconciled African continent, and, indeed, world. Such values, as conceived by Opongo, should be promoted by aid agencies.

*Raymond Aina, MSP, a missionary priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul of Nigeria, is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Theology, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium. He has a Masters of Advanced Studies in Theology and Religion, from the same university. His doctoral research is entitled ‘The Role of Restorative Justice in Peace-building in Nigeria: Coming to Terms with the Promises and Ambiguities of an Emerging Justice Paradigm’.

Available online

View this book online.

Latest News and Resources

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Prev Next

ACCORD at second African Think Tank summit

A delegation from ACCORD have attended the 2nd African Think Tank Summit, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 6 – 8 April. The event was attended by over 60 think tanks, with participants from 30 countries. The first Summit was...

10-04-2015 in General

ACCORD represented at World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit in Africa

'Vusa izizwe namhlanje!' (Wake up the nations today!) was the motto of the World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit in Africa at which the ACCORD was represented by Prof Jannie Malan, Senior Researcher and Managing Editor of the African Journal...

10-04-2015 in Knowledge Production

TfP/ACCORD support African Standby Capacity Integrated Human Resource and Database Training Course

The African Union Commission (AUC) and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Regional Mechanisms (RMs) have been developing a civilian standby roster since its conceptualisation in 2010. To date, significant progress has been made to improve the roster in order...

09-04-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD discuss MoU with IGAD in support of peace and security in the region

ACCORD has hosted H.E. Ambassador Tewolde Gebremeskel, the Director of Peace and Security at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). H.E. Ambassador Gebremeskel represented IGAD's Executive Secretary, H.E. Ambassador Mahboub Maalim. The visit enabled discussions between the regional body (IGAD...

09-04-2015 in General

ACCORD attend 2015 TfP AGM in Olso

The Training for Peace in Africa (TfP) Programme at ACCORD (TfP/ACCORD) have participated in the TfP Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Oslo, Norway. The AGM's purpose was to highlight the TfP Programme's main achievements and developments in 2014, and present...

02-04-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD publishes policy & practice brief on the eve of Nigeria's highly anticipated election

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) has published a Policy & Practice Brief (PPB) on the upcoming election in Nigeria. Co-authored by J. Shola Omotola, a Senior Lecturer in political science and public administration at Redeemer's...

27-03-2015 in Knowledge Production

ACCORD host launch of Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu biography

On 24th March 2014 ACCORD hosted the launch of Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu's biography, entitled "A Life of Purpose". The book follows Professor Nkuhlu's memorable path from student activist, to Robben Island prisoner at 19, to becoming South Africa's first black...

26-03-2015 in Trustees

ACCORD Trustee Ambassador Modise recognized at the inaugural Ubuntu Awards

On 14 February 2015 ACCORD Trustee H.E. Ambassador Billy Modise, was one of the recipients of the Ubuntu Lifetime Achiever Award, presented at the inaugural Ubuntu Awards ceremony hosted by the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO)...

12-03-2015 in Trustees

Peacebuilding in Africa: evolving challenges, responses and new thinking

From the 23th to the 25th of February 2015, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) was represented at a conference hosted by Wilton Park in the United Kingdom, organized under the theme of 'Peacebuilding in Africa:...

12-03-2015 in Peacebuilding

TfP/ACCORD participate in expert workshop on impact of peacekeeping training on peace and security in West Africa

The Training for Peace in Africa (TfP) Programme at ACCORD (TfP/ACCORD) participated in an Expert workshop on Impact of Peacekeeping Training on Peace and Security in West Africa. The workshop forms part of a research on peacekeeping training which was...

10-03-2015 in Peacekeeping

Lesotho elections the topic of discussion at recent ACCORD internal staff seminar

On 26 February 2015, two days before the general elections that took place in the Kingdom of Lesotho, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) hosted an internal staff seminar where Thulisa Ndlela, Programme Officer in the...

06-03-2015 in Knowledge Production

TfP/ACCORD supports African Regional Consultation Seminar on UN Peace Operations Review

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon established a 17 member High-Level Independent Panel in October 2014 to undertake an assessment of the state of UN peace operations, and the emerging operational needs of the future" 'Understanding the relationship between the...

06-03-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD discuss gender normative frameworks and nuanced challenges to gender parity and empowerment in Africa ahead of International Women's Day

Broad discussion and debate on the nuanced challenges to the achievement of gender parity and women's empowerment in Africa characterised an Internal Staff Seminar (ISS) recently hosted at the Durban offices of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of...

06-03-2015 in Women

ACCORD hosts senior official from SA Department of International Relations & Cooperation

On Friday 20 February 2015, ACCORD hosted Ms Maud Dlomo, Deputy Director General (DDG) for Training, Research and Development at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) for a visit to ACCORD House in Durban, South Africa.

23-02-2015 in General

ACCORD/TfP co-hosts experts’ roundtable on developing a Conduct and Discipline Framework for the AU PSOs

Since its establishment, the AU has played an increased and expanded role in addressing conflicts in the African Continent, including in Darfur, Burundi, Mali, the Central Africa Republic and Somalia. As part of its intervention, the AU has developed policies...

20-02-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD's Executive Director participates in World Bank forum on fragility, conflict and violence

Increasing recognition of the relationships and dynamics between state fragility, conflict and violence now positions these issues amongst the central foci of conflict and development practitioners worldwide. It is in this light that ACCORD's Founder and Executive Director participated in...

20-02-2015 in Executive

Advancing an African peacebuilding agenda

From the 11th to the 12th of February 2015, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) was represented at a conference hosted by the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, organized under the theme of...

20-02-2015 in Peacebuilding

Report on the Fourth International Africa Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference published by ACCORD

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), in partnership with the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution (CAPCR) at California State University, Sacramento, have published a report on the proceedings of the Fourth International Africa Peace...

16-02-2015 in Knowledge Production