As I was reading and editing the articles and book review in this issue, I remembered a sentence by which I was greatly struck, and with which I could immediately identify when I saw it for the first time. The sentence comes from an advertisement of a commercial bank – the one where I happen to have my own account – but I should of course not reveal its name here. Another aspect I cannot share with our readers is the impact of the huge (four storeys high) outdoor advertisement. I am, however, emphasising it by putting it in block text format, although it is only eight words:
They call it Africa; we call it home.
As a propagator of contextual interpretation, I had to think myself into the motivation that an institution providing financial services could have had to use these words in an advertisement. My obvious thought was that the bank wanted to communicate the message that while others invest in Africa with an exploitative agenda, this bank feels at home in Africa and is committed to rendering its services (and making its profit!) in a home-friendly way.
After a second or two, however, I moved from the meaning the bank might have wanted to convey to the meaning I could appropriate for myself in my daily life and research work. I realised how prevalent the call-it-Africa attitude seems to be. One does not only find it among Afro-pessimists (with their particular intonation and body language), but also among Afro-optimists and among the middle group who combine their sympathy with Africa’s challenges with their acknowledgement of Africa’s opportunities and their trust in Africa’s future. I also realised how understandable such an attitude is. It is after all possible, and even tempting, to be concerned about a place and its people, but in a detached way. With regard to myself, however, my overriding feeling was the satisfaction of calling Africa ‘home’ and of being at home in Africa.
I am often thrilled by the feeling of being accepted by ubuntu-inspired fellow-Africans – in spite of the fact that I happen to be an eighth-generation ‘settler’ whose previous seven generations regarded themselves as superior and inflicted appalling discrimination and injustice on the inhabitants of Africa. During the dehumanising history of colonialism, the people of Africa had every reason to drive away or at least wish away the colonists, and in post-colonial Africa there are still remnants of colonialism – individuals and structures – that may indeed be wished away. In the Africa of today, we therefore have serious problems, but we also have far-reaching possibilities. Much is being done about addressing the problems and pursuing the possibilities. An important question is, however, whether we are doing what we do as if we are in a political laboratory or in our socio-economic home. The articles in this issue are about problems and possibilities in four countries, but the findings and recommendations of these localised case studies can surely also be meaningful on a wider scale, a continental scale and even a global scale. But – and that is the thought I would like to contribute on this introductory page – the effectiveness of good recommendations can become so much greater if the place where they are applied is called home, and if the people who are applying them feel themselves to be a family busy repairing and improving their common home.
My foreword suggestion is therefore that as we read and contemplate these articles, we should be asking ourselves what difference it could make if conflict-resolving and peacebuilding work is done in the spirit of making one’s locality, country, continent or planet a better home to live in. With regard to these articles, we may for instance think about possibilities as the following:
Applying an established method of conflict resolution not just with traditional correctness, but also with the commitment to restore harmony in one’s ‘home’.
Convincing political rivals in the same area or country (or even in the same ethnic group!) not only that they can tolerate each other, but also that, in spite of their differing policies, they can become willing to coexist in the same ‘home’.
Promoting good governance not merely as a prescribed duty of politicians, but also as a way in which responsible leaders can fulfil the task of managing the macro-‘home’ entrusted to them.
Working towards reconciliation not simply because it is a post-conflict agenda, but also and especially because of a spontaneous inner urge to coexist and cooperate with fellow-humans in the ‘home’ concerned.
I do hope that while we read and after we have read we will be inspired and empowered by some home-oriented feelings and commitments – and that we will implement them where possible.
Returning to the financial context of my key quote, however, I feel obliged to venture mentioning another possibility – about something which may be read between the lines at many places in this issue: poverty. When dealing with a conflict, where poverty is an underlying or an unconcealed cause, we should indeed be guided by statistics and development goals, but we may also be inspired by a concern about human conditions and relations. We can become committed to reducing poverty within our (micro-, meso- or macro-) home. And shouldn’t we then also become committed to reducing wealth within our home?