We trust that readers will find the contents of this issue not only thought-provoking, but also question-provoking. One of the articles has its title formulated as a question and is indeed a discussion of that question. The other articles were not written around questions, but in all of them questions are mentioned and discussed in a manner that solicits intellectual debate. Moreover, implied questions can be found at many places.
As we were editing these articles, we therefore experienced the incentive to further develop and practise our skills of asking and responding to questions. We do hope that our readers will be stimulated by the same kind of experience.
Most of us may need some encouragement in this regard, however. Some of us may have unpleasant memories of difficult questions in examinations, or inquisitive questions from gossiping neighbours. We may have developed allergies to certain types of questions, or even to all types. As a result, we may regard it as unnecessary to decrease our reading speed at a question. In extreme cases, therapy may be needed to deliver one from quaestiophobia, but in most cases a minor bit of mindset shifting towards appreciating the great potential value of questions may be sufficient.
After all, a question can be much more than just an author’s attempt to bring some variety into the style of writing – particularly when writing an academic article made up of informational and argumentative statements. An author may deliberately employ direct and indirect questions as invitations to the reader to become involved in an imaginary dialogue or discussion.
The reader may welcome and use such opportunities, but may also spend a little extra time thinking about implied questions found in or between the written lines. And, of course, the reader is always challenged to venture further into critical questions and penetrating searches.
The article on the Niger Delta of Nigeria provides examples of questioning into the origins of the violence and into the ways in which the use of weapons intensified the violence. The article on democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reviews the recent past, analyses the current transition, and concentrates on the question regarding the consolidation of democracy in the future. About the article on African approaches to building peace and social solidarity, a member of our international Advisory Board has aptly said: ‘This is a paper that raises many important questions and avoids simple romanticisation of culture as a solution to conflict’.
In all the articles in this issue, we also find reminders about the importance of asking the most appropriate questions, instead of stock questions based on particular perspectives. In the article on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict, questions related to more than one set of different perspectives are discussed. Apart from the differing viewpoints of the two countries, the clash between outdated colonial and current national perspectives is also emphasised. With regard to a ruling by arbitration, legalistic questions are contrasted with contextual considerations.
A term with an interesting semantic undertone is also found in these articles. ‘Question’ is used for a problem or difficulty that needs to be investigated, or inquired into. In the Ethiopia-Eritrea article, it is the boundary question that is focused upon. In the article on Zimbabwean intra-state conflict, it is the question of land and political participation. And in the article from Nigeria, it is the Niger Delta question, the question about leadership in the Delta struggle, as well as the question of federalism.
In any conflict situation, there are usually such ‘questions’ about which questions have to be asked and responses have to be debated. All of us who are willing to render our services in the field of dealing with conflict should therefore also be willing to develop our skills with regard to questions. We should indeed take questions seriously – not only those that are pertinently and emphatically raised and repeated, but also those that are modestly and tactfully mentioned or implied.
When we are functioning in mediating roles, we may when necessary offer suggestions about new questions that may be added to or even replace the ones that have become monotonous or outdated. We may apply the important mediating skill of creative rephrasing to questions as well. In a publication on the art of asking questions, an exaggerated but striking example is given of taking a fairly simple question and introducing one change in its phrasing after the other – until forty such improvements have been made!
Finally, we can share something we learnt during an ACCORD research project. While busy with field work, we heard the following story from someone who had no training in dealing with conflict. A friend asked his assistance about a difficult conflict situation. He told the friend that he had no experience in this regard, but that he was willing to help by listening to the story and simply asking questions. So, the friend told the story, and the volunteer conflict resolver repeatedly asked just the one question ‘Why?’ The friend ended in tears, and with a solution!
With these few thoughts about the far-reaching value of questions, we are strongly recommending a question-oriented reading of what we present in this issue. This applies to the country-specific articles, but especially to the article on African approaches to building peace and social solidarity. What do we think about traditional methods and their contemporary adaptation? Specifically about ubuntu, as a philosophy and a reality, and about gender equality and diversity?
Readers are of course most welcome to submit their responses, and their questions, in the form of articles that can be considered for coming issues. Sincere thanks in keen anticipation.