Three years ago, Volume 4, Number 2 (2004) was the first special edition of our Journal. Its theme was Electoral Systems, Elections and Conflict Mitigation in Southern Africa. This issue (Volume 7, Number 2) is our second special edition, which is the outcome of a project of the Human Sciences Resource Council (HSRC) of South Africa, and of a pleasant editing partnership between ACCORD and the Democracy and Governance Research Programme (D&G) of the HSRC. The theme of both the project and of this special issue is Identity and Cultural Diversity in Conflict Resolution in Africa. In 2006, the HSRC, in association with researchers in Africa and the United States of America, commissioned ten research papers on the contribution of identity and cultural diversity to conflict resolution in Africa. This is part of the HSRC’s new Africa Focus in which D&G partners with researchers and institutions in Africa on burning issues on the continent. D&G views this special issue as an invitation to interested researchers and institutions to develop cooperative relationships.
From the moment when the HSRC colleagues approached us at ACCORD, we realised that this topic was of the utmost relevance and importance, but also of extreme complexity. We therefore acknowledged the need to make up to date research out of several African countries available to the readers of our Journal, and we agreed to work together in this worthwhile publishing project.
We are sure that readers will agree about both the urgency and the difficulty of the topic, even before beginning to read any of the articles. We all know very well that the theme as formulated above is a short and rather optimistically sounding version of a more comprehensive and problematic one. Other identity-based realities are inevitably implied. For instance, one or more of the following terms may be inserted before ‘conflict resolution’: conflict generation, conflict escalation, conflict exacerbation or conflict intractability. What readers will find in this issue, however, are frank descriptions and discussions of the divisiveness and belligerency that may be caused or propagated by any obsession with identity. When leaders and followers have adopted a mindset of narrow-minded loyalty to own cultural and/or ethnic identity, and of hostility to the identities of ‘others’, reciprocal intolerance, antagonism and conflict are bound to follow.
The overall thrust of the concept article by Hagg and Kagwanja and the articles from the different country contexts is, however, that cultural and/or ethnic identity can also function constructively in resolving conflict and building a climate of peaceful coexistence. The mindset with regard to identity can become inclusive. It can at least begin to include others and their loyalties. It can harbour a sense of cultural and ethnic diversity. And from such a mindset change, a chain reaction of significant changes can flow. Widely accepted ways of dealing with conflict and resolving conflict could be modified to be more appropriate in cases of identity conflict. International mechanisms of mostly retributive justice and local, traditional methods of mostly restorative justice may all be ‘reconfigured’ in such ways that identities are ‘reconceptualised’, diversities are acknowledged, and coexistentialities are experienced.
We do trust that readers will find seed thoughts to internalise and to share with others.
From ACCORD’s side we wish to express our sincere thanks to the HSRC, not only for making all this significant material available to our Journal, but also for providing the funding for this special issue. A special word of thanks goes to Drs Peter Kagwanja, James Muzondidya and Gerard Hagg of the HSRC, and their support staff, for all the work with regard to the peer reviewing of the articles, the translating of articles where necessary, and the forwarding of our correspondence to and from the authors.
We wish to ensure all the authors that we greatly appreciate their research work, writing of the articles, formulating findings and conclusions, and their cooperativeness when we had questions or comments.
Finally, we have an explanatory note which happens to be on the wave-length of identity. In the lists of sources at the end of articles, we try to follow a generally accepted bibliographical system, according to which only the initials of authors are given. We have decided, however, to deviate from this prescription in all cases where the authors of these articles did give the first names of authors or editors of the sources they had consulted. After all, such first names may help to disclose the gender and/or cultural identity of the people concerned. We therefore request our readers to bear with this deliberate inconsistency.