AJCR 2008/3


Keywords: Ethnicity, Religion

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In the very human life that all of us are living, there are dynamic factors which tend to drive us apart and even incite separated groups to fight each other. Some of these factors, such as ethnicity or religion, may not appear to be divisive. Often, however, the same factors can also harbour tolerant and cooperative possibilities. Very much depends therefore on how we allow ourselves to be influenced by experiences and messages of discord or of concord. In most situations it is probably true that the public is oversupplied with the former by media that thrive on news about disputes and disunity. A fairly large proportion of such news is usually generated by politicians who are bent on strengthening their own constituencies and their own positions – to the detriment of opposition parties and leaders. Accordingly, there is an urgent need to counteract such sensationalism and divisiveness by focusing on viable options of living together and working together.

This is precisely the point that this issue of the African Journal on Conflict Resolution seeks to convey as far and wide as possible. Three of the articles in this issue address some of the dynamic factors referred to above: ethnicity and religious commitment.

In the first article, Jude Cocodia shows how conflicts ‘revolving around ethnic or religious identities’ do not only belong to the history of the past, but also to the reality of the present. Unless we as human beings undertake a radical ‘rethinking’ of ethnicity and change our mindsets, attitudes and behaviours, violent ethnic conflicts will remain with us and mar our future. In light of examples from five African countries (Uganda, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Botswana and Tanzania), two kinds of trends are highlighted in this article: those that lead to conflict and those that lead to cooperation.

The second article, by Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, gives us a penetrating insight into a deep inter-ethnic divide in Zimbabwe. The beginnings and persistence of the particularism of the Ndebele are traced historically from pre-colonial times to the post-colonial present. It contributes to the complexities of the current situation – in which this particularism inhibits nation building and sends out signals of a craving for separate independence. The tenacity of this phenomenon is explained along two lines. The Ndebele experienced and reacted to events in history, and the Shona revealed an attitude of triumphalism. What this account of a specific example of particularism therefore clearly confirms, is that inter-ethnic tensions and hostilities usually emerge out of actions and reactions from both sides (or more sides if there are more). The particularism or the triumphalism (or even perceived versions of such isms) of one group tends to elicit reactions from another group or other groups. Such actions and reactions lead to tension, to conflict, and to the escalation of the conflict.

When a cycle of hostile violence has been established and entrenched, it needs a breakthrough to an orientation of understanding and cooperation. In the third article, by Ayo Whetho and Ufo Okeke Uzodike, the role of religious networks in the post-war Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is explored. The idea is not to propagate religion in general or any specific religion as a peacemaking institution. After all, the histories of religion and particular religions contain laudable examples of peacemaking and deplorable examples of religiously inspired conflicts and wars. The authors indeed refer to religious networks that use their powerful influence towards ‘destructive ends’. What they do emphasise, however, is that in the DRC, during and after the conflicts, religious networks have stepped in to render crucial social services which the state failed to provide. In this way the religious communities have earned well deserved gratitude and respect, plus reaping the benefits of phenomenal growth in their membership. What is also highlighted in the article, is the ‘constructive engagement by faith-based groups in the public domain’, and the way in which this rendering of service to fellow-human beings definitely facilitated and still facilitates the process of building peace in the war-ravaged country.

In the last article, Cedric de Coning takes the topic of cooperation a step further than the convergence of parties who had been in conflict. He argues convincingly for an integrated approach – as adopted by the United Nations (UN) – in all peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction programmes. Different kinds of work have to be done by different actors, but the various parts of the overall task of restoring and sustaining peace can be performed more effectively if the leaders, organisers and workers are aware of their interdependence. Even more importantly, the providers of the peacebuilding services should also be committed to an interdependence that includes the local actors. The people of the country or countries concerned should be involved in satisfying and encouraging ways, and share ownership of the peacebuilding and reconstruction process.

Taken one by one, each of these articles gives us a thorough description and discussion of the topic concerned. Jointly, however, they provide us with the added value of a strong thrust towards cooperation in cases where separatist and antagonistic tendencies are wielding their power. This constructive approach can be meaningful not only where the divisiveness is caused by ethnic or religious separateness, or by organisational non-relatedness (precisely in peacebuilding), but also in many other situations. After all, almost anything can be approached and performed with either a spirit of antagonism or one of affiliation.

Very fittingly, the book review in this issue, written by Theo Neethling, is on Stanley Meisler’s biography of Kofi Annan. In the review, and in the book itself, we can read about the instructive and inspiring example of ‘a man of peace in a world of war’. Many more such people are indeed needed in this war-prone world, in leadership positions and across the spectrum of positions in socio-political life. The climate of realistic coexistence and cooperation has to be created where it is still non-existent, and promoted where it is already present.