What place for peace building in this our tortured continent and people?

Saturday March 26 2016

President Uhuru Kenyatta with the members of the East African Legislative Assembly at Parliament buildings in Nairobi. PHOTO | SAMUEL MIRING'U

President Uhuru Kenyatta with the members of the East African Legislative Assembly at Parliament buildings in Nairobi. PHOTO | SAMUEL MIRING'U 

The last two weeks have been a learning tour into the ever-decreasing possibilities for sustainable peace in Africa. This was the core message in a meeting organised by the East African Legislative Assembly in Dar es Salaam on Compliance with African Union and Sub-Regional Blocks Election Benchmarks.

Then last week, the African Leadership Centre organised two meetings in Addis Ababa; the first jointly with the Wilton Park on Peacebuilding in Africa and the second a meeting to discuss reports of a mapping study of peacebuilding and security in Africa supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

There is no doubt that the continent has huge terrains of peace, full of youthful possibilities. Indeed, we would have no reason to hold such meetings if the possibilities for the future were not great.

The continent has been bogged down by a useless tension between afro-pessimism and afro-optimism, between those who see only gloom and doom and those who only see Africa rising. But as the Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne argues, our focus should in fact be on Afro-responsibility.

I placed the notion of Afro-responsibility on the table after several speakers, some high profile leaders and officials spoke candidly about the challenge of conflict relapse. It is becoming normal that after mediation and peace settlement, peace follows before those countries plunge into a new cycle of violence.

We do not need to recite examples. After all, we are all watching Burundi with bated breath. In the few public forums I have attended where the Burundi question is discussed, I note the consensus among Burundians that the Arusha Peace Agreement is the benchmark around which a new future should be constructed, but I am struck by the ease with which that commitment to the Arusha Accord is brushed aside as politicians jostle for their own personalised interests. South Sudan is even more instructive. A state that was formed only recently has collapsed into conflict before our eyes within a short span.


The question that came our way in both meetings is whether, as Africans, we have taken our responsibility for our future. Speakers at the meeting wondered if we have taken a hard look at the kind of framework we use to organise our politics and whether that framework suits our history and specific situations.

This in essence was a critique of the westphalian nation-state framework, the fact that this state is founded on and designed to safeguard the interest of a minority elite and undermine the possibilities of a majority of people whose role the elite define to be servicing the greed of the minority.

The major conflicts on the continent owe their persistence to poor state-society relations. My young colleagues Sonia Theron and Sinmi Akin-Aina who presented mapping reports on South Sudan and Burundi explored this question in great detail. They showed how the break-up of those countries owe, in large measure, to skewed political processes that are based on elite pacts that front anything other than equality of access to opportunity. In essence, my young colleagues were emphasising the leadership question.

The leadership question sits at the heart of the need to renegotiate a new future for Africa. I am reminded that this future is not just youthful, it is also gendered; a future that is looking down to new gendered politics and one that invites women as equal participants in its construction.

Sustaining peace will ultimately require that we acknowledge two things: First, that peace settlements that seek to return the conflict country to where it was just before the outbreak of conflict are unhelpful and second, in the absence of a mutually acceptable pact between leaders and followers, sustainable peace will remain elusive. The time when leaders were overlords is over. Legitimacy of leadership is the only remaining basis for sustainable peace.

Godwin R. Murunga is a senior research fellow in the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi.