Local Peace Committees in Africa: the unseen role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Author:Issifu, Abdul Karim
Position::Report
 
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Introduction

Violence of any form through religious extremism, ethnicity, intra and interstate warfare etc. have long been a component of the international discourse. This is because one-third of all countries in the world have experienced violence triggered by segregation, marginalisation, politics, power, ethnicity and others. Nevertheless, in most of the western countries, for instance, violence brought by the struggle over power or authority, boundary disputes, competition over natural resources, hegemony and political rivalry etc. are either resolved entirely or drastically reduced (Department for International Development (DFID), 2001).

However, in Africa, the story is different. Thus, violent conflicts arising from politics, ethnicity, natural resource competition or utilisation, religious radicalism, and chieftaincy disputes remain protracted, dreadful and difficult to resolve, in spite of the peacebuilding efforts executed by either the international and national development agencies or local governments. As Sadowski (1998) put it, many of these intractable violent conflicts in Africa are along political and ethnic lines. Similarly, Babatunde (2013) adds that African countries have been engulfed in political turmoil, violence and civil war in the course of competition for political power and control of resources. Therefore, Africa is faced with the roughness of a dreadful struggle in political, social, economic and religious spheres (Mbiti, 2010).

Examples of African societies that have experienced and continue to experience dreadful violence include South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Algeria, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Namibia, Libya, Mali, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, among others (Gordon-Summers, 1999; DFID, 2001). Hence, the extent of conflict in Africa is greater than in any other region in the world (DFID, 2001). According to Sadowski (1998), one or more of such conflicts in these African nations emanate from ethnic supremacy, power struggle, chieftaincy succession, justice, poverty, natural resources competition, politics and governance, groups marginalisation, territory or boundary dispute. This is why Ortberg (2010) argues that the African society has become so politicised that people often hear words like justice, life, poverty or compassion as code words for a partisan political allegiance in one direction or another. In effect, about 1.5 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected communities (especially in Africa), based on land use, resources, ethnicity, exclusion, and the results of the economic and financial crisis (Tongeren, 2013a).

Although Africa is plagued by protracted conflict challenges, the role of Local Peace Committees (LPCs) (committees or structures formed at the level of a district, municipality, town or village to encourage and facilitate inclusive peace making and peacebuilding processes) in peacebuilding, conflict resolution and community development cannot be underrated (Olivier & Odendaal, 2008). For the reason that LPCs have played and continue to play a key role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, especially at the community level using traditional advocacy, mediation, negotiation, agreement, consensus building, awareness creation, community level capability building and empowerment. This is why Tongeren (2013b) has acknowledged that in many conflict-affected countries in Africa, local peace committees has had a positive impact on the local communities by keeping the violence down, solving community tensions and empowering local actors to become peace builders. For instance, in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Malawi and Burundi, the roles played by some LPCs were significant not only in resolving the conflicts, but also in promoting community empowerment and rural development at the grass root level (Odendaal, 2010; Tongeren, 2013b).

For example, the District Peace Advisory Council (DPAC); a LPC in Ghana, played a key role in the Dagbon chieftaincy crisis that had the potential to destabilise the northern part of the country. According to Olivier and Odendaal (2008), the conflict was dealt with through a process of community dialogue and mediation initiated by the DPAC.

Regardless of the enormous roles played by LPCs in the above named countries, they are still not recognised, especially during international and local peace and development discourses. Meanwhile, deep-rooted conflicts at the local level, and the psychological effects of violence on humanity, especially, on women and children, and the neglect on local communities where protagonists had to continue co-existing, LPCs played a cardinal role in resolving most of the conflicts and transforming some of these war-torn nations socially, culturally and economically. Gastrow (1995:83) concluded that LPCs have definitely prevented violence by solving many burning issues, promoting dialogue and monitoring protest events. "It has been instrumental in containing violence to levels that would otherwise have reached even more alarming levels." The immense contributions by these LPCs in war-shattered states provides sufficient reasons for not only rethinking the positive impacts of LPCs, but also supporting them to expand their capacity to operate extensively (Olivier & Odendaal, 2008). Therefore, it is time for the international community, civil society organisations, African leaders and relevant stakeholders have a critical look at the contributions and potentials of LPCs during peace and development discourse (Tongeren, 2013b).

Hence, the aim of this article is to expose the unseen roles of LPCs in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and community development in Africa, so that it will interest a holistic recognition and support during international and local peace and development dialogue. In relation to the objective set to be achieved, the remainder of the article is organised as follows; the first part focuses on the review of related literature highlighting conflict resolution in Africa, and peacebuilding. Part two analyses LPCs and its objectives, and part three canvases evaluation studies showing the successful roles of LPCs in some selected African countries, comprising South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Burundi. Significantly, the final section concludes that for sustainable peace to be witnessed in several war-torn countries; the international community and African leaders should identify and support LPCs, thereby providing them with the operational legal mandate and the financial support to expand their commitment on a large scale.

Review of Related Literature

Conflict Resolution in Africa

Conflict is a universal phenomenon of the human society that cannot be prevented completely. As Kendie (2010) rightly asserts, conflict cannot be avoided in social life, but it can only be contained. More so, conflict is neither good nor bad (Marshall, 2006).

It can occur at any given time and in any place, originating between two individuals or groups when there is a disagreement or difference in values, attitudes, needs or expectations (Conerly, 2004). Essentially, conflict might ensue at the class level, local government level or even international level with an underlying interest or goal. Oyeniyi (2011) also add that conflict usually occurs primarily because of a clash of interests in the relationship between parties, groups or states, either because they are pursuing opposing or incompatible goals.

Although conflict cannot be avoided entirely, violence is normally frowned upon. Therefore, in Africa when the unanticipated savagery occurs, there is a growing effort to resort to a peaceful conflict resolution method in building a sustainable peace. Hence, conflict resolution as observed by Miller is "A variety of approaches aimed at terminating conflicts through the constructive solving of problems, distinct from management or transformation" (Miller, 2003:8). The central objective of any conflict resolution agenda is simply to identify the main cause of a conflict and put a total end to it so that a sustainable peace can be achieved. In Africa, the process of applying conflict resolution methods to end a conflict involves mediation through an impartial third party. Ajayi and Buhari (2014) also add adjudication and arbitration to the methods of conflict resolution in traditional African societies. More so, Bukari (2013) add-ons alternative dispute resolution, collaboration and conciliation to the conflict resolution and peacebuilding attempts in Africa. The main reason why most conflict resolution techniques in Africa ensures sustainable peace is that it take into account the cultural needs of the people and go deep to underline the structural causes of the conflict before providing a holistic solution. Essentially, conflict resolution seeks to provide a one-time closure to conflict through a joint-problem solving and human centred approach.

Accordingly, the successful resolution of any conflict should be based on a human centred approach, comprising of the improvement of security and good relations among people as well as the improvement of human well-being and rural development (Bukari, 2013). Principally, there is no right or wrong conflict resolution style and each conflict's participant is capable of choosing the approach deem fit in a given situation. For that reason, the appropriate method may depend largely on the source, origin, nature, manifestation and the outcome of the clash. Decisively, the application of negotiation, mediation, reconciliation, advocacy, joint problem solving, community conferencing and the like are part of the African conflict resolution components used by the local peace committees to guarantee most of the positive conflict tenacities in countless war-prone states in Africa.

Conceptualising Peacebuilding

Several...

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