Re-empowering Indigenous Principles for Conflict Resolution in Africa: Implications for the African Union.

Author:Ani, Ndubuisi Christian


Since attaining independence in the 1950s and 1960s, many African states have done little to explore ways to re-empower indigenous systems that were systematically degraded during the colonial era. Rather, post-colonial elites that took power from colonial masters made rapid efforts to align states with capitalist and socialist order of imperial powers in a bid to meet up with so-called international standards. Indeed, colonialism portrayed indigenous knowledge, religion and practices as primitive and irrational expressions of an inferior race (Ani 2017). The coverage of Africa in popular literature and media networks in the post-colonial era continue to lean on negative practices in such a way that many Africans also feel negatively about their traditional values. This is evident in the way Africans continue to depend on external actors for solutions to their contemporary challenges.

In terms of peace and security, the African Union which leads Africa's conflict resolution initiatives have also not made remarkable efforts to build on indigenous values and systems. Yet, many authors highlight the crucial role of indigenous conflict resolution mechanism in bringing fresh solutions to contemporary security issues alongside mainstream approaches (Boege 2011; Run 2013).

An African Union commissioned research that explores the viability of a 'United States of Africa' surmises the on-going concern that the expertise and education in Africa are over-dependent on foreign systems thereby requiring African actors to collectively enhance the capability and capacities of Africa to fully participate in shaping continental and international norms and agenda (AU 2006: 6-8). This paper thus revisits some common traditional values in Africa and the role of the AU in providing legitimacy and support. This is to ensure that Africa plays a key role in conceptualising solutions to its security challenges and by extension contributing in constructive global debates on peace and security.

Increasingly, there is a growing recognition that the foundational paradigms for peace and security in Africa are based on models of imperial powers to the detriment of society-centric outlooks that could contribute to sustainable peace and stability in the continent (Avruch 2002; Lacroix and Neufeldt 2010, Salem 2007; Bukari 2011). For Salem (2007), the mainstream conception of conflict resolution portrays fundamental ideas, assumptions, beliefs, values and thought processes of western powers. Jeng (2012, 6) affirms that the "dominant peace advocacy had generally conceptualized peace and peacebuilding in the context of Eurocentric thinking". In Culture and Conflict Resolution, Avruch (2002) maintains that even though mainstream conflict resolution tends to be presented as being neutral and objective, culture has a significant sway in people's action at the subconscious level. Avruch (2002) continues that western actors have intentionally and unintentionally dominated conflict resolution method with western cultural values and approaches.

Bob-Manuel in A cultural approach to conflict transformation (2000) notes that the upheavals and tensions in Africa are consequent from the breakdown of the order and context that African values and principles were developed and applied. The intractability and resurgences of conflicts in a number of African states and elsewhere point to the failures and limitations of the mainstream state-centric peace and security paradigms that are applied to resolve disputes in the continent. In an Op-Ed in Daily Maverick in June 2017, Tim Muruthi and Ashanti Kunene argue that 'the chaos that is now engulfing the world has a very Western origin. It would therefore be self-defeating for the rest of humanity to permit the self-same authors of chaos to frame the contours of a new global order. It is now time for the rest of the world to assert its right to remake the next international order.' This advances the need for indigenous ideas from other centres to play parallel and/or complementary role in addressing global issues (i)

Walker (2004) in Decolonizing Conflict Resolution: Addressing the Ontological Violence of Westernization argues that the power imbalance in the research and practice in conflict resolution perpetuates colonialism as the worldviews of others are marginalized while the hegemony of western views are upheld. Hence, even though African actors implement some peace initiatives, their fundamental approach to peace and security could be--are often--conditioned by the systems, structures and values of imperial powers that were imposed on the continent through colonialism and imperialism.

Indeed, the growing misgivings about external (ii) interventions, perspectives and impositions--even with the culpability of internal actors--is reflective of the disconnect between local values and those of external powers. Ayittey (1994) in his analysis of the Somalia crises subtitled 'Time for an African Solution' insists that external intervention in Somalia is a complicating factor to the Somalia crises.

For Ayittey (1994), 'outside attempts to resolve Africa's problems have regularly proven [to be] ineffective and even counterproductive'. He argues for African responsibility for the conflict resolution attempts in Somalia. Such is a recurring view in crises states such as Libya, Darfur and low-level conflicts across Africa. Zartman (2000: 3) concurs with this view by noting that despite the intervention of foreign seasoned peacemakers and peacekeepers in the attempt to solve conflicts in Africa, many conflicts in the continent remain unresolved.

Such concern is the basis for the advancement of 'African solutions to African problems' which has become a common maxim in Africa today (Arman 2014). (iii) This is line with growing understanding that African-oriented endeavours can do more to provide long-lasting solutions to Africa's challenges, irrespective of the laudable efforts of external actors (Nhema 2008: 3; Ayittey 1994; Ngwane 1996; Mazrui 2008). During the July 2012 AU summit in Addis Ababa, Jean Ping, the former chairperson of the AU Commission stated that 'the solutions to African problems are found on the continent and nowhere else' (VOA 2012). This resonates with the view of Mehta (1978: 92) who argues that the remedy to European universalisations is for non-Europeans to redefine their path to self-fulfilment because their 'broke mosaic cannot be recreated in the image of the west'. Mehta (1978: 104) further advocates for an indigenous process of social change through the pursuit of goals that are corollary with a society's history and way of life.

However, there remains a paucity of research that appraises indigenous solutions especially at the national and continental level. This led Dersso (2012: 11) to argue that 'despite the fact that the political ideal of 'African solutions to African problems' underlying the APSA is routinely used in the literature and policy circles, questions still remain on what it actually entails and how it informs and shapes African policy making on peace and security issues affecting the continent.' Dominant literary discourses on Africa's peace and security have mainly focused on understanding the achievements, challenges and prospects of the peace and security mechanisms and interventions of African actors.

They merely highlight the role of African actors as implementers of mainstream security traditions. Yet, there remains limited research on Africa's role in conceptualising security approaches by examining indigenous approaches that are relevant in contemporary times.

This research thus engages with the traditional conflict resolution approaches in Africa and the African Union's responsibility in highlighting these approaches in theory and practice of peace and security. Rather than examine practices within Africa that are used in day to day conflict resolution, the study focuses on guiding principles, ideas or outlooks that highlight the commonalities in African conflict resolution without undermining the particularities in various localities in the continent. Thus instead of considering how practices such as the Gacaca practice in Rwanda or the Mato Oput in Uganda could aid in addressing national and international issues, the study focuses on the philosophical rationale or principles upon which those practices are undertaken. As such, the paper advances knowledge on Africa's conceptual approaches in peace and security and proffers recommendations on how the AU could negotiate its ideologies and perspectives in the global system where the values of a few has been universalised as the standard.

The paper sets the scene by providing a conceptual understanding of what African indigenous conflict resolution could mean. This is done using the theoretical framework of constructivism, which holds that international relations is influenced by prevailing ideas generated from social relationships as explained below. The paper goes further to discuss the community, restorative and holistic outlook of African conflict resolution that requires indepth engagement on their relevance in African peace initiatives.

Towards Empowering African Indigenous Approaches: A Constructivist Perspective

Relevant to this study, the framework of constructivism explains the idea of common African indigenous approaches and the need to highlight the approaches within mainstream frameworks. Constructivism diverges from the fixation of dominant theories--neo-realists and neoliberalists--on material capabilities as the major influencers of world affairs. Constructivism holds that the international system exists only as an intellectual and ideational phenomenon that is developed from social relations. That is to say that the prevailing ideas amongst people do the better impact than material capabilities (Jackson and Sorensen 2006).

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