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Where Peace Education Meets African Culture

African Culture and Peace Education 


It has been affirmed with certainty that wherever there are interactions between human beings conflicts are bound to occur. On the other hand, we realize that due to their very nature, human beings are slaves of the propensity to relate to each other, it is therefore impossible for man to live in isolation thus making interactions an inevitable reality in the life and conduct of humanity. This has made conflicts almost part and parcel of everyday life of human beings. Conflicts are therefore a commonplace issue in life. Some of the conflicts have been termed intractable. According to Wallensteen, “conflict is indeed a loose word referring to the abstract incompatibility between two parties as well as to actual destructive behaviour” (2011, p. 33).

On the other hand, peace has been defined differently by different scholars, some taking positive dimension and yet others negative however, the dynamic peace concept by Galtung is preferable here. According to him; “peace is what we have when creative conflict transformation takes place non-violently” (1996, p. 265). This definition of Galtung makes peace a process rather than a static concept that is why peace education becomes very necessary to mount the process of peace.

This paper seeks to evaluate some of the components involved in the initiatives towards peace education. These components will be critically examined in the context of African intractable conflict. However, this should not be taken to imply that intractable conflict is unique to Africa because that will be a misguided assumption since intractable conflicts are experienced elsewhere in the world for instance as is the case with the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Peace Education

Peace Education is the efforts made to integrate norms, knowledge and discernment aimed at persuading parties to conflict to seek cooperation for the solutions to and resolution of conflicts through non-violent means such as dialogue and negotiation. It is a process of developing knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviours and values that enable learners to resolve any dispute peacefully and in a spirit of respect for human dignity, tolerance and non-discrimination (de Rivera, 2009, p. 107).

According to Schmidt and Friedman, “peace education is holistic” (Abebe, Gbesso, Nyawalo, 2006, p. 14).  This implies that it encompasses all the aspects necessary to disseminate and attain the sufficient skills and technical know-how about conflict resolution, peacemaking and peace-building. It therefore embraces the physical, emotional, intellectual and social growth of a person right from childhood through to adulthood. It should be deeply rooted in the framework of values especially in the traditional ones in regard to the African world-view. Peace education must be necessarily based on the philosophy that emphasizes love, trust, fairness, compassion, cooperation and respect of the dignity and sanctity of human life.                      

Intractable Conflict

An intractable conflict is that kind of a conflict which is extended and often complicated to solve. Some scholars prefer using the term protracted conflict as opposed to intractable conflict. Conflicts of such nature are often based on deep-rooted issues such as violation of human rights, unmet human needs, and other deep seated cultural identity issues such as indigeinety and autochthony. In such cases as these, the involved parties are often reluctant to negotiate or to let go their interests because such interests are often viewed to be very close to their belief and at the core of their life. The parties can get to the extent of using violence or other destructive behaviour so as to prolong conflicts hence making them difficult to resolve. Their longevity greatly owes to the real or perceived benefits accrued from them. Other factors which contribute both to the existence and extension of such conflicts include social and cultural bonds, government support and perceived external threat mainly targeted on the annihilation. Furthermore, there is a complexion caused by mass hatred, fear, sense of being victimized and feelings of dehumanization and de legitimization of a people (de Livera, 2007).

Causes of Intractable Conflicts

1                           1. Human Needs

Human needs theorists argue that many intractable conflicts are caused by the lack of provision of fundamental human needs. These include basic needs such as food, water, and shelter as well as more complex needs for safety, security, self-esteem, and personal fulfilment. These more complex needs centre on the capacity to exercise choice in all aspects of one’s life and to have one’s identity and cultural values accepted as legitimate. The need for both distributive justice and the ability to participate in civil society are also crucial. All of these needs are fundamental requirements for human development. Thus, while interests can be negotiated when they come into conflict, needs cannot, no wonder we see such strong hard-liner positions in cases of intractable conflicts.  

Issues to do with poverty, environmental degradation, poor health care, lack of sufficient clean water, and lack of adequate housing often lead to the denial of a people’s basic needs which must be met by the ones in authority. In the struggle to capture and assert their dignity, safety, and control over their lives, people tend to rise in demand for such basic needs and if their concerns are not met, then the up rises tend to be violent and long lasting. Due to the undying human desire to achieve these basic needs, the fight for them is often uncompromising.

2.      Identity

Most of the intractable conflicts in the world and Africa in particular have to do with identity. Identity is integral to the self in fact it is all about what an individual or a group is. Wherever a group realizes or even thinks that their identity is being threatened, there is almost an automatic and immediate response to salvage the situation. Threat to the self, denial of respect and legitimacy are pointers to the threat to a people’s identity. A threat to identity is therefore likely to produce very strong responses and reaction which are often not only defensive but also aggressive and conflicts rising from such tend to persist.

Identity is mainly based on a range of aspects such as ethnicity, race, nationality, religion and whatever other elements relevant to the being of a group of people. In African world-view, identity matters are long ranging up to and including common ancestry, land and other factors like totems. The development of polarized identity issues and the situation caused by modern time migrations are of great concern because they deprive the individual groups of their unique unified identity. If one understands, the role land plays for the identity of most if not all African ethnic groups, then it is easy to capture why people are fighting over land. It may not be commercial reasons as such but identity issues, for instance as seen in Kenya when the Kalenjin fight to uproot the Kikuyu from their land it is mainly not for commercial purposes but for identity purposes because there is a strong tie between the people and the land of their ancestors. The polarized groups based on identity often develop hostility towards each other and factors such as in-group identification and the perceived threat leads to an impulse and urgent need to preserve own identity even if it means destruction of the other.  

Rigidity in collective identity makes it more difficult for groups to compromise. The world-view of an individual group plays a key role and that is why education is very important because education helps to further and broaden world-views. Nationalism as an ideology brings together a people who share the common history and destiny and it is very good however, in practice if not handled carefully it becomes a victim of individualism and the view of superiority of one’s nation in comparison to the other. Love for the nation is therefore not bad when measured in patriotism but obsession to the idea that one’s nation is the best often takes a negative swing worth a check and balance. Prejudices and even stereotyping must always be clearly checked and education on this sphere is important or else they relapse into sick conflicts.

In the identity issue, we realize that there have been historical injustices, marginalization, discriminations and even systematic alienation and oppression of the minority and other vulnerable groups. When the identity of such groups is either denied or unrecognised by the majority, these oppressed groups may recognize the power hierarchies as unjust and rebel against them thus leading to intractable conflict.

3.      Security

Everybody needs safety. There is always a deep yearning in human beings to have their dignity not only recognized but also respected. Unfortunately structural violence jeopardizes individuals’ physical safety and security. Intractable conflicts often grow out of the involved parties’ unmet need for security. Security is always an urgent matter, matters security do not wait and are never compromised. When human needs have been securitized, the only remedy is to meet them. Any form of violence is a slap on the face of a people’s security and these kinds of violence must be stopped at all costs by the authorities and if they fail to contain them then people will rise to demand their right to safety. In the modern world the security matters have become even of greater concern than any time in human history, the emergence of terrorism, with the death of distance caused by globalization, each and every government is greatly charged with the responsibility of ensuring and assuring the security of its populace, failure to do so could lead to intractable conflicts. 

4.       Resources

Most intractable conflicts in Africa are based on resources. Africa is a continent that is endowed with immense resources, unfortunately, the areas with most resources are the ones most hit by the conflicts for instance in Liberia, Sierra Leone, DRC, Angola and Nigeria to mention but a few. This has led to the coinage of the term resource curse. Conflicts regarding who gets what and how much they get tend to be intractable. The unequal and often exploitation of resources by the central government, foreign states and multinational corporations without much benefit to the local communities has always led to the rise and demand situation by the local communities. The emergence of war lords in Africa is mainly a phenomenon directly linked to the availability of resources. Since the local communities are not benefiting from the resources that they have, it becomes easy for them to align with rebels who often fight with central governments and who come with an enticing prospect of wanting to control the resource for the benefit of the local community but at the end what we are experiencing is bloated and escalation of conflicts in these regions.

Conflicts over water resources are also a case in point. These are experienced in trans-boundary water basins for instance in the Mauritania-Senegalese conflict of the early 90s and also water conflicts caused by the shortage of water due to climate change. The situation in Darfur is a case in point (Muhammad, March, 9, 2010).  

The Nexus between Conflict and Education

The nexus between intractable conflicts and peace education is founded on the fact that due to their nature, intractable conflicts are perceived to be long-term conflicts that generate a lot of hostility, enmity and violence. These conflicts have a history of being resistant to peace-making efforts because they often contain salient features which take a long time to resolve. Furthermore, intractable conflicts have the tendency of spilling over, taking the transnational dimension and with the modern time death of distance through globalization the situation is even worse.

Since these conflicts can be mediated, the third party must remain neutral. This approach is seen to be non-adversarial to conflict resolution. And the role of the mediator in such cases is to facilitate communication between the warring parties to achieve a common ground. Peace education is very important in the efforts to resolve such conflicts because it affords the third interested parties (Wehr, 1997) the necessary tools to seize the situation, engage the parties and seek the resolution.

To work for peace is to work for liberation, wellness in a world of peace with nature, peace between genders, generations and races where the excluded are included but not by force and where classes, nations and states serve neither direct nor structural violence (Galtung, Jacobsen & Brand-Jacobsen, 2000, p. xiii). In this regard, to work for peace is to work for liberation and education by its very nature is liberative. Education helps to work for peace and to work against violence. Through the theories formed in academic circles the forms of conflict can be analyzed, and causes examined and trends predicted in order to prevent with the prescriptive role of theory. Peace education therefore becomes a direct response to the intractable conflicts in Africa. It would be absurd for anyone to seek to resolve a conflict before understanding it and as we have seen, it is mainly through peace education that one can understand well the intractability and even the solvability of conflicts.

Conflict is ultimately a social enterprise; so is education. They interact in a predictable manner but may also be subjected to un-expectation (Zartman, 2006). Education takes center stage when it comes to the undying human desire for peace. The culture of peace can be attained and perpetuated through integral education. The United Nations has been vocal in this aspect of education in its appeal for peace, for instance the UN has since held that for the children of the world to learn such things which ensure peace such as human rights, equality and equity, cultural diversity and respect to mother nature, education is key because the learning of such morality can only be achieved through systematic education for peace. The UN therefore is using the phrase “education for peace” (1999). These are actually two variables, one independent and the other dependent. Education is an independent variable in this case but peace becomes a dependent variable thereby demonstrating the centrality of education and its inevitability for the realization of peace.

Relationship between African Culture and Peace Education

According to Lederach the primary goal at this level is to find ways to support implements and sustain the building of infrastructure for peace over the long term. To achieve this goal there must be an expanded understanding of resources. He further argues that this understanding needs two approaches, one socio-economic and the other socio-cultural. People and Africans in particular need the involvement of their various cultural traditions in the process of peace building (1997, p. 87).

Unlike what the modern media want everybody else to believe that the local African society is totally immersed into conflict and that the only hope for peace is through foreign intervention often through things such as money, the contrary could actually be the case. In fact the solution to the African intractable conflicts is in Africans themselves. One cannot agree more with Lederach when he holds that, “the greatest resources for sustaining peace in the long term is always rooted in the local people and their culture” (1997, p. 94).

Peace education at this moment is very critical because, apart from helping develop the framework for sustaining, dialogue, negotiation and reconciliation, it also helps the community to see people in their cultural setting as a resource and not recipients. Education leads to appreciation of such a value that is why it would not only be detrimental but also suicidal to divorce education from culture and peace. In fact, “consistent with the need to develop and support a peace constituency is the need to build on the cultural and contextual resources for peace and conflict resolution present within the setting” (Lederach, 1997, p. 95).

Talking about, this we mean to make a move away from the simple prescription of answers and modalities which are alien and often irrelevant and embrace as much resources, modalities and mechanisms for building peace that exist within the African context. Lederach has given several examples to the effect of this approach and its workability, Here are two of them; in Somalia, there was an extra ordinary women functioning as forerunners in rebuilding inter-clan communication which prepared the way for clan conferences guided by elders and messaged by the poets that led to local and regional peace agreements. In Mozambique we had the UNICEF funded “Circus of Peace” build on traditional arts, music and drama which targeted and incorporated children at the village level in conflict resolution and peace building activities (Lederach, 1997, p. 95). Even the Rwandan situation is a case in point, in fact following the events closely; one may realize that the “Gacaca” (local tribunal) is of more importance and has been much more successful than the Arusha based UN tribunal for Rwanda.

Peace Education

There is need to socialize African people into the “culture of peace.” This is especially true given the experience of many intractable conflicts in the continent. The main aim of peace education is to add value to the existing systems of education, in order to ensure that it becomes relevant to real life experiences of the learners, in their quest to create a just and equitable society. (Abebe, Gbesso, Nyawalo, 2006, 14).

 Components of Peace Education

There are quite a number of areas to be explored in peace education. The UN has identified these domains as: human rights, social justice, culture, sustainable development, governance and leadership, human development and gender (Gvriel, 2009, pp. 107-118).

Human Rights are one such essential component in peace education. Ernesto Anasarias and Peter Berliner have argued that “respect for human rights is one of the basis of the culture of peace” (2009, p. 181). Nickel gives six categories of human rights which are necessary for peace education. These six are; security rights, due process rights, liberty rights, political rights, equality rights and social rights (Anasarias & Berliner, 2009, p. 181). Most of the conflicts are caused because people haven’t learnt to appreciate and respect the rights of others that is why there is such a huge need to incorporate them in peace studies and instill the sanctity of those rights and their begging reverence in the integrated formation of learners from very early stages of development.

Social justice is indeed fundamental. The UN held that “issues of tolerance, solidarity and social cohesion represent a key foundation for building cultures of peace” (UN, 1999).  All the arguments put forward by Moody and White, Winter and Cava as well as Lavis and Stoddart seem to have one thing in common. This is the fact that social cohesion largely depend on social teaching (Vollhardt, Migacheva & Tropp, 2009, pp.139-149). This is just a pointer at how important social teaching and justice are. The Catholic Church through many documents and papal encyclicals beginning with Rerum Novarum to date has been very instrumental and vibrant on her social teaching and undying call for social justice. In order for us to have champions of social justice in the world there is great need to integrate such studies in peace education.

Regarding culture, there should be included in peace education a series of studies and practical engagement on etic as opposed to emic world view. Learners should be educated on how to accommodate and appreciate other people’s cultures through development of an insider view. Also need to appreciate other people’s belief system and be accommodative for instance as envisioned in the Catholic Church’s theology of interreligious dialogue. In fact according to Kasomo Daniel, Ethinocentrism is a cause for many ethnic conflicts and clashes (2009, pp. 1-7). Therefore there s such a great need to offer a clear and balanced study on ethnicity such that learners may learn to appreciate their ethnicity and accommodate others without prejudices and unnecessary stereotypes which often triggers conflict.

The UN has emphasized on the issue of sustainable development. This is the exploitation and use of the natural resources today with a projection for the future. We should not live in this world as if we are the last ones, we should always have posterity in mind. This is a responsibility which can only be embraced when people have been taught and learnt to appreciate generosity as opposed to greed.

Systems of government and government policies, democracy, citizenship, civics, nationalism, electoral processes, participation, civil society, media are all matters to be reflected in the curriculum for peace education. Most of the problems plaguing the continent have poor governance and policies to blame. Peace education students should be molded to become intellectuals meaning the kind of people who can stand out as champions for good governance and sound policies.

Right from the very early stages of development, peace education should aim at ensuring an integral formation of children through different stages. This formation should range from human to social dimensions. Gender roles and gender equity and how they can be put into a more positive and peace building perspective. Girls and boys during their early development must be trained to appreciate, gender differences, capabilities, uniqueness and complementarities. Any such a system aimed at creating the superior-inferior or stronger-weaker perspective based on gender must be discouraged. Gender diversity should be instilled as richness and not as a tool for discrimination, conflict and even war.

 Division of Peace Studies

There is a distinction of three branches of peace studies. First there is the empirical peace studies, second is the critical peace studies and lastly there is constructive peace studies. The empirical branch engages in a systematic comparison of theories with empirical reality, the critical one compares empirical reality with values and “tries in words and/or in action, to change reality if it does not agree with the values,” lastly, the constructive peace studies attempts to theories and values, producing the vision of a new reality – values being stronger than theory (Galtung, 1996, pp. 9-10). However, the striking realization is the fact that the three approaches built on each other because of the inner connections in the dynamism of data, theories and values (Galtung, 1996, p. 11). Therefore it will be of great importance to amalgamate these three approaches in the whole system and development of peace studies and the successive employment of the trio in order to be able to live in what Galtung calls the best of the world, where the observed is foreseen and desired and the unobserved is unforeseen and rejected (1996, p. 12).

 Values in Peace Studies

The core value in peace studies is peace because without values peace studies becomes social studies and they make little sense in the quest for peace. A search for peace without peaceful means is what Gandhi considers a defeat of peace that is why he emphasized the principle of no-violent conflict transformation (Galtung, 1996, pp. 114-124). Value is therefore at the core of peace studies and the constructive and progressive concept of peace envisioned by Galtung can only be attained through peace by peaceful means.

Value is at the very core of the African worldview. This helps to explain in part why the African conception of peace is also a process and it is never complete before and without the reconciliation part of it where the aggressor must reconcile himself with all the hierarchical elements in the world system and by bringing harmony to the flow of the vital force operating in the system.

 Challenges of Peace Education

Relativism is a challenge to peace studies. As peace education programs have become increasingly popular, some criticisms too have emerged. One of it is that peace cannot be defined in the same way for everyone everywhere. Some define it in the context of an absence of war and enhanced security in one’s daily life (Zartman, 2007, p. 345). On the other hand, others have a broader understanding of the term peace.

Another challenge is reconciliation of peace education with the already failed educational system in many parts of Africa. Again to the contrary of it, conflict itself brings about enormous stresses and strains on the provision of education and if mismanaged can destroy the whole educational system entirely. Peace education from this context cannot replace the basic educational needs of a community or society, (Zartman, 2006, p. 345). Even on instances where conflict does not tear apart the whole peace education initiative, other factors such as poverty eat into the initiative. In fact education is becoming a very expensive affair in most African states and governments are failing to provide the desirable quality of education leaving the sector to be dominated by private education providers with soaring expenses for instance in Kenya thus locking out the poor children from getting quality education.

Rigidity of education system, low access and enrolment rate, low quality of teaching, poor methodologies, lack of sufficient and relevant reading materials, poor administration and un-conducive environment are all factors hampering education system as a whole in Africa and peace education in particular. New technological challenges brought by the revolution in communication and information industry afforded by globalization and a slow pace in Africa to catch up with the situation is also a major setback in the education system.

Education has always been closely linked to development of civilization and seen as a way of improving conditions of life and a source of societal evolution (Dewey, 1943). The rate in which education in Africa is growing is still very low. Level of illiteracy is very high in Africa especially the sub Saharan part of the continent. According to a UNESCO report, between the years 2000 and 2004, only 60% of adults of more than 15 years old were literate, (Abebe, Gbeso, Nyawalo, 2006, p. 4). This level of illiteracy is definitely wanting. Factors such as low access to education, low school enrollment rate, understaffing and poor quality of teaching staff, wars, poverty diseases and other socio-economic as well as political upheavals breed a very harsh environment for peace education to thrive.

 Goal of Peace Education

The goal of peace education can be identified simply as peace (Galtung, 1996). Peace education must be necessarily pro-active and goal oriented. It won’t make any sense for one to undertake peace studies just for its own sake. The role played by education in the whole dynamism of the search and sustainability of peace is imperative. Peace education should begin early just in the tender formation of the young stars so that there is instilled in them the values that are necessary in fostering peace and as they grow up they should be systematically meant to appreciate these values which actually help to nurture world peace.


Peace educationists should be so much concerned on how to make peace researchable (Wallenstein, 2011, p. 3). There should be an exclusive domain both at the national and international levels with political and normative perspective of peace studies. These should lay the background and ensure the platform for a constructive interplay between peace studies and the elements that there is in the African contexts of intractable conflict.

In the final analysis peace studies will make sense if it is translated into action. Knowledge is necessary and indeed imperative but theoretical acquisition and accumulation of it without its practical perspective makes is a futile activity. Therefore there needs to be a transformation of peace knowledge into peace skills (Galtung, 1996, p. 35). There must be build a direct and structural peace action to integrate knowledge and skills in the same person in order to realize the desirable end of peace education in the transformation of intractable conflicts in Africa.

In the words of the Hague Appeal for Peace Campaign for Peace Education, we could then conclude that citizens of the world can only be considered educated when they “understand the global problems, have the skills to resolve conflicts and struggle for justice non-violently, live by international standards of human rights and equity, appreciate cultural diversity and respect the Earth and each other” (Gavriel, 2009, p. 107). This is what the world yearns for and this is the end towards which peace education must strive.  Any diversion from such a vision jeopardizes both the letter and spirit of peace education which by its very nature ought to be liberative.


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Where Peace Education Meets African Culture Where Peace Education Meets African Culture Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 05, 2016 Rating: 5

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