Revolutionary Nonviolence in Africa

Old Commitments, New Hopes

Collected by Matt Meyer

For advocates of revolutionary nonviolence - the interconnected commitment to radical social change and the strategies and tactics of unarmed "soul force" - the history and contemporary struggles throughout the continent of Africa provide rich example of great hope.

From the early Pan-Africanist movements, when Ghanian leader Kwame Nkrumah was described as the Gandhi of Africa, to the successes of the anti-apartheid movement, to grassroots women's groups currently fostering conflict resolution and dialogue, the continent derivatively called "dark" a century ago and popularly seen as nothing but "war-torn" today in fact has more examples of positive, pacifist action than most places on the planet. In the forthcoming Africa World Press two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the Twenty-First Century (2008, edited by J. Atiri and M. Meyer, see www.africaworldpressbooks.com), academics and activists have come together to document and discuss this burgeoning movement. Below are some excerpts from a selection of essays, which also include work from WRI's own Jorgen Johannsen, Chesterfield Samba, Jan Van Criekinge, Koussetogue Koude, and Marianne Ballé Moudoubou, as well as from Silvia Federici, Yash Tandon, IPRA's Bernadette Muthien, Transcend's Rais Neza Boneza, Joseph Sebarenzi, and Elavie Ndura.

At the time of the liberation movements, there certainly was a lot of hope, yet there were also the seeds of the troubles to come, as leaders relied too heavily on the same methods and tactics that the colonial rulers had employed. Today, there are still a lot of troubles. Yet, time and time again - in conversations with grassroots activists, at conferences with professors and alternative economists, and in the presentations contained in this volume - we see the seeds of new hope. My own hopes for Africa today center around the belief that we will overcome the limitations that occur when people become seduced by power.

My hopes and expectations are that, once again, people's movements will flower. Only in this way will we be able to achieve a real people's democracy.

African women are pioneering peace initiatives, mixing in innovative ways the latest research and theories in nonviolent conflict resolution and traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms. They are often reinterpreting the latter, adapting traditions to contemporary problems and expanding women's roles. African women play many roles in conflict: as victims, as perpetrators, and as leaders in preventing, ending, and healing the wounds of conflict. . . African women's peace initiatives range from initiating dialogue between enemy groups, as in the underground networks established by women from northern and southern Sudan; to mobilizing whole sectors of communities to prevent violence, as the women of the Wajir Peace Group do in northern Kenya; to identifying new challenges to peace, such as the work on HIV/AIDS and conflict undertaken by Femmes Africa Solidarité; to reintegrating child soldiers back into civilian society, as done by the women of Jamii Ya Kupatanisha in Gulu, Uganda. They are healing the wounds of war, as Pro Femmes/Twese Hamwe in Rwanda are attempting in building Peace Villages where Hutu and Tutsi widows and orphans role model living together. In so doing, African women are reinterpreting tradition and expanding the public space for women.

After the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998-2000, which claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and maimed and disfigured many youngsters, displaced thousands of civilians, and consumed the national treasury, the number of conscientious objectors increased. Currently, thousands of Eritreans object to military service. They are forced to leave Eritrea and live in exile. Considerable numbers of them are in Libya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and parts of Europe seeking political asylum. In Eritrea, conscientious objection is taboo. Conscientious objectors are considered cowards lacking patriotism. There is no alternative civilian service. Desertion is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, and in wartime the punishment includes the death penalty. Due to its militaristic nature, the government does not tolerate independent NGOs, human right groups, international observers, or reporters. But we see that refusing military service paves the way for peace. We need democracy and the rule of law. The people of Eritrea are in a political, social, and economic crisis. We urgently need a healthy democratic political atmosphere, a constitutionally elected leadership, and a multiparty political system. There is also an urgent need for the release of all political prisoners and conscientious objectors. The ideas and teachings of conscientious objection are pacifist in nature.

They are based on humanity and morality. We believe that they can stand against the deceiving, confusing propaganda of national unity and national sovereignty, which are devastating and always provocative.

If perhaps people had come to Africa and had shared the resources equitably, perhaps we would never have had the conflicts that we have. But they were not shared equitably. Anywhere in this world, unless we learn to share resources equitably we are not going to enjoy peace.

Unless we learn to respect other people's human rights - women's rights, environmental rights - we won't know peace. We even go must beyond that and say that there are others who live on this planet besides us, the human species. We have the other species, and they too have a right to be respected. Only then can we begin to live peacefully.