WRI Africa Working Group

en

Workshop
and working group report

Conveners: Jan Van Criekinge, Belgium and Matt Meyer, U.S.A.

present:
Shelley Anderson (IFOR), Bindi Borg (Australia, BiH), Konrad Borst (Germany),
Casha Davis (Germany), Kai-Uwe Dosch (DFG-VK, Germany), Farid Esack (South
Africa), Bart Horeman (VD, Netherlands), Jorgen Johansen (WRI Chair, Sweden),
Koussetogue Koude (Association Jeunesse Anti-Clivage, Chad), Michel Monod
(Suisse Sans Armee, Switzerland), Greg Payton (WRL, U.S.A.), Amy Tinto (Balkan
Peace Team, Croatia)

Convener's Report:

Jan opened the meeting, discussing the history of the WRI AWG, with it's
origins at the Brazil Triennial. He explained the process by which preliminary
contacts were established, both in French- and English-speaking countries, and
noted the difficulties in making and maintaining contacts. One main area of
his and AWG's work was in assisting with the ICOM `96 meeting, held in Chad.
Matt stated that his main work over the past three years, while including
several visits to Africa for conferences such as the International Peace
Research Association (see Peace News 2429, Sept.-Oct. 1998), was mainly
centered around completion of his Africa Nonviolence Project. Completing seven
years of research and writing on the uses and effects of nonviolence and armed
struggle by African liberation movements, the book (entitled Soul Force and
co-authored by Tanzania-based Bill Sutherland) will be published by Africa
World Press in Fall 1999.

South Africa Report:

Farid
began by noting that the peace movement in South Africa is a white movement - a
problem in a predominately Black society. Nonviolence, historically, has been
represented by the Quakers, and the armed struggle was never directly
condemned. The various anti-militarist organizations - most notably the End
Conscription Campaign - never brought a strictly pacifist agenda to South
African politics.

Today, the peace movement focuses on very narrow, though very important, issues
- such as the campaign for a gun-free society. Other important current
campaigns include work by church groups (such as the efforts of Terry Crawford
Brown) to challenge the South African arms trade and arms industry. Activists
who have politics close to WRI's - such as Members of Parliament Nozizwe
Madlala Routldge or Ela Gandhi or Farid himself - have not brought nonviolence
into the popular discourse. Nonviolence as a principle has simply not been put
on the agenda of South African society.

South Africa today, Farid exclaimed, is "in a mess." One consequence of the
armed struggle has been the cheapening of life, the de-humanization of society.
In post-apartheid South Africa, a prson can be killed over a pack of
cigarettes. On the other hand, South Africa is an amazing country - the only
country that has willingly destroyed its own nuclear arsenal, the only country
where peace activists have regular dialogues and open forums with the Minister
of Defense, where the government supports the transformation of gender
relationships. There is a serious problem with arms production and sales - the
toys for the boys that make up the Defense Forces - but there are efforts to
look at utilizing alternative methods, and the arms industry faces serious
economic cuts every year. These aspects of the new South Africa help promote
the broader struggle for humanization.

There may still be many inequities but, as Farid stated at a plenary on
"Justice After War", "we now have human rights, and one of those rights is to
struggle for justice - which we do not have."

The Commission on Gender Equity which Farid heads is one part of this broader
humanization project. Though generally in partnership with government, the
Commission has the power to investigate, subpeona, search and seize documents -
including those of government offices and officers.

Gender discrimination is, by law, defined as a crime against the state - as is
all domestic violence. Anybody may therefore report an incident of domestic
violence, not just the injured person. Once written, a domestic violence
report may not be withdrawn, and investigation will follow. If a policeman
refuses to take a complaint, a suit can be brought against the police. The
Commission also oversees the legal implications of the re-definition of
partnerships. As was noted in plenary, discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation is also a crime, and heterosexuals and homosexuals are afforded
equal rights by law. The Commission, in fact, is looking into issues of abuse
in same-sex partnerships. In general, a policy of concern for "what one does
to the least amongst us" is attempted.

There are, Farid reported, "no sacred cows" - he was just involved in the
closing of a radio station which didn't allow women on the air; the station
owner and manager was his room-mate in seminary. And though the Commission has
a large budget and has done extensive work over it's one-and-a-half-year
history, Farid noted that if one can't change a country's basic economic
conditions - providing shelter and jobs for all - then these efforts will
unlikely have lasting effects.

Chad Report:

Koude
began by discussing the thirty years of civil war that Chad experienced. "Even
today," he stated, "we live in a culture of violence." Despite the fact that
nonviolence is very difficult to achieve, the Chadian civil society (which
includes Tchad Nonviolence (TNV) and many other groups) proposes to forbid the
carrying of arms by all people, throughout Chadian society. "There are so many
guns, knives and traditional weapons, it is easy for any fight to break into
violence."

Koude shared that in Chadian society, a man is only considered a brave man when
he looks at another man - in the face - before engaging in violence.

Someone with a knife in his back is not considered a brave man. One
traditional proverb says that when a lie goes on for more than thirty years, it
becomes a truth. With more than thirty years of civil war, people now think
that war in Chad is a truth, that it is the way of life.

In the theme group focusing on grassroots movements, Koude gave some details on
the history of Chad and the process of building towards democracy. "We are
supposed to be a country with a great future, with many raw materials, oil,
etc. But instead of being an element of prosperity, it has been a source of
conflict." After independence, the republic has had three main periods. From
1958 to 1963 was a time of pluralism and democratic systems - with freedom of
the press, freedom of speech and religion. Different ethnic groups lived
together without problems. In 1963, a one party system was imposed, not wanted
by the people. The Cold War led the colonial powers - especially France - to
support a one party state, because it would be much easier to control. This
was the beginning of all the problems - all the diversity and plurality of the
population was not recognized. Throughout the 1960's and `70's, the country
was mainly in the hands of the Christians of the South. Many people of the
north (mainly Muslims) thought that it was like an occupation; a liberation
army was developed, and hundreds were ultimately imprisoned.

Though this was basically a Muslim movement, it also accepted some Marxist
beliefs, and thus got support from China and the Soviet Union. By 1969, civil
war had taken up the whole country, with many warlords and at least eleven
armed groups, seeing just who could control the capital. In 1980, some of
these groups came together, but after some weeks there was fighting again.
Between 1982 and 1990, many many people were killed. Everybody knew that the
President was a dictator, but he was still supported - by France and the U.S. -
because he was seen as a figure against Libyan influence.

Since 1990, Chad has officially been in a process of democratization, but most
civic organizations don't think it is for real, it's just words coming from
above. At the beginning of 1993, after a national conference of civil society,
demands were put into place calling for curriculums on peace education and
human rights. Since the government didn't respond, however, TNV and other
groups started doing this work on a voluntary basis.

"Education," noted Koude, "is fundamental for changing the culture of
violence." Though there are still many problems, the situation of the past
years - since the time of general elections - has not been as bad as before.
Now, there are more than fifty political parties, ten newspapers, and many
grassroots organizations.

Commenting on the role of international solidarity, Koude suggested that the
significance of ICOM 1996 was great. For the first time in Chad, a gathering
of so many people around the world took place - calling for a support of c.o.
rights and nonviolence. A signal was definitely sent to the Chadian
government. For civil rights and human rights activists, however, the
situation is still a dangerous one. "You can't make democracy from the
top-down level," stated Koude, "you have to practice it every day." It takes a
long time to make democracy from below. Democracy and human rights are not
presents to be given to a population. They must be fought for and worked on.

At the Triennial closing plenary, Koude continued on the importance of a
WRI-Africa link. "This conference has provided a real framework for exchange,"
he noted. "In a world of arms trades, where minority peoples have been unable
to raise their voices, with imposed borders, with economic injustice, there are
many arguments put forward that our struggle is pointless....I am utterly
convinced that we will have the last word - as long as we stand up against
violence, against injustice. They may call us utopian, but all of our efforts
are already changing the world. Brought up in war, and growing up under war,
many have said that my generation has been a sacrificed generation. So I took
a position at an early age to say NO to violence and NO to war. In Chad today,
there are only two ways to become famous - to become war lord or to engage in
the anti-politics of empty words. The time has come to put a stop to that. We
may start from a small seed, but that seed will grow. We must continue to work
together, so that we may reap the benefits of these seeds."

IFOR Africa Update:

Shelley
Anderson reported on the IFOR nonviolence training program, which has focused
upon trainings in Africa. IFOR had an office in Uganda four years ago, but
problems caused it to close.

Nevertheless, trainings in Uganda have continued, and recent trainings,
specifically geared towards grassroots women activists, have taken place in
Tanzania and Zambia, with one in Nigeria about to take place. Trainings in
Zimbabwe have dealt with confrontations between youth and the police. In the
past, IFOR had an active group in South Africa, but it was banned in the
1950's. Two IFOR staff people were based in South Africa. The training
network has included groups not in IFOR, such as TNV, refugee groups of Rwanda,
a Sierra Leone training seminar conducted exclusively by Africans, and a group
in Ghana working to contain electoral violence.

IFOR's Women's Program has also had substantial African input, with specific
connections to Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace, a Burundi Women's Center, and
the new federation affiliated with UNIFEM. The 1999 IFOR Women's Training
focus is upon Africa, with plans to bring together women from both French- and
English-speaking countries.

Additional WRI Africa Work:

Michel
reported on his work with groups in Congo-Brazzaville, most recently traveling
there in January 1997. It was a tense time because of the elections, as arms
were being brought into the country in large numbers. Michel conducted a small
workshop in nonviolence, and brought a greeting from the president of the Congo
Nonviolence Association.

Bindi mentioned that she had just come from working in Niger, conducting
two-day conflict resolution trainings under the auspices of CARE.

Future work:

AWG
members conducted a brainstorm on two major areas of work -
publications/education and conferences/action support. As far as publications
and education work, it was agreed that, where appropriate, members would place
articles in national and regional publications geared towards expatriate
African communities. Peace News was successfully used to spread issues on
Africa affairs, most notably in a Special Dossier on Africa produced in 1995.
Additional articles were brainstormed, with Amy agreeing to investigate
possible article angles on Somalia, using some contacts of Jorgen. Matt will
check into the possibility of using some of the above information on Chad and
South Africa as the basis for a PN AWG report. Jan will discuss the
possibilities of a PN article on Algeria by the Connections group of Germany,
who have just published booklet on the subject of Algerian deserters and the
asylum movement in Europe. Casha is planning on writing an article on female
genital mutilation; she was encouraged to both send it to PN and to make it
available to the AWG for possible re-publishing in national and regional
journals. Soul Force, once published, should be used to help promote WRI and
the AWG, with a definite tour of the U.S., and possible tours of Europe and
Africa.

Regarding conferences and actions, there was a report on some suggestions that
a future ICOM be held in Congo-Brazzaville. Apparently, there is some interest
in the Congo for this; Jan and Matt reminded folks how impossible the idea of
the Chad ICOM was just three years ago - yet it took place, with great success.
Matt also noted that there had been an informal agreement, at the urging of the
South Working Group under Narayan Desai's chair, to hold a Triennial in the
south every third meeting. That would indicate a possibility for proposal for
an African venue in six years, and it is hardly too soon to plan and
investigate options.

Congo Organization Section application:

Jorgen
reported on the application from an organization in the D.R. Congo (former
Zaire), which the Council passed along to AWG for further investigation and
guidance.

The application, as it stands, could not be approved as a section, but could
possibly be approved as an associate. Jan had already done some background
checking, and has met the key individual involved. After a substantive
discussion, the AWG agreed on three courses of action

  1. the group should not be accepted as an associate at this time;
  2. the individual concerned, who is living in Europe, should (again) be
    invited to join the AWG;
  3. individual should be encouraged to write for PN and AWG on issues relating
    to the Congo.

Future Communications:

Greg
inquired about the plans for an AWG database, which had been discussed three
years ago. He informed the group that Christine Schweitzer, who had attended
the founding meeting, felt that she had not been consulted between Triennials.
Jan and Matt explained that initial letters had been sent out to a variety of
contacts which they had, and which additional members of the AWG had sent in.
The follow-up step of reminding folks who did not reply, and of creating an
easy-access database for regular communications, was not completed. They
agreed to complete this work as a follow-up to these Triennial meetings.
Following a proposal from Jorgen, it was agreed that Jan and Matt should
continue as co-conveners for the next three years.

Algeria Emergency Work:

A
special workshop, led by Maurice Montet (UPF, France), was held at the
Triennial, covering the topic of harsh conditions for conscripts and deserters
in Algeria. Campaigns for asylum have developed in several countries, with WRI
members involvement in some cases.

Though not officially attached to the AWG, Jan and Matt attended this meeting,
where the following proposals were agreed upon:

  1. Maurice, Rene Burget and UPF will serve as a collection point for
    information about the status of Algerians abroad, and national policies on
    asylum and treatment of Algerian military deserters;
  2. Rene, Jan and Rudi Friedrich (Connection e.V., Germany) will put together
    a booklet utilizing this information; interested WRI members should forward
    collected data to UPF by the end of January 1999;
  3. International C.O. Day 1999 (May 15) should focus on the issues relating
    to the Algerian situation; and
  4. articles for PN and various publications should be prepared.
Programmes & Projects

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.