The birth of Pan African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network

Moses Monday

The Pan African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network (PANPEN) was born on 30th July 2012 and reorganized in June 2014. The PANPEN  connects and empowers African civil society and grassroots peace movements and activists to take nonviolent actions to transform conflicts and promote peace and democracy reforms. The network comprises over sixty-five organizations representing over 38 countries in the region. The network enjoys a rich diversity of members from civil society, academia and professional institutions, and faith-based groups working on nonviolent actions and peacebuilding. The network is being managed voluntarily by a 20-member Steering Committee representing West, East, Central Africa, Southern Africa and the region’s Islands. Some of the members are also from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, with strong African connections. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Moses Monday John the Executive Directors of Organization for Nonviolence and Development (ONAD), South Sudan and Embrace Dignity, South Africa respectively are the co-chairs of the network. The PANPEN is being run entirely on non-financial assistance and supported by the member organizations and network’s sub-committees of secretariat, fundraising and utilization policy, communication and advocacy. The steering committee was developed at the side event of War Resisters' International (WRI) conference held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2014.

Over the last couple of years, PANPEN has through its individual members and member organizations contributed to peace and political reforms in the region. The network members have contributed book chapters in the book Satyagraha-Ujamma: Contemporary Africa-Asian Peace-making, co-edited by Matt Meyer and Vidya G and published by Camridge Scholars Publishers in 2019. Strengthened peace-building, education,  and coalition work in Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Africa as well as increased sub-regional engagements with academic networks such as the African Peace Education and Research Association (AFPREA) and International Peace Research Association (IPRA). In 2019, PANPEN established a direct connection with the SERPAJ a like-minded network in Latin America and held a global South-South dialogue and exchanged experiences in Bogota, Colombia.

The genesis and contemporary history of PANPEN dates back to the meeting of the African Nonviolence Trainers’ exchange programme held in 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The idea emerged after a series of discussions held between July 26 and 30 in which more than a dozen of civil society representatives from various African countries shared their experiences of how nonviolent methods and strategies helped them in reshaping their socio-economic and political contexts as well as in building peace and fostering democratic reforms in their countries. Central to the conversation was a vivid example of nonviolent action practised in Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa as narrated by an activist Sherif Joseph Rizk, a participant in the 2011 Tahrir Square protests in Egypt. In 2011 there was a ‘surprising’ wave of popular protest in Tunisia and Egypt commonly referred to as “the Arab Spring”. The protests led to the downfall of the dictatorial regimes of Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and Mohamed Hosni Mubarak of Tunisia and Egypt respectively. The people’s collective nonviolent protests exercised during the Arab Spring revolutions undoubtedly contributed to changing the narratives of bringing about political change in people’s nonviolent revolution as opposed to the bloody conflicts. The meeting decried and opposed internal conflicts and civil wars for taking a heavier toll on civilians including women and children.  Societies living in conflict zones not only in the region but globally have paid a massive toll on the loss of human life and economic, political and social benefits.

The nonviolence trainers’ exchange meeting underscored the potential of nonviolent action and the importance of regional coordination, solidarity and sharing of information particularly among and between African civic, faith-based and grassroots peace movements in the region. Thus, PANPEN was founded as a mechanism to facilitate this purpose. The exchange programme was organized and hosted by the CeaseFire Campaign an anti-war South African civil society organization with support from the WRI based in London, UK.

It must be noted that the PANPEN was founded based on the African philosophy and spirit of Ubuntu and Pan Africanism as they are an important foundation for our understanding of Africans’ response to African problems, wars and various challenges in society. The spirit of Ubuntuism has largely contributed to shaping the behaviour of people in their surroundings. It means that a person is only a person because of the way s/he treats others “in a humanely and peaceful way”. During the colonial period, Africans were quick to realise that colonisation had come to destroy the African civilisation as much as reinforcing slavery. Consequently, ordinary citizens and chiefs in Africa employed a variety of nonviolent methods and strategies such as strikes, boycotts, sabotage and other forms of economic and political non-cooperation to resist colonisation which led to victory in many countries though in other instances it was a combination of violence and nonviolent responses which forced oppressive colonial regimes to quit.

Furthermore, it's important to note that the WRI engagement with the African civil society organizations, academia and grassroots peace movements did not commence in 2012 but in the early 1990s.  The Bangkok Women's Conference of 1992, the formation of the Africa Working Group (AWG) in 1994, and the subsequent WRI’s partners’ Meeting in Chad in December 1995 are landmark events which laid the foundation for the establishment of PANPEN in 2021. The African Working Group (AWG) has contributed to connecting European-based Africans and African solidarity groups, and several syndicate members, academics and activists from America and beyond (Meyer 2012 in WRI Broken Rifts Issue)[1].

Like any social and peacebuilding network, the PANPEN also has challenges which include; a lack of full or part-time communication officers to connect with the members, limited financial, and technical (in nonviolent campaigning) and poor communication infrastructure in the region often hinder its work.

However, the PANPEN is planning to regroup in Juba, South Sudan in 2022 at the side events of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) international conference and council to be hosted by ONAD. This meeting among others will evaluate the success and challenges of the network, revisit the governance structure and adopt plans for the network. 

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