In 2013, during the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union), African leaders solemnly declared their aim to “silence the guns” in Africa by the end of 2020. Consequently, silencing the guns—ending armed conflict—is the African Union’s theme for 2020, with high-level discussions on how to implement this goal throughout the year.
Imagine this: You are a farmer in northwest Central African Republic. In 2013, several of your family members and friends were killed by the ex-Séléka, a predominately Muslim rebel group that briefly took control of a large part of the country. Your wife survived, but was violently raped by some ex-Séléka fighters. A loosely organized network of Christian militias, generally referred to as the anti-Balaka, managed to defeat the ex-Séléka. Subsequent retaliatory attacks by the anti-Balaka, and communal clashes between the Christian and Muslim populations, forced almost the entire Muslim population to flee from the area where you live.
Resolving local conflicts between non-state armed groups, or between communities, is key to reducing violence against civilians. The United Nations is often involved in supporting local peace processes and seems to enhance the prospects for local conflict resolution. One major obstacle to a successful local peace process, however, is that local conflicts are often integrated into higher-level, national or transnational conflicts. A holistic approach to peacemaking is therefore necessary, which could allow peace to trickle down from the transnational or national level to the local, ultimately reducing violence against civilians.
This article was originally published in Conflict Trends 2019/1 by the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) on 24 June 2019.
“The small is as important as the bigger picture. It is these smaller things, if they are coordinated, that can lead to the transformation of the bigger picture” (p. 10). These are the first two sentences of a recently published book on mediation in fragile contexts, written by Kenyan-Somali peacebuilder, Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, and Swiss researcher-practitioner, Simon Mason. These opening lines capture the essence of the book. The book is broadly concerned with how to deal with violent societal conflict ranging from intercommunity and community-state to nationwide ethnopolitical conflict. A common thread throughout the book is how small steps in peace processes taken by mediators and conflict parties from the bottom up can eventually lead to peace.