Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Youth development and security in Africa

This article was published in The Broken Rifle, December 2013, No. 98


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Youth development and security in Africa by Dereje Wordofa,
Over 65 percent of Africa’s total population is below the age of 35 years. This makes Africa youthful continent with huge potential for active labor force, immense human energies and reservoirs of creativity for economic, social and political transformation. The prospect for young people to transform their communities and nation could be enormous.
Young people can become forces for positive change if young men and women play constructive and important roles in building peaceful and thriving communities. This will be possible when youth groups are taking responsibilities as citizens and agents for social change, take active part in non-violent actions and innovatively invest on community-based initiatives.
However, unemployment and lack of educational opportunities means that many are living in poverty, involved in armed conflict, and subject to exclusion. According to the Africa Union statistics, over 10 million young Africans enter into the labour market each year. So, young people can be instruments and drivers of conflict. Social exclusions and deprivation of youth has often been used as an explanation for the involvement of young people in violent conflict.
Major structural factors that underline youth exclusion and lack of opportunity include: unemployment and lack of livelihood opportunities; insufficient, unequal and inappropriate education and skills; weak political participation; and structural gender inequalities and socialization practices. Besides, legacy of past violence i.e. protracted armed conflict can lead to a vicious cycle in which violence becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Experiences show that when a large number of young people are jobless and have few opportunities for positive engagement, they represent a ready pool of recruits for ethnic, religious, and political extremists seeking to mobilize for violence. In this case, young people become source of insecurity and instability. Conversely, if youth acquire life-skills combined with leadership know-how, they can direct their efforts to transforming the ugly conditions of violence, inequality, and poverty into peace and inclusive prosperity. They can contribute toward to the security and well-being of their communities.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization committed to peace and social justice. It is particularly focusing to promote alternatives for youth affected by structural violence, inequality, and injustice. Building youth entrepreneurship, leadership skills and nurturing nonviolent approaches to solving problems are key aspects of youth development. The AFSC programs involved youth in alternative to violence
program; youth have participated in rehabilitation work and in peace events and work. Because it is believe that effective young people’s involvement in civic activities can build their social. Importantly, working with youth as peace builders has unique advantages as young people are more open to change, are future-oriented, innovative, courageous and knowledgeable about their peers' realities.

Young people in Somalia participating in life skills training

The AFSC programs enabled young people to go through the ‘Public Achievement cycle’ such that they would take up leadership roles in their communities by undertaking practical things e.g. garbage collection, sports and repairing roads. They also appreciate how to work together in participatory groups and learn the culture of tolerance to different viewpoints. Concurrently, AFSC runs projects to support the creation of employment opportunities and generation of regular income. This is through training on various vocational skills and business management. The trainings also incorporated counseling and mentoring. Some of the trained youth had already opened businesses and are earning a living out of the skills acquired from the project. 
Youth voices are vital such that they participate to influence policy and decisions that affect their life and educate the public through paintings, poetry, music, dance, drama and sports. In this respect, AFSC supports creation of youth platforms where young people expressing their voices on peace and reconciliation in society. Young people have fostered dialogue and built relationships between communities.
The role of youth often depicted in a negative light, either as helpless victims affected by violent conflict, as criminal gangs or child-soldiers. This means young people are inherently violent, perpetrators or vulnerable. These challenges and problems are normally embedded in local realities of community and nation, but manifest through the conditions and vulnerabilities of the young people. It would rather be imperative to look at the root causes of threats to security and structural issues than depicting young people as source of insecurity and try to mitigate.
So, it will be vital to look at the positive side of young people especially their power and potential as agents of change and natural successors of the next generation. It is only when the latter is recognized that we all are able to cultivate and invest on those potentials. More focus on youth development is the way forward in Africa by cultivating capacity for innovation, creativity, leadership, and economic wellbeing. Young people will then become engines of Africa’s security, peace and development.

Prisoners for Peace Day

1st December is Prisoners for Peace Day. For over 60 years, War Resisters' International have, on this day, made known the names and stories of those imprisoned for actions for peace. Many are conscientious objectors, in gaol for refusing to join the military. Others have taken nonviolent actions to disrupt preparation for war.
This day is a chance for you to demonstrate your support for those individuals and their movements, by writing to those whose freedom has been taken away from them because of their work for peace.
While WRI has a permanent Prisoners for Peace list, which we make a special effort to update for Prisoners for Peace Day on December 1st.
We invite you to:
  • Put aside some time on December 1st, or a day close to it, to send cards that express your solidarity. You can find the names and address here:, or you can download the list as a pdf file below
  • Get your friends, peace group, class, faith or community group together and organise a card-writing session;
  • Set up a stall in your town centre, perform a bit of street theatre, or do whatever else it takes to attract attention and interest.


This article was published in The Broken Rifle, December 2013, No. 98


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The popular unarmed uprisings in the Arab World early in 2011 took the world by surprise, both because most observers did not expect demands for human rights and democratic choice to become central in Arab states, and because they did not expect mass protest to be predominantly unarmed. However, in retrospect there are many reasons why initially the 'Arab Spring' took the forms it did in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Libya and other states. Moreover, as scholars of nonviolent civil resistance pointed out, in the first months the most significant movements displayed some of the classic characteristics of such resistance. In the longer term, however, many of the movements have failed to fulfil their initial promise, overtaken by armed civil war (as happened quickly in Libya and more gradually in Syria), or failing to achieve their initial democratic promise - most notably in Egypt. The impressive protests at the 'Pearl Roundabout' in Bahrain were quite quickly crushed, and pre-emptive offers by rulers of Morocco and Jordan to make reforms to meet public demands have so far only diluted royal power. This article briefly elaborates on the points made above, and then raises some questions about the future.

Why the Arab Awakening Was Likely to Happen

Internal factors were important in sparking the uprisings, for example the growing number of well educated young people combined with restrictive economic conditions, and growing anger at regime corruption and repression. But global factors are especially relevant both to demands for greater democracy and the initial choice of primarily nonviolent methods. Since the 1980s there has been a dramatic rise in the number of states around the world adopting forms of electoral democracy, often in response to people power uprisings, combined with various international pressures. Even authoritarian regimes increasingly derive legitimacy from supposedly free elections, and many examples of people power since 2000 (for example in Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet states) have challenged rigged elections. The idea and strategy of nonviolent resistance have also been promoted widely by some individuals and activist groups. Some activists in Egypt, for example, learned from the tent city resisting the rigged elections in the Ukraine in December 2004, and had read Gene Sharp's writings. Arab activists may also have been attuned to the significant (if partial) role of unarmed resistance in the Palestinian struggle, and to the Green Movement in Iran 2009-10. The role of the internet in spreading news, and enabling rapid organisation of protests, has clearly been significant, and well documented, especially in the case of Egypt.

How Far Did the Initial Uprisings Conform with Nonviolent Strategy?

The Arab uprisings, which began in Tunisia and then Egypt, were never strictly nonviolent, but the methods used of strikes, civil disobedience and in particular occupation of key symbolic spaces and mass demonstrations were typical of nonviolent resistance, and many of the demonstrations did reflect an ethos of self-discipline, mutual friendliness and cooperation between many different sectors of urban society. Women were quite prominent, students and intellectuals mixed with workers and artisans, and in Tahrir Square in February 2011 Coptic Christians were welcome alongside Muslims. Even in Syria, where the regime rested on support from religious minorities - notably the Alawites, but also the Druze and the Christians - the nonviolent protesters tried in their slogans and symbolism to create links across religious divides (Bartkowski and Kahf, September 2013). The unfolding of the uprisings also initially achieved a key goal of nonviolent resistance strategy: refusal by the security services to implement a crackdown (Tunisia and Egypt) and defections by members of the armed forces (Nepstad, 2011).
But it soon became clear that religious and political divides would undermine prospects for a smooth transition to more democratic regime. Even in Tunisia, the first and most successful movement for regime change, tensions between the more secular liberal groups and Islamists seeking a more Islamic state, have created problems for the new 'democracy'. In Egypt the lack of agreement among the secular opposition groups and their deep division with the Muslim Brotherhood (together with the unconstitutional actions by the elected President Morsi) have proved disastrous, opening the way in 2013 to a reassertion of de facto military rule. The refusal of the Egyptian military to crush the 2011 uprising and save Mubarak, ambiguous at the time, now suggests a long term commitment to maintain underlying military control of the regime through tactical adjustments.

Defections by sections of the armed forces before the uprising had developed sufficient societal unity and leverage for nonviolent change led to civil war in Libya and western military intervention. In Syria soldiers did begin to flee Syria, and to cross over to the rebels - at risk of execution, but Nepstad, writing in 2011, argued that because only a very small proportion of the military had defected, Assad was able to block the uprising. Some officers and soldiers who changed sides formed the Free Syrian Army, which
over time has turned the conflict into an armed struggle, and given the intransigence of the Assad regime and their recruitment of Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon, created conditions for external forces to turn the conflict into a destructive war between ruthless extremists. By now most observers have forgotten the months of brave unarmed protest in 2011 and are unaware of continuing protests by the nonviolent resisters, and the fate of Syria seems to depend on external powers (Iran and Russia backing Assad, and the West supporting the moderate opposition.)

Future Prospects

Ironically, those movements that suffered initial defeat or failed to gain momentum may now have better prospects than some that overthrew their dictators. Although the Bahrain government, backed by the reactionary Saudi Arabian government, quickly crushed the uprising, protests there continue, including celebrations of the anniversary of the uprising in both 2012 and 2013, and there have been some signs of possible regime concessions. Not only regional but international power relations have been unhelpful to the Bahrainis, as the USA has a large naval base there and gives more weight to its strategic interests than to its professed ideal of democracy in this context. Nevertheless, the factors that encouraged the 2011 uprisings still create a context for further popular pressure, not only in Bahrain but in Jordan and Morocco, where protests on both political and socio-economic issues continue.

Unfortunately, however, the fallout from Libya which remains politically very unstable and is now exporting Islamic extremism to Tunisia, and the even more worrying prospects of Syrian disintegration, do not bode well for prospects of peaceful democracies in the region. When 2011 started, the mass unarmed displays of people power and calls for greater political freedom, democratic choice and governmental accountability took the initiative away from violent jihadists committed to an authoritarian Islamic future. The fighting in Syria has brought Al Qaeda and similar groups back into the political frame. As a result the need for creative nonviolent solutions, most notably in Egypt, has become more acute.


Maciej Bartkowski and Mohja Kahf, 'The Syrian Resistance: a Tale of two Struggles', openDemocracy, 23 and 24 September 2013

Sharon Erickson Nepstad, 'Nonviolent Resistance in the Arab Spring: The Critical Role of Military-Opposition Alliances', Swiss Political Science Review, 2011, 17(4): 485-91.

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Dealing with Trauma in Post- Conflict Burundi and the African Great Lakes Region

This article was published in The Broken Rifle, December 2013, No. 98


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Dealing with Trauma in Post- Conflict Burundi and the African Great Lakes Region   By Elavie Ndura

The Free Online Dictionary defines trauma as “an event or situation that causes great distress and disruption”. In Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC), the violent inter-group conflicts and civil wars that have ravaged these countries of the African Great Lakes region for the past 50 years constitute traumatic events. The International Community cites the number of casualties to highlight the impact of such conflicts and wars on the countries and the people. These events have been traumatic; the casualties from Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC are estimated at about 7 million.

The purpose of this article is twofold. I discuss the complexity of trauma in post conflict Burundi and the African Great Lakes region, and propose culturally relevant ways to address trauma-related issues in the region. I conclude with general reflections about fostering trauma healing to chart the course for futures of peace and nonviolence.

Understanding the Complexity of Trauma

Addressing issues of trauma in post-conflict Burundi and the African Great Lakes region calls for a broader understanding of the complexity of trauma in the region. The survivors of violent conflicts and wars have been and are still distressed by the loss of their loved ones. But, this is not all. They are distressed by their experiences, memories, poverty, displacement, and fear. I shall explain briefly how overlooked elements constitute trauma.

Experiences as Trauma

The people of Burundi and the African Great Lakes Region have witnessed and experienced indelible suffering in the past 50 years. The world should wonder if they can be referred to as “survivors” at all. Many have not truly survived the carnage only dying more slowly than those killed with machetes, guns, and other weapons. When people talk about what they witnessed and heard, and recount the emotional toll of their “survival”, it is evident that they have not survived, as their trauma is palpable.

Memories as Trauma

A very significant wave of mourning has emerged in recent years with widows and children of the victims of the 1972 genocide of the Hutu by the predominantly Tutsi government and military in Burundi. When these survivors recount the events surrounding the loss of their husbands and fathers, it feels like 1972 was just yesterday. Their pain, tears, and anger indicate vivid trauma. Some of the 1972 families have organized traditional cultural mourning ceremonies to honor their loved ones, to begin the overdue healing process denied them at the time of the atrocities and following years. Unfortunately, these ceremonies remain incomplete as the still grieving families have no memorial place—a painful reminder that their loved ones were massacred and thrown into unmarked mass graves.

Poverty as Trauma

Inter-group conflicts in Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC, more than human lives, have destroyed homes and the natural environment, leaving survivors, especially the women, left to pick up the pieces. There is no greater trauma than being incapable of providing for one’s children. Yet, scores of women in Burundi and the African Great Lakes region, often widowed, live with hopelessness and debilitating poverty, unable to care for and educate their orphaned children.

Displacement as Trauma

The cyclical inter-group violence of Burundi and the African Great Lakes region have pushed millions of people to seek refuge in other countries. Some of these refugees have thrived, by international standards, often achieving educational and economic integration in their host countries. Integration usually means having to raise children who are disconnected from extended families, with the psychological identity issues that such situations entail. Trauma issues should, therefore, include displacement.

Fear as Trauma

There is a saying in Kirundi stating that “Ingoma Yagukanze Irahuma Ugahunga”, which translates as “The Sound of the Drum that Traumatized You Causes You to Flee”. The years of conflicts and violence eroded inter-group and inter-personal trust in Burundi and the African Great Lakes region. The phenomena of neighbours killing neighbours, wives betraying their husbands and selling them out to the killers, and many other instances of inter- personal betrayals have caused the survivors to live walking on egg shells. Although people are eager to share their stories of suffering and trauma in Burundi, they find it difficult to trust one another. The situation is worse in Rwanda where people are forbidden to acknowledge their ethnic membership, forced to adopt the current government-imposed discourse of “we are all Rwandans”. Dealing with post-conflict trauma must address the legacy of fear and fear-mongering in Burundi and the region.

Culturally Relevant Trauma Healing

Burundian wisdom teaches that “Uwushaka Gukira Ingwara Arayirata”, meaning that any illness must be exposed in order to heal. This wisdom suggests trauma must be part of the public discourse in Burundi and the African Great Lakes region for post conflict healing efforts to be effective. How can this be done in reserved cultures? One way would be to engage villagers in age and gender appropriate group sustained dialogue. These groups would be organized with high sensitivity to dividing issues such as ethnicity, where intra-group dialogue would precede inter-group dialogue sessions to maximize feelings of safety and trust. In such groups, parents would be coached on how to hold similar dialogues within their families.

Dealing with trauma issues requires addressing poverty. There is rampant poverty caused by years of destructive conflicts and wars, and poverty caused by the countries’ emerging political leaders concerned of their own material gains rather than by the welfare of their people. In Burundi, such leaders are amassing wealth and property—often from desperate villagers—while their people are become more destitute. The divide between the haves and the have-nots is growing ever more deeply, and exacerbating post-conflict trauma. Therefore, the post-conflict era is a moment of truth for the new political leaders of Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC. Assuming and hoping that they are committed to their people’ and nations’ trauma healing, they should reflect and act upon this important question: Are we using our newly acquired political powers to further the common good or our own economic gains? Fostering culturally relevant trauma healing means acknowledging that the past is not really past, and that silence-- especially forced silence—does not heal trauma. Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC must acknowledge and own their respective histories of inter-group conflicts, from traditional pre-colonial practices, to the colonial divide-to-conquer policies, to their post-independence failures to unite and empower their people. The past contains truths that must be told before futures of peace and nonviolence can be negotiated and envisioned.


Inter-group violent conflicts and wars have caused incalculable distress and disruption among all the people of Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC across ethnic groups and societal strata. Trauma healing must begin with the acknowledgement of our shared losses, shared painful memories, and shared uncertainties about the future. Such recognition will ultimately lead to our validation of our shared humanity. Never have our shared Ubuntu values been more relevant. To heal from conflict and war trauma we must heal together


This article was published in The Broken Rifle, December 2013, No. 98


 Marikana by Pearl Pillay

Mining is one of the most important economic activities in South Africa. Due to the inequalities that Apartheid perpetuated, the distribution of mineral wealth and the unrest within the labour force have increased. The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 28 of 20021 was an attempt to redress these issues. Misinterpretation of this Act, amongst others, led to the demand from workers that a living wage of R12 000 be meted out to them.2 In an attempt to offer an explanation of what happened in August 2012, one must first acknowledge that the Marikana Massacre occurred, not just because of a wage dispute but because there are many other factors underpinning the worker’s struggle in South Africa and these must be explored. There has been a great increase in mining demands since the Platinum boom in Rustenburg in 1994.3 This has resulted in a further disparity between mining companies and workers. Whilst mining companies continue to generate copious amounts of wealth, this happens at the expense of workers who, through systems of labour brokering, continue to be divided according to Apartheid-generated categories of separation.

In June 2012, workers at Lonmin in Marikana began organising towards a system of collective bargaining, demanding a salary adjustment.4 By this time, however, Rock Drill Operators (RDOs) from the same mine had already started mobilising towards action outside of the collective bargaining system. These RDOs were militant, to say the least, and were not willing to enter into a space for negotiation. Despite this, their employer had decided to begin engagement with these workers, even though it was outside the formal negotiation space and by July 2012, these engagements had begun. Unfortunately, however, this did not solve anything as, at the most crucial point, Lonmin rescinded their offer to negotiate outside the formal space and declared that it would only negotiate with the National Union of Mineworkers. Then, as almost a pre-emptive measure, Lonmin granted a shift allowance to RDOs. This was done outside the collective bargaining system and could be seen as a reflection of the “pressure exerted on it…”5 Again, despite this, workers demanded substantially more than they were being offered, citing that the amount offered was “inadequate, arbitrary and irrational”6. In the following weeks, workers developed strong networks and, at a meeting of RDOs in August, sans the NUM, it was decided that a more militant stance would be taken and a march to senior management was to take place on August 9th 2012.
Chinguno articulated the proceedings of the march accurately in his work:
The following day on 10 August, workers converged again at the same venue for their march to management. The management offices were cordoned off when they arrived. The workers demanded to be addressed by management and were initially promised this by security personnel. However, moments later a NUM representative announced to the agitated crowd that management would only address their demand through NUM as the recognised union. The workers left dejected and resolved to reconvene the following morning to map a way forward.7
Workers reconvened the following day with a change in strategy: they were going to march to the NUM offices and make the intention clear that they were going to engage directly with their employer, outside of the formal system of collective bargaining. What is important to note is that this march proceeded just like any other march in South Africa, with workers carrying sticks and singing revolutionary songs. The sticks and knobkerries that were carried were symbolic, in the sense that, in African culture, a protest is akin to a war and so people ought to arm themselves. At this juncture of the march, workers were ambushed by NUM officials who fired live ammunition at them, reportedly killing two RDOs. Workers then attempted to retreat and regroup in a nearby stadium, but were denied access by security, citing that their gathering was illegal. They then retreated to an elevated piece of state-owned land, adjacent to, but not in close proximity to the community in which they lived. This was done for a number of reasons, as a worker explained:
We did not want our community affected by the strike. We did not want criminals to take advantage of the strike and attack shops. We did not want the children in the informal settlement to be affected by the police.8
This was part of the lessons learnt from the Impala strike in which violent looting and attacks on shops occurred. The next day, workers marched back to the NUM offices, this time to demand answers into why their own union attacked them only this time, the workers were armed. This was done as a reaction to the events of the previous day and to further protect themselves against violence that may occur on that day too. Mine security blocked off access to the NUM offices. When workers attempted to force their way through, they were stopped with rubber bullets. Workers fought back and subsequently killed two security guards. This action continued the next day, August 13th 2012, when workers rallied to stop production by subcontracted workers, having absorbed members of the community and non-Lonmin workers as well. On their way back to their meeting place (the koppie, another symbolic structure in African culture as a place where problems are solved), they were stopped by police who demanded that they dispose of their weapons. Workers refused, citing that they would only disarm themselves once they have reported back to their leaders. A clash ensued, with police opening fire at the crowd. During this clash, two policemen and two workers were killed.

The Massacre occurred on August 16th 2012. The day before, union leaders attempted to speak to workers, asking them to retreat and go back to work. This was done from behind the guard of a security detail and police vehicles. Workers demanded proof that it was their union leader representing them but were refused. “The refusal by the NUM president to get out of the police vehicle when addressing workers has the symbolic meaning of illustrating the alienation of the NUM from its membership and its subsequent rejection by them.”9 Avoiding emotive verbosity, different narratives of how the massacre occurred are presented, but all have the same result - police shot and killed 44 striking miners.

Since the massacre, there have been a number of civil society movements who have rallied together in an attempt to show solidarity with the affected families, as well as demand justice for the killed miners and an end to the oppressive conditions under which miners in South Africa work. Citizens 4 Marikana is one such movement. This movement seeks to act as a link between the public and those present at the Farlam Commission (the commission set up to investigate the events of that week) as well as mobilise funds and support to those affected by the massacre, in particular, making contributions towards legal representation. What is important to note is that the commission was formed at the instruction of the president of South Africa, and was given a mandate by him as a matter of public enquiry. 

This commission is a public one, allowing for public viewing of hearings in which evidence is presented and accounts of the events of that week given. This speaks, quite broadly to the issue of the inclusion of civil society movements in commissions such as this one. The commission does not include members of civil society, nor does it allow for participation from them. All it does, instead, is allow civil society to peer into its dealings and report to its subsequent constituency. Discussions must be formed around issues of representation on these platforms. Civil society can be said to be accurate representations of people who are deeply affected by societal ills yet they aren’t given space on platforms that are in a position to affect substantial change. Spivak wrote widely on the fact that in many cases, the sub-altern cannot speak and representation is often misconstrued to sway in favour of the privilege. These cases are no exception.
1 Twala.C., “The Marikana Massacre: A Historical Overview of the Labour Unrest in the Mining Sector in South Africa”, in Southern African Peace and Security Studies, Vol1, No.2, p.61.
2 Loc cit.
3 Ibid.p.62
4 Chinguno.C., “Marikana and the Post-Apartheid Workplace Order”, Society, Work and Development Institute Working Paper, April 2013, p.23.
5 Loc cit.
6 Loc cit.
7 Ibid.p.p.23-24.
8 Ibid.p.24.
9 Ibid,p.26.

Nonviolence at Work in S. Sudan


This article was published in The Broken Rifle, December 2013, No. 98


  Nonviolence at Work in S. Sudan By Moses Monday

A Pastor reported (in one of follow up meetings) “since, I attended the nonviolence workshop, I stopped hating Muslims. They burnt our Churches in Khartoum and since that time, I lost respect to Muslims and hate them. Now we are in a new Country, I don’t want Muslims to suffer the way Christians suffered under Islamic regime in Sudan. Its painful to forgive but my Bible tells me to forgive as God has forgiven us”. Since 2011 the pastor, few other Christians and group of Muslims are working together. They organize outreach workshops to both Christians and Muslims in Juba.

A civilian hands-over his gun after attending nonviolence and trauma healing workshops
I killed people from the neighbouring tribe, confessed a participant after attending nonviolence and trauma healing workshop”. I am a youth leader and I led 2011 inter-communal violence that took place between Counties of Yirol West and Mvolo”. My own brother was killed in that conflict. I was later arrested and put into jail. While in Prison, I suffered psychologically as I knew I will eventually be hanged by neck to death. Fortunately, I was granted amnesty on the eve of independence in July 2011”. He reported. Although, I was discharged, I still did not feel free as the memories of the past keep coming in my mind. The trauma healing workshop organized by ONAD was my space for healing. I stopped blaming myself and decided to handover my gun to the local authorities and joined peace teams. I want to live the rest of my life as a peace worker and I don’t need gun to protect my cattle. He added.
People often view nonviolence with mixed feelings! Normally few people appreciate it at first, others question whether or not it will work in our highly militarized and violent context. While others feel it can work in a less violent society but not in South Sudan. We have been living in violence since creation and after all independence of South Sudan was a result of two civil wars with Khartoum regime (referring to 1955-1972 and 1983-2005 civil wars in Sudan) commended one of the participants in our recent workshop. How do you face brutality and gun points with flowers he questioned?

Our participants often express difficulties to follow principles of nonviolence because its true what happens around us is mostly violent but there are also positive changes of attitudes taking place in South Sudan and that’s the little we are building on. We refer to practical experiences of nonviolence locally and globally. We always say nonviolence is like a seed that needs time to germinate and grow to become big tree. It starts with me not with others. Personal transformation is key in nonviolence. If I become nonviolent, others can learn from me and so is the society. This is what participants expressed during nonviolence workshops.
When we meet with the same group after couple of months for follow up we asked them how has nonviolence worked with you? Surprising; many people give more practical life experiences with nonviolence. For example; Emmanuel Ladu was able to reconcile with the person who killed his father. He reported, it took me six years to forgive and get reconciled with a person who killed my father. I was a victim and so I took the initiative myself. The nonviolence workshop gave me the courage to face the enemy and let go the past pain. After I forgave him, I too felt relieved. Forgiveness sets us free of hate! I too have suffered because of not forgiving!

In summary, the follow up meeting are always inspiring to us and we hear our participants share their stories with us. On 2nd October 2013, ONAD and its volunteers celebrated international day of nonviolence. It was the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement who devoted his life for the cause of nonviolence to him and thousands of others we registered our honour to their spirit. While we strive in their way, we believe victory is certain no matter how long time it will take. Forward we move, back ward NEVER.
By Moses Monday

African Groundings: War Resisters International’s African Engagement

This article was published in The Broken Rifle, December 2013, No. 98


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African Groundings: War Resisters International’s African Engagement  By Matt Meyer

A quick and cursory view of the history of War Resisters International (WRI) – an organization responsible for many wonderful small actions but rarely credited for its inspiration of big and effective movements – had hardly any connection to Africa at all. But that impression would most certainly be incorrect. Though often behind-the-scenes and without fanfare or spotlight, key members of the WRI and the group itself has played significant roles in significant aspects of the continents anti-colonial and anti-war moments over the past 90-plus years since WRI’s 1921 founding. The July 2014 international conference in Cape Town, South Africa is simply the most public – and perhaps the most ambitious – of these historic endeavors.


Though parts of the WRI story can be found in a various articles and books, most notably Devi Presad’s insightful overview, it was at a conference in Italy in 1982 (with no noticeable African representative present) that a young representative of the German section IDK presented a booklet on the theory and practice of WRI. Wolfram Beyer noted:

“Nonviolent action is designed chiefly to provide methods and motivations with the help of which people may achieve emancipation and self-determination and liberate themselves from the ways imposed by the rulers and their military means.” Far from a call for arms reduction or the popular nuclear “freeze” of the day, or even a call for merely individualistic resistance positions, Beyer implored that a true nonviolence could only be carried out “my means of radically-democratic structures.” WRI, as Beyer clarified, has always been rooted in a drive for nonviolent revolution, always distancing itself from “pre-war [WWII] pacifism which was regarded as no more than a vague longing for peace and reconciliation.” This direct actionist perspective, fused with “revolutionary anti-militarism” and a commitment to those who refused to fight on political and not solely religious grounds, formed a unique association – complete with its own early links to African resisters. The term “conscientious objector” itself, Beyer asserted, “was coined by General Jan Christian Smuts (1906) for the brotherhood campaign initiated by Gandhi, of all Asian people living in South Africa.”

It was in the post-WWII world that WRI connections with liberationists on the African continent intensified – at first primarily through the work of five conscientious objectors and militant c.o. supporters: African American objectors Bill Sutherland and Bayard Rustin, Jean Van Lierde of Belgium, Michael Randle of Britain, and Pierre Martin of France. Each in their own way strengthened WRI ties to groups and peoples on “the motherland” and attempted to ground, though the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, a militant nonviolence connected to the loose WRI network.

Sutherland, first and foremost, gave his life towards these ends. Re-locating from the USA to the British colony of the Gold Coast in 1953, Sutherland quickly formed a WRI chapter along with some Accra-based Quakers, internationalists and anti-colonialists. His marriage to educator and author Efua Sutherland only drew him closer to the freedom movement, and he (along with his old friend Rustin) took part in early dialogues on strategies and tactics with the man dubbed “the Gandhi of Africa” – Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah’s “positive action” program – a merging of Gandhian technique, non-violent direct actionist politics, and indigenous cultural sensibilities, led Ghana to become the first newly independent nation on the continent. Capital city Accra and Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP) became the center not only for Pan-African aspirations but for a new hope among Western peace movement leaders about the possibility for widespread social transformation.

Van Lierde’s own African involvement followed a parallel path a few years later. In the late 1950s in Brussels, on the eve of Ghana’s independence and as the rest of the continent was abuzz with interest in replicating Nkrumah’s example, Van Lierde formed the Amis de Presence Africaine, an organization committed to developing and supporting nonviolent strategies for the liberation of the Congo. He struck a close friendship with Congolese leader and first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba which lasted till Lumumba’s fateful assassination in 1961; Van Lierde remained a strong critic of neo-colonialism and the continuing militarization of Africa till his own passing in 2006. In his preface to the book Marche D’Espoir: Non-violence pour la Democratie au Zaire (1992), Van Lierde wrote that though decades of efforts had been made across the continent for an adherence to nonviolence and justice – beginning, he noted, at a 1958 Pan African conference in Accra which Sutherland helped to organize – “it has been very difficult for us to obtain the approval of the colonial powers” for such peaceful change!


It was French atomic testing in the Sahara desert near its West African colonies which next attracted the attention of WRI members, Pan Africanists, and anti-nuclear activists across the globe. Again WRI representative Bill Sutherland took the lead, this time joined by Rustin, British WRI leader Michael Randle, Rev. Michael Scott, and others – including a strong contingent from within Ghanaian CPP rank-and-file and the Accra-based All-African Federation of Trade Unions. French economist and WRI member Pierre Martin, who had been involved in prominent Paris protests against human rights abuses of the French in Algeria, left his job at UNESCO to join the Sahara Protest Team; dozens put their bodies in harms way, marching into the desert to stop the bombing. After a series of local events featuring the international team (and attracting international attention) took place in Ghana, Upper Volta, and elsewhere in the region, the French eventually abandoned their testing plans.

This crucial period – as the drive for independence was spreading throughout the continent and the world, and as civil rights, human rights anti-nuclear, and anti-militarist sentiments were also beginning to take root – saw extended WRI seed-planting in all of these burgeoning movements. The Sahara Protest Team, for example, included a number of West Africans who would go on to become leaders of their own countries once independence would come later in the 1960s. The World Peace Brigades (WPB, forerunner to many of today’s unarmed civilian peace-force organizations) was discussed in earnest at the WRI triennial held in India in 1960; it’s founding in Beirut in 1962 included sponsorship not only from Michael Scott, AJ Muste (leader of several US pacifist organizations, including WRL and the Fellowship of Reconciliation), and Gandhian associate JP Narayan, but also Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda. And an Accra-based Conference on Positive Action for Peace and Security in Africa was held in April 1960, with AJ Muste, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Franz Fanon and others in attendance – in what organizer Bill Sutherland termed “the height of influence of the world pacifist movement on the African liberation struggle.”

The early 1960s included talks with both Nkrumah as well as Nyerere (who became founding president of his country in 1961) and Kaunda (who became founding president of his country in 1964) about setting up international nonviolence training centers to help develop unarmed defense and mobilization strategies and practitioners – along the lines of a pacifist “West Point” military college, except without the military. Despite a successful “World without the Bomb” conference in Ghana in 1962, and substantial WRI influence in the Pan-African Freedom Movements of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA), these talks never came to fruition as forces of violence and militarism became more extreme across the continent. After the 1966 coup which deposed Nkrumah from power, he became co-President of Guinea with Sekou Toure in an alliance which saw both of them vocal about the need for armed revolution. Fanon’s critiques about the need for psychological purging of the violence of the oppressor led many to over-simplify his writings as a call for armed struggle as the only means for revolution. Along with growing sentiment in Southern Africa since the post-Sharpeville formation of the South African armed struggle and the growth of armed movements in Mozambique, Angola, Southern Rhodesia and Namibia grassroots interest in both tactical and philosophical nonviolence greatly diminished.

The positive connections continued; Kaunda continues to credit WRI, Sutherland, and his pacifist friends with helping him obtain power without arms – in part due to the plans for a massive international march for suffrage which embarrassed the colonial authorities into granting universal voting rights, leading to Kaunda’s election as the first African leader of his nation. But the heady actions of the beginning of the decade gave way to more long-term planning – small actions, intellectual pursuits, base-building and private meetings about how bigger, more lasting and successful movements could be developed in the future.

Pierre Martin, for example, relocated to Senegal with his entire family, where he served as a member of the WRI International Council. The booklet Violence in Africa, penned by Martin and published by WRI in 1968, reviewed the nature of colonial subjugation and suppression, as well as the role of religion, the army, and trade unions in building militarized or de-militarized societies. In a conclusion reflecting on the possibilities for nonviolence in Africa, Martin noted that the little overt support for large explicitly pacifist movements notable in the late 1960s meant nothing, as “non-violence does not attract the attention of the professional newsmen: violence is much more sensational.” Martin urged readers to take careful note that some key indigenous forces in Africa speak explicitly of nonviolence, including the Kibangist Christians in the Congo and the Muslim sect of the Mourides, founded in Senegal “by a saint who resisted the French military colonization by nonviolence.” Martin documented the work of Sheik Amadou Bamba “who has nearly a million disciples” and who influenced many throughout the region, including the activists of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. He ended the WRI booklet by urging all to find their place in the work for peace, quoting Senegalese poet-President Leopold Senghor, between “the crossroads of giving and receiving.”
WRI’s triennial conference held at the end of 1969 in the Haverford, PA (USA) also indicated a deepening understanding of the need for long-term strategies and a two-way solidarity. The conference theme, “Liberation and Revolution,” included detailed reports and dialogues about the connections between means and ends, the role of “liberated nationalism,” and the need to get “beyond all separatism.” A special report on Nonviolent Revolution and Developing Countries was delivered by Bill Sutherland, Indian leader Narayan Desai, and Vietnamese human rights defender Vo Van Ai. The report asserted:

“A revolution should not lead to imitation of the affluent society… Several developing countries do already have people’s movements, traditions and in some cases even government policies that take into account the risks involved in both poverty and in affluence, and are trying to evolve their own methods of integrated development… A nonviolent revolution will have different characters in different parts of the world, and the conference believes that nonviolent revolution in the developing countries would mean a qualitative social change based on the principles of self-reliance, dignity of labor, respect for the individual, the spirit of service and sharing among the members of the community, participatory democracy and a face-to-face society.”

New Ground

Some of these conversations came full circle in 1985-86, at another WRI triennial in India, this time hosted by Desai and including participants Bayard Rustin, WPB founder George Willoughby, representatives of the South African Council of Churches and the women’s group Black Sash, and some youthful participants (including this author). A few years earlier, on a trip to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, US reporter Julie Frederikse noticed me sporting a broken rifle tee-shirt and took me aside to tell me about a meeting her South African husband Stelios was having with some young chaps from across the border. A few white South African boys had come to Harare to visit former conscientious objector (CO) Stelios about their plans to launch a more mainstream project linking a call for an end to conscription with calls for racial justice and an end to apartheid. Within a day, we all joined together for a dinner to discuss the possibilities of international support for such work, and – shortly thereafter – the world learned of the highly creative, barrier-breaking End Conscription Campaign (ECC). The ECC phenomena not only helped work alongside South Africa’s mass democratic United Democratic Front to bring unprecedented white folks closer to an anti-apartheid perspective, it also inspired thousands across the globe in showing how making the links between peace and justice issues could be done in a fun way, empowering for all. WRI’s distinctive support role throughout the 1980s was a prime example of mutually beneficial solidarity. And the India triennial solidified that solidarity, as new relationships were forged and old ones rekindled in the light of what would be the final phase of ridding Africa of its final, seemingly intractable colonial outpost.

WRI contemporary work in Africa center around three major inter-related projects developed in the 1990s: the Bangkok Women's Conference of 1992, the formation of the Africa Working Group (AWG) in 1994, and the International CO Meeting in Chad in December 1995. "Women Overcoming Violence: Redefining Development and Changing Society through Nonviolence" held in Bangkok in December 1992 was WRI's best-funded conference yet and had more African participants than any WRI-related project since the campaigns of the early 1960s. For the most part, however, the numbers were not reflective of a shared political context: most of the African women participants turned out to be from NGO service organizations rather than from community-based groups and movements. A more incremental and organic approach to outreach and networking was needed. In 1994, the WRI Africa Working Group was formed, in part in response to the successful work of the WRI Latin America Working Group in developing cross-movement networks throughout South and Central America. The Latin America Working Group related both to the broader WRI structures as well as to the Latin America-wide Servicio Paz y Justicia organization, which has a more theological orientation.

Meeting in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil at the time of WRI’s 1994 triennial, the Africa Working Group brought together the growing contacts which WRI had made with the South African mass democratic movement, a grouping of European-based Africans and African solidarity specialists, and several North American African academics and activists. It has held meetings and seminars at every subsequent WRI conference, and has been responsible for reporting on relevant issues, including, for example, in the publication of 1996 Peace News dossier “Peace and Reconstruction in Africa.” As Narayan Desai coached us in 1986, the AWG has always emphasized South-South collaboration and skills-building, with support people in the North working to help facilitate rather than moderate that independent contact.

As a loose networking tool, the WRI AWG has been responsible for strengthening African participation – in numbers as well as content – at WRI conferences, materials, and related activities. One such conference was the International Conscientious Objectors Meeting, held in Chad in December 1995. This historic gathering showed that the classic Western conception of conscientious objection tends to be alien in most African settings. Despite strong political unity between the WRI, CO and African representatives from Chad, Benin, Congo-Brazzaville and beyond, the issues around “the Right to Refuse to Kill” clearly needed to be reframed. Subsequently, WRI has been documenting the human rights issues arising from military service and forced recruitment in Africa, using this in evidence in asylum tribunals, presenting it to the UN Human Rights Committee, and publishing it in our own media and reports. In addition to work with national struggles where conscription and CO issues have had direct effects – such as in South Africa and Eritrea – WRI members in the 1990s and the first years of the 21st century have been engaged in studies and solidarity involving the psycho-social empowerment of former child soldiers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, and Rwanda. WRI is recognized as a leading international authority on these issues, and was recently invited by the United Nations to testify at an Experts Conference on Eritrea, held in Pretoria in November 2013.

Since 2001, the WRI established a formal “Right to Refuse to Kill (RRTK)” program, which has dealt with such as issues as under-age recruitment, the collective punishment of families who evade military service, and the role of women who encourage men not to fight (including flogging in the Sudan). RRTK has been building up a network of African advisers, mainly of exiles. Africa Working Group co-convener Elavie Ndura and I (a founding co-convener since 1992) worked in conjunction with Africa World/Red Sea Press with many of these advisors and new WRI network members from Africa to produce narratives of the current challenges and opportunities. A two-volume set of activist and academic papers documenting contemporary grassroots civil resistance campaigns, actions, leaders, organizations and movements was published: Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (2008) and Seeds Bearing Fruit: Pan African Peace Activism for the 21st Century (2010). With a foreword by Kenneth Kaunda and an emphasis on new voices and topics, including a special focus on gender and a chapter on sexual orientation by Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe director and WRI Council member Chesterfield Samba, Seeds of New Hope attempted, in Johan Galtung’s assessment, “to bring Africa to peace studies and peace studies to Africa, hopefully for the benefit of both.” With even greater grassroots WRI AWG input, including reports on the work connecting child soldiers and counter-recruitment, Seeds Bearing Fruit helps push the period of long-term planning and slow, small development to a new era of mass unarmed action and popular campaigns showcasing people’s power.

Together, the Seeds books grow from our insights gleaned from Bill Sutherland’s legacy and teachings:

“When we were working for an end to colonialism there was excitement in the air,” Sutherland noted, “but also with us were the weaknesses which would lead to the troubles still to come. Today, there is much grief, war and violence throughout Africa, but we must look beyond the headlines which only report on the negative things. In this work, in these stories of new resistance, lie the seeds of new hope.”

Renewed Ground

Concrete fruit of a distinctly Pan African variety grew prosperously at the WRI African Nonviolence Trainers´ Exchange meeting, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa in July 2012. Through a participatory methodology, the training explored four main topics: Nonviolence (nonviolence as a principle and nonviolence as a technique); Gender and sexualities (integrating a gender perspective in active nonviolence); Nonviolence and global movements (recent and current African Nonviolent Movements and beyond the so-called “Arab Spring,” including the case of Egypt and influence in the region); and Nonviolence training (Nonviolence Training and its Role in African social movements).

It was at that meeting that the African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network was formed, with Soweto-based Sipho Theys and former Parliamentarian Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge serving as co-chairs. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who is also playing a leading role in the organization of the July 2014 WRI conference along with her group Embrace Dignity, noted: “The creation of the African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network is a significant moment in that we now have the opportunity to build on the on-the-ground work happening all across the continent, to break the isolation which so many feel. I like to think about it going beyond training to peacebuilding, going to the root causes of violence.”

Getting back to the roots – of both war and war resistance along the broad continuum of nonviolent direct action – seems like an appropriate goal given the WRI’s 90-plus years of engagement with African Liberation. As we experience new and renewed levels of mass moblization, small and now-not-so-small-actions playing a role in developing even larger and hopefully more effective democratic movements for justice and peace, now is the time to do more than just network. Together we must act.


Matt Meyer is a New York City-based author, educator, and activist, who serves as War Resisters International’s Africa Support Network Coordinator. A UN representative of the International Peace Research Association, Meyer is editor, author or contributor to a dozen books, including Time is Tight: Urgent Tasks for Educational Transformation—South Africa, Eritrea, and the USA; and (with Bill Sutherland) Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation. Archbishop Tutu, in his Foreword to Guns and Gandhi, noted that “Sutherland and Meyer have looked beyond the short-term strategies and tactics which too often divide progressive people. They have begun to develop a language which looks at the roots of our humanness beyond our many private contradictions.”