Quaker Network on Peaceful Prevention of Violent Conflict, Focus Africa

The third Annual Gathering was held in September 2002 at Bujumbura, Burundi and hosted by the Friends Church (Quakers) in Burundi. Though the focus of the meeting was on the Great Lakes region of Africa, Friends and colleagues at the meeting also learnt of peacemaking efforts in Colombia and Sri Lanka.

The consultation had four components: worshipping, consulting, visiting Friends' projects and institutions in the region, and reaching out to policy makers and press. A major component of the network is to share information, insights, and methods that can help us in our own work. In examining participants' expectations we were reminded that violent conflict is extremely complex. Those concerned with human well-being, whether individual or communal, need to look at the physical, social, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of human existence. These four dimensions formed the basis for the identification of seven broad themes connected with conflict which were the focus of work during the consultation: Health; Economics; Small Arms and Disarmament; Governance; Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution; Trauma Aftermath and Quaker Values. Groups were formed to address each of these themes and develop action plans before the next consultation.

In Burundi and Rwanda there is scarcely a family that has not experienced loss due to violence. Meeting in a region of conflict brings home the bitter fruits of violent conflict and the toll on victims of conflict induced trauma. There is a dire need for a network of people working on trauma healing in Africa. When people are without hope, they do not defend their rights; or protect themselves or others. This issue is exacerbated where violent conflict reduces effective governance. Orphans are susceptible to being recruited as child-soldiers, therefore it is important for peace workers to assist families with orphans who have lost caregivers as a result of AIDS.

The continuing flood of small arms in Africa contributes to destabilization. Peace workers need to network with existing programmes working on arms awareness and knowledge of conscientious objection to military service.

Ongoing hostilities in Burundi have caused economic havoc - a country once able to feed itself now relies on food aid, and needs to deal with the plight of refugees and displaced persons.

In addressing governance it was felt that almost all African post-independence conflicts are the result of bad governance, and that therefore civil society needs to be strengthened in countries suffering from bad leadership. One glaring aspect is the political and social marginalization of ethnic or religious groups, therefore conflict prevention must include the empowerment of marginalized groups.

Peacemaking can be a dangerous and lonely activity and no person can effectively address all the interrelated factors contributing to a peaceful and just society. Peace-builders need to communicate among themselves to share ideas and experiences.

The consultation closed with a public event with Government officials, leaders of NGOs, and the press as guests. Those in the region learnt more about other projects and were usefully connected with those working at policy levels in centers of power and internationally. Networking was deepened among Quaker peace workers, existing networks were broadened and new networks established. An important strand in the various proposals that emerged was a concern to involve youth. The meeting also asserted its "commitment to the value of each human life, recognizing that our global society does not always value lives equally and that inequities run deep … and may contribute to conflict and war in the future".

"We call on Friends everywhere to join us in renewing our commitment to our peace testimony as a living witness. As we do so, we ask you to hold all Friends working for peace in Africa in the Light."
The network has unearthed much contemporary material on Friends' peace testimonies and Quaker beliefs and practices regarding conflict - articulating the spiritual foundations of the peace witness being lived out today in Africa in conflict.

Source: Minute of Quaker Consultation on Peaceful Prevention of Violent Conflict, Focus Africa. 3rd Annual Gathering. September 23-27, 2002. Bujumbura and Gitega, Burundi.