Role of Academia



A Paper presented by Dr. Edith Natukunda-Togboa

At the Peace and Non-violence Workshop

Makerere University, Kampala

Friday, 14 th March 2003


In this paper, we will be reflecting on the role of the African academia in peace building, using four main questions:


What is the urgency of peace building to Africa today?


How have African academia been contributing to peace building?


Who are the actors involved?


What lessons can African academia learn from the global dimensions of peace building?

After posing these four major questions, the paper will attempt, in its conclusion to propose some recommendations aimed at tackling the present day constraints to the academia's full contribution to peace building in Africa.

2.1. What is the urgency of peace building to Africa today?

For us to fully appreciate the importance of peace in Africa, we have to appreciate it as a very broad concept, encompassing the crucial elements of social justice. This takes us beyond the narrow interpretation of peace as the absence of war. As one Icelander student from the University of Peace puts it:

"Peace is more than absence of violence. Peace can only exist where there is justice, where human rights are inviolable, where the environment is respected and individuals and nations are free." 1

In Africa, however, when we look around us, when we check our daily realities, we notice, as another Malawite peace student says, that:

"The presence of poverty, hunger, human diseases, discrimination, corruption and general insecurity of the person that we so often see in our countries makes [us] think more critically about how we can really enjoy life as human beings as God meant it to be. We really need to realise that peace is more than the presence of army." 2

The two students' interpretations of peace are in effect complimentary. They abode peace as the wider notion, going beyond military sociology definitions. They imply a process of co-operation, justice and integration.

Having laid the foundation for our conception of peace, we can discuss why there is urgency for peace building in Africa. This is where we submit that, with "One African in five [live] in a country severely disputed by conflict." 3 and refugees rising "from 8.5 to 18 million over the past decade" 4 ; and conflict being responsible for Africa's political and moral disasters: "genocide in Rwanda, anarchy in Somalia, slavery in Sudan and cannibalism in Liberia." 5 no one can dispute the pressing need for peace building in Africa!

Millions of people have lost their lives. About 23 million of those have died to HIV/AIDS, which has been exercebated by massive military mobilisations and mega displacements of people fleeing from war. Apart from the loss of properties, Africa has also lost billions of dollars in organising national peace conferences; for example 20 such nation-wide conferences have been organised for Somalia over the last decade, to no avail!

Such forces that have tended to negate development, pushing average per-capita incomes to levels lower than in the 1960s 6 , point to the urgent need for peace building in Africa!

3.1. Who are the actors involved?

The question of the actors involved has intentionally been left open-ended in this paper. -That is to say, by the "actors involved" we wanted to capture those involved in the prevailing conflicts and the ones engaged in peace building.

Several scholars have pointed to the heterogeneous nature of actors involved in the process of conflicts. Some are state and others are non-state actors. Because of the complexity of that mixture, we will find individual groups, non-governmental organisations; academics institutions… all involved at one stage or another of conflict prevention, management or resolution. Their involvement in conflict related activities are antithetical to their involvement in peace building, since one is but one side of the dichotomy matching the other.

So as we ask ourselves, the frustrating question of who is primarily responsible for and may gain from conflict situations, so should we reflect on those who are involved in picking up the pieces after the conflict has broken out.

In contemporary Africa where decision-making and power relations are still pre-dominantly a prerogative of the elite, we can safely deduce, as stated by the Nigerian, Prof. Njoka that conflicts are promoted primarily by the elite:

"It is obvious that conflicts are promoted by the elite who are usually leaders of communities, religious sects political persuasions, ethnic divides, etc., with intent to continue in leadership, acquire more territories or may be seeking relevance" 7

Well, if the dichotomy were so symmetrical, if the equation was that well balanced, we would expect the elites, including the academia, to be at the heart of peace building! But is this the case in Africa, whether in the past or today? This takes us to next point of reflection, the African academia and their contribution to peace building.

4.1. How have the African academia been contributing to peace building in Africa?

The fact that Africa by and large has limited capacity in terms of tools and institutions that would foster and keep peace, comes as no surprise to any of us! The task of making substantive contributions to our desperate need for peace building is in itself an indicator of our incapability to face the enormous challenge of resolving our conflicts! But we should remember that the crippling effects of conflicts cannot but cripple the very foundations of our, would be institutions for peace!

If we take the teaching of peace studies at African Universities as an illustration of the academia's contributions, we will note that there have been very few universities in the past that have been offering these programmes. And we should hasten to add that for a university to practically contribute to peace building, it needs to be an academically free institution. In other words, when the culture of peace is completely negated by a belligerent government, very little can be expected, with regards to the degree of academic freedom that it will accord to its universities, or its academia. As Prof. Andreas Eshete from Ethiopia observes:

"Academic freedom matters, among other things, because even the most benign governments, unlike the universities, must make use of coercion and secrecy." 8

Note must be taken however the contribution of regional organisations such as the Council for Development of Social Research in Eastern Africa (CODESRIA), the Organisation of Social Science Research in East Africa (OSSREA) and the Association of African women for Research and Development (AAWORD) for their promotion of academic freedom. Inspite of state restrictions on the academia, these organisations have provided a welcome alternative channel for peace research, even when the contributing African academia have long been sent into exile for "political insubordination."

In a historical tracing of peace studies as a channel for peace building world wide, Dr. Ebrahima Sall from Gambia quoting Carolyne Stephenson identifies three "waves" of peace studies:

"The first one began in the 1930s, with quantitative studies of war and largely academic driven. The second was in the 1960s. it broadened the field to include the study of the impact of forms of violence and injustice and peace research… The third wave began in the early 1980s and was more affected by movements and mobilisations than by academia and pedagogues." 9

With the widening of the field of peace studies and the popularisation of related concepts, peace and non-violence finally started taking roots in Africa. Although the political tools of non-violence seemed to have been generated earliest with the work and practice of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa in the 1940s. In the 1960s, Albert Luthuli, Zulu Chief and President of the African National Congress (ANC) was the first African to receive a Nobel Prize for Peace. Even independent thinkers promoting non-violence like Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela happened to have developed their thinking in South Africa. This cannot be by coincidence, as Ebrahima Sall notes, it is because of the existence of:

"a powerful indigenous tradition of non-violence resistance to injustice." 10

It is therefore not surprising to note that by and large, the institutionalisation of departments of peace and peace building studies is still weak in Africa, apart from South Africa. However, this image and mapping of Africa is changing very quickly. There are a lot of signs of improvement in many parts of Africa like Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Rwanda Eritrea and Uganda, where Conflict and Resolution Studies' Centres or Departments are being commissioned every year! The proof is the present inauguration of our very own Humanist and Peace Resource Centre!

We will note however that the following continue to be daunting problems for institutionalising peace studies:


the under-funding and under resources of public universities from dwindling percentages of government budget.


the restriction of universities autonomy e.g. in research on ethnic conflicts or militarism or "multi-partism."


Universities, although they harbour intellectual resources, continue to be major victims of conflict and wars through the South-North haemorrhage of our intellectual capital…


the academia often get too immersed in the ruling party's discourse and thus end up failing to take a distance to analyse the short comings of contemporary African Governments.


African governments, instead of using locally available resource persons, go in for donor propelled consultants, thus rendering the nationals impotent players in the discourse of peace policies.


M any of African contributions to peace building is historically endangered as it is not research and documented as our literary heritage.

Given these challenges to African academia's contribution to peace building, as illustrated by the case of peace studies, it is imperative that Africa has to leap from its inner abilities towards the outside to pick lessons for future orientation. This takes us to the next question of our reflection: the global dimension of peace building.

5.1. What lessons can Africa learn from the global dimensions of peace building and non-violence?

Many African scholars have blamed globalisation for much of the destructive patterns of development that have aggravated environmental degradation and poverty in the Least Developed Countries (LDC). On the other hand, countries of the global North have been advocating for more globalisation, more trade and privatisation. It is likely that countries of the Global North and the Global South will remain perpetually divided on issues of "free trade" and "sustainable development." The most outstanding lesson for us Africans to pick from this debate is that it all hinges on power relations in the global economy. And as the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan has remarked:

"A path to prosperity that ravages the environment and leaves the majority in squalor and despair, will soon prove to be a dead-end road for everyone." 11

Having noted the grave threats of global imbalance, we can observe nonetheless that some scholars have pointed out that Africa should try to see what dimensions or processes of globalisation have facilitated some opportunities for the continent. We will examine those opportunities that are linked to the domain of peace and non-violence.

Timothy Shaw, 12 while quoting Gills observed that globalisation, through its dimensions like the Internet, have facilitated the organisation of "coalitions of resistance" of those that are disadvantaged by the globalisation of the world economy. He further quotes others like Cox on the coming together of the "global society" and social movements, which include the academia that are mounting pressure for alternative development models and changes in the world order.

It is from this angle, which juxtaposes economic and human development, human rights and basic security that we can try to pick some lessons on potential gains for Africa from globalisation. It is the possibility of capturing numbers of advocates for human security and peace building, that Africa can hope to learn lessons in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts together with the international community.

It is through working with the Africans in the Diaspora and international community, through new technologies and media channels that the African society and institutions are evolving new ways of managing, resolving and living beyond conflict. With the help of the international community Africa has come to accept the following:


Conflict can be re-framed into a shared problem with mutual acceptable solutions…


Intermediaries and third party [can help] in the ultimate resolution of conflicts.


Mediators and negotiators have a body of skills and knowledge…, which can be leant…


Lawyers can search for alternative ways of dispute resolution, other than adversarial proceedings as the route to justice.


[Putting together] theory and advocacy can be highly influential." 13

6.1. Conclusion

Inspite of the lessons that we can pick from the global dimensions of peace building, we have to recognise our role as Africans as major stakeholders in our precarious quest for peace. In the context of our role as academia I would like to make the following recommendations, which would help us to be better peace builders:


African governments need to invest more in university peace studies and research, as this will eventually inform communities and transform attitudes thus generating the resources that are rare on the continent-peace.


Governments should guarantee academic freedom to universities and other institutions of conflict resolution, as an enabling environment to peace building.


African academia should as much as possible, be used in policy planning of conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution, in preference to external consultants.


African academia should as much as possible, borrow lessons from the global dimensions of peace building to handle conflicts professionally as mediators and negotiators and avoid getting too politically immersed, to be of any technical use.

Finally, I will remark that peace building and non-violence is a task not only of academia, but the whole society. In conclusion, allow me to use the works of the Chancellor of the University for Peace, Graça Machel who has eloquently observed that:

"In essence what we are dealing with means life and death to millions of human beings. The difference will be in those choices we make between picking up an AK-47 or engaging in non-violent resistance as a way of expressing those feelings of frustrations, anger and hopelessness. The process of shifting our world from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, must therefore be seated deeply with each and everyone of us." 14

So after listening to this paper, what is your choice today?


1. Crislason Offar Freyr, Student from Island; University for Peace Prospectus , 2003, pg15.

2. Nkuna Martin, student from Malawi, University for Peace Prospectus 2003, pg31.

3. World Bank Development Report 2000, pg1.

4. Alex de Waal (ed); Who fights Who cares?: War and Humanitarian Action in Africa New Jersey, African World press, 2000

5. Ashete Andreas (Prof.) "Innovation in African Universities: Obstacles and Opportunities" Unpublished paper presented at a Workshop of the University for Peace, Maputo, Mozambique 2002, pg1.

6. World Bank Report, op. Cit.

7. Njoku C. Placid (Prof.), "Integration of Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies into the Foundation General Studies Programme of Nigeria Universities" Unpublished paper presented at UPEACE Workshop, Maputo, Mozambique 2002, pg1.

8. Ashete Adreas op. Cit. pg2.

9. Sall Ebrahima: "Definitions, Conceptions and Debates in Peace and Security Studies in Africa" Unpublished paper presented at the UPEACE Workshop, Maputo, Mozambique, 2002 pg11.

10. Sall Ebrahim; Idem pg17.

11. Chioma Filomina (Prof.) "Opinion: World Summit on Sustainable Development" in ECHO, No.10-11 Dec. 2002, a quarterly of A AWORD, pg14.

12. Shaw Timothy: "Insecurity in Africa at the Start of the Twenty-First Century; From Recession to Renaissance?" in Trajectoria de Consolidasao e Renovacao 1992-2002, a publication of the Instituto Superior de Relacoes Internacionais, Maputo, Mozambique August 2002, pg50-56.

13. Sall Ebrahima, op. Cit. pg11-12.

14. Denis Ameena, Summary Report on Peace Studies in Africa, Unpublished paper presented at UPEACE workshop, Maputo, 2002 pg1.

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