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Africa needs rethink about peace

What a chain of coincidences!  What timing! What a conflicting decision! What a potential controversial action! What a lesson!

It is the season of the New York annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the organization fathered, in essence, by the two world wars.  All imaginable conflicts are tearing apart many of the 193-member countries – those of Africa in particular. The Norwegian Nobel Committee announces, from Oslo, the award of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Of all destinations, it goes to Africa. And of all countries, Ethiopia – one of longest conflict sites on the continent. And who gets the award? He is Africa’s youngest Head of State, 43-year-old Aby Ahmed. He beats the wisdom of the entire continent’s bald and graying heads, some with decades of recurrent and controversial incumbency experience to the extent of dozing on the throne.

Aby’s feat is not, by any chances, small. The committee reveals that 301 candidates had been nominated, including 223 individuals and 78 organizations. Indeed, the committee members were not trying to create something out of nothing. Likened to a construction site, all aggregates for the task were there in the right ratio and volume to the satisfaction of the project architect, consulting engineer and quantity surveyor.

“Thank you very much. It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia and I can imagine how the rest of Africa ‘s leaders will take it positively to work on (the) peace-building process on our continent.” Abiy is right.

If there is anything lacking in Africa, in fact the whole world, it is peace. Everybody intuitively understands what it is. The problem is with its definition, leading to underperforming or not performing at all when it comes to practice — search for it.

 Ask people to define it, answers on offer are mere descriptions based on explanations. You wonder whether all interviewees have worked in the media to come up with replies along the profession’s “5Ws and H” – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

Some say peace is when there are no wars or conflicts. Others relate it to resolution. They say it is when people are able to resolve their conflicts without violence and can work together to improve the quality of their lives.

Democracy-oriented ones say that it is when everyone has the power to participate in shaping political decisions and the government is accountable to the people.

Christians have a hymn whose chorus is: “Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth peace to people of goodwill.” During services they also extend, “…peace of the Lord…” greeting to one another.

On top of professing the: “May He be glorified and exalted” attribute to Allah, Muslims give the: “May the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him (PBUH)” complimentary phrases to all the Prophets in the line.

If this is the case then, why has peace defied all the ages of space and time? That is, from the days of Adam and Eve’s paradise where Cain killed his young brother, Abel, to the present day when man is manufacturing  simple weapons to a kill a family member and neighbour of different tribe, faith or political inclination?

Why is man manufacturing sophisticated weapons for killing even somebody unknown thousands of kilometres away? Ground-to-air missiles and anti-missiles are not for killing elephants. They are targeted at man. And as of now, if there is a fast race going on in the world it is that of arms. Why? And it is heading towards the sky. Sooner, we may be reading stories about the Space Arms Race.  

Abiy is right when he says: “… I can imagine how the rest of Africa ‘s leaders will take it positively to work on (the) peace-building process on our continent.” In 2017, African leaders bought 13% of the total of Russia’s arms sales. This was equivalent to $ 8.65 billion. And, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, Algeria was responsible for $6.95 billion. The Algeria peace story is common knowledge.

In 2018, Egypt signed a $2 billion purchase agreement for twenty SU-35 next generation fighters.  Burkina Faso took delivery of Russian made military transport helicopters. Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania entered into similar deals under the counter-terrorism cover to fight IS and al-Qaeda.

That is just an example of the status of Africa peace prospects. On this ticket alone, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is extremely right in pointing at Abiy’s “…decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea” and “recognizing all the stakeholders (who are) working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the east and north-east African regions.”

It’s true. Abiy is not yet there. But, as his office said in a statement, the award is in testimony “to the ideals of unity, cooperation and mutual coexistence that the Prime Minister (Abiy) has been consistently championing.”

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo maybe put it better when he said this was a “reminder to us all that peace is one of the most critical ingredients needed to make Africa successful.”

What has Abiy done for peace and democracy at home and outside to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

In July last year, he enabled members of the same family separated for decades embrace each other. He brokered an agreement between the Sudan military leaders and civilian opposition after months of protests.

He opened prison doors, calling exiles back home, putting opposition parties back on political stage and ending decades of war with a neighbour in which about 80,000 people were killed.

Half of the cabinet ministers are women. He named woman, Judge Meaza Ashenaf, head of the Supreme Court.

Having worked for the army, led a spy team on a reconnaissance mission in areas held by Eritrean Defense Forces and served as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda put aside, Abiy, who is born of a Muslim father and Christian mother, had a role to play in the establishment of interfaith activities programmes when a religious conflict broke out in Ethiopia.

One extra thing Africa must learn from this experience is to provide relevant education to its children. Abiy holds a doctorate in peace and security and a masters degree in transformational leadership.  His last check-out point was the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of the Addis Ababa University (AAU). This teaches research and outreach activities. Established in 2007 as a think tank, it provides recognized academic education and professional training in conflict analysis, prevention management and resolution.

Strengthened by the launch of the African Peace and Security Program (APSP) as a partnership between the IPSS and the African Union (AU) in 2010, the institute conducts academic and applied research in the area of peace and security. It is supported financially by Germany, Austria, other development partners and members of the African private sector.

Africa must learn that peace and democracy are inseparable. They are more than conjoined twins. And, besides proper care and attention, they must be accompanied by delivery of education with a purpose. Finally, if there is something conjoined twins cannot afford, it is conflict.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.


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