Pax africana

Publish date 02-08-2021

by Renato Kizito












I was reflecting on the recent history of Sudan from which it seems to me that some lessons can be learned on the question of a peace process that truly involves all the actors. After a long war between the government and independence activists of South Sudan, a peace agreement was reached in 2005 which provided for six years of waiting before arriving in 2011 in a referendum to decide whether the South would break away from the North or not. The agreement was reached for a "diplomatic imposition" - Sudan would otherwise have been completely banned from civilized nations - it was clear that the two sides did not want to achieve peace. This undermined the aftermath from the start.

Once the agreement was reached, a very beautiful initiative was launched: the international NGOs and also the UN Agencies, fearing future conflicts, supported, organized and carried out a myriad of small workshops, meetings at local, regional, county or state level. which South Sudan is divided, to try to rebuild a fabric of peace at the base. A great job, costing a lot of energy, a lot of effort and a lot of money. But which, in my opinion, over time has unfortunately proved useless, because there was no willingness on the part of the leaders to favor it, to become part of it. And in historically difficult situations, where deep ethnic antagonism has been created, with leaders who have no political agenda but only the goal of defending the power of their tribe, it is clear that all this work done at the base does not work. And in fact, when in 2013, after the separation, the two great leaders "quarreled", it was immediately unleashed. It was enough for the leaders to call for war, and the war was unleashed.

Even when the international community was mobilized again, and even Pope Francis made that sensational gesture by inviting them to the Vatican, standing in front of them, this was not enough. If the current leaderships remain, it is difficult for a stable peace to be achieved. There are many reasons, but obviously also because they are characters supported by foreign powers; if they had been abandoned, perhaps the situation would have been resolved, there would have been a local solution.

In those years from 2005 to 2011, an activity to reconcile leaders would have been important. If there had been this action, with important gestures, perhaps the will for peace of the people and that of the leaders could have been welded. But as long as these characters are backed by external political and economic interests, it will be very difficult to achieve peace in South Sudan. Resources in Africa have become a disgrace… we know what the interests of the much oil behind the warring parties are, not only states but also simple companies interested in getting their hands on the development potential of South Sudan.

People who want peace at the grassroots level are powerless, they lack the strength, the tools, the tradition, to somehow force their leaders to peace. While external influences play on internal divisions. The fact is that, historically, colonialism has handed these poor African masses into the hands of hardened criminals.

The case of Sudan is emblematic but many others could also be made; for example that of Uganda where there is peace because no form of opposition is possible, people disappear ... people find themselves powerless in the face of this situation.

Similar stories may in fact have different developments. In Kenya in the early 90s, there were serious tribal clashes, with hundreds of victims, and people fleeing from areas where they had spent a whole life; it was basically a fight between Kalenjin and Kikuyu, in the heart of the Rift Valley. We, like many people of good will, did some workshops, bringing together village leaders of areas where there had been clashes, and it was clear that all the common people always wanted peace, they wanted to cultivate their pieces of land, to continue to graze their animals. This always left us surprised because it seemed to break down an open door. I remember an elder who at the end of one of these talks said more or less: "You see, in the past there were clashes, generally between shepherds who grazed their goats and the farmers who ate the grain; but we had ways to find ourselves, to pray together, to make sacrifices and to get back in peace. Then maybe after some time other things happened, but there was still a way to do this. Now it is gone, because our rites were good for local evil spirits; with our rites we kept the local devils under control, but these are external devils, they are devils that come from outside, and we are no longer able to control them ». This is also a bit of what happened, it is happening in Sudan.

The clash between Kalenjiin and Kikuyu was overcome because one of the political leaders, in preparation for the 2012 elections - the current president of Kenya, Uhruru Kenyatta - with all his limitations, when he realized that he could not win the elections with support only of his own people, he had the brilliant idea: he held out his hand to the leader of the Kalenjin his worst enemy, they allied themselves politically, and together they defeated all the others. For ten years, this coalition, among those who were formerly bitter enemies, went to power: thus they were able to make peace.

He was able to get out of the prison of the friend-enemy scheme, he overcame it.

This becomes difficult in contexts where there is the fear that if the opponent should go to power he will take everything, as in South Sudan. They are tools that produce a system of democracy, of politics, which in South Sudan has not yet been implemented and mastered. There are also many other elements, these are bird's eye considerations, but it is certain that peace must be built in these contexts. Which worsen more and more, because every year that passes there are more people from my clan who have been killed by the other clan, every year that passes this division becomes more and more profound, difficult to overcome. It is a work that requires a great faith, a great hope, a great faith in God and in humanity that can even get out of such difficult situations so full of hatred, overcoming hatred.

The Church has done a very important job to build a fabric of peace, particularly in South Sudan. Unfortunately, history does not forgive, enormous mistakes have been made, starting with the division of Africa in the Berlin Conference to date; the mistakes made on the skin of Africans are enormous: Africans pay them all, but then in the end we risk suffering them all together. Because this hatred, this division, obviously doesn't do anyone any good.

External actors should use their weight to build agreements, making sure that the internal dynamics come to seek an effective solution. However, continuing to control real growth and not abandoning the country in the hands of those who do not want peace.

We must work in the long term on building a culture of peace, a culture of coexistence. In African countries where these situations exist, the Church must focus all efforts to educate to respect for others, to peaceful coexistence, in short, to educate for peace. The most important pastoral activity of the Church in Africa today is to educate for peace.

NP Aprile 2021

Renato Kizito Sesana

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