7. From division to connection

Conflict and division take many forms, have long histories and currently threaten every shift towards shalom that we seek. But ubuntu provides the foundation for relationship, connection and a stronger Pan-African identity. The church can play a key role in healing trauma, transforming conflict and mediating peace. Governments and the AU need to make reality their commitment to silence the guns.

Instability is one of the major drivers of poverty in Africa. It is one of the biggest obstructions to achieving the AU’s 2063 Agenda and the SDGs, particularly peace and justice (Aspiration 4 and SDG 16), equality for and an end to violence against women (SDG 5) and an integrated Africa (Aspiration 2). Far greater investment needs to be made in peacebuilding so we have a stable foundation on which to build an Abundant Africa.

Africa has been a battleground for global forces during slavery, the colonial era and the Cold War. While this external interference is decreasing, it has left a major impact on the continent. The civil wars fuelled by these influences still affect politics in many African countries today.

Division and conflict can take many forms: civil war, rioting, intercommunal fighting, and gender-based violence. It has diverse, often interconnected, drivers such as: historic trauma and grievances from slavery, colonialism and the Cold War; food insecurity; poverty; competition for national resources; tribalism; and extremist violence, in some instances inspired by the rise of Islamic radicalism.

These dynamics have far-reaching implications for national and regional stability, and for the other six shifts we seek. Even if we can measure shalom, we will not see it without peace and connection. Broken infrastructure and education systems reflect a broken social contract between past, present and future generations. Police and security forces brutality target the young. Disasters – both social and environmental – damage our unity. Climate extremes threaten to increase conflict, intensifying competition over increasingly scarce resources and driving displacement and migration. African cities and nations lack the resilience to deal with major disasters. As systems struggle, political stability and good governance are eroded. During crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, accusations of corruption follow and spread.

Conflict is not the only source of disconnection; those citizens most geographically distant from trading centres are likely to be the poorest. Once again, women, people with disabilities, youth and the marginalised are disproportionately affected. This can all lead to tension among different groups – but also to solidarity. Despite all this, Africa is still experienced as one of the most hospitable and relational continents in the world. This underlying ubuntu is a powerful force of connection. It includes a symbiotic relationship between people and the environment. The liberation struggle built on this ethic by developing ideas of political solidarity where an injury to one is an injury to all.

But there remains a need for a bigger “us”. Sometimes ubuntu has been limited to tribal or family bonds. National identities have often divided the continent despite being based on arbitrary lines dictated by European rulers at the Berlin Conference in 1884-5. We can still celebrate other identities but these should be expanded to a larger African and global consciousness.

Regional and global integration are more essential than ever before. This goes both ways: globalisation and new technology bring ideas, events and development agendas from around the world that can easily influence Africa. Nations like China, Russia and the UK are seeking to grow their reach in Africa.

But we are also seeing the growing influence of the AU, the Economic Community of West African States, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community. And we are beginning to see Pan-African thinking (a movement which started in the 1960s to expand our identities beyond tribal or national) become a reality, with continental institutions like the Pan-African Parliament and initiatives such as the AfCFTA and AU passports.

Peace and abundance are not achieved by one approach, one time; they require ongoing cultivation, and may take years, or even decades, to bear fruit.139 Peacekeeping on the continent has often focused on crisis management and the maintenance of “negative peace” (absence of conflict) rather than positive peace, which would include the absence of structural violence and the presence of justice and shalom. A long-term transformation towards an Abundant African economy is part of ushering in positive peace.

Churches can be agents for reconciliation and peace, and generous responders in times of crisis. Relationship is central to the gospel: we were created for it and Christ’s work on the cross reconciles us with God and each other. Churches can help foster relationships between local communities and governments, strengthening understanding of cultural, social and economic needs and norms, and improving accountability.141 Churches can be sacred places of inclusion, where people that are marginalised (for physical, economic, ethnic, cultural or other reasons) can find a place to be accepted and loved and belong to a community. Through all this we take steps to recover our identity and lifegiving stories as we seek an Abundant Africa.

Abundant ideas to grow connection

As first steps towards long-term peace, we therefore call on:
Churches to develop pastoral capacity to help heal trauma in communities and individuals and recovery of their identities and stories. Many Africans bear deep trauma from generations of violence. This trauma increases the prevalence of violence and reduces communities’ capacity to plan for the future. Trauma must be healed, or we risk it being transmitted to the next generation of Africans.

Churches to set up mediation teams, observer groups and diplomatic networks in key locations across the continent. Mediators, observers and diplomats should be trained and deployed in all major regions of the continent to help understand and transform conflicts. Working with information from early warning systems, these teams will ideally prevent violent conflict, but can also play an important role in managing and resolving tension and violence during and after conflict situations.

Where religious extremism is a cause of division or violence then the church should lead dialogues to build bridges and dispel stereotypes.

Churches to join civil society in deploying election monitors and observers for all elections on the continent. Our democratic institutions and processes need to be protected as key institutions on the continent. Elections can be marked by fear and violence. Monitors can act as peacemakers; not only observing but also mediating election-related conflict.

Churches to use their relationships to foster track two (or backchannel) diplomacy. The church in Africa is already highly integrated through its own councils, institutions and missional relationships. It can facilitate track two diplomacy, bringing together unofficial representatives from two nations, especially non-state actors, to build trust and discuss solutions, in ways that wouldn’t be possible in formal diplomatic spaces.

Governments to proactively engage with churches and civil society as part of an integrated emergency response to deal with disasters, migration and peacebuilding. Churches and faith-based organisations are often uniquely placed to support the most vulnerable – but their role is often overlooked. They can play a transformative role when governments proactively engage to integrate them into state and foreign emergency response plans and longer-term developmental processes that may emerge from an emergency.

Governments to implement the agreements and commitments adopted by the AU on “Silencing the Guns”. The original 2020 deadline has passed; we cannot continue to delay. Governments must make these commitments a reality, particularly by making financial resources accessible to support and promote youth-led peace initiatives and development, while holding neighbouring countries accountable for breaches of peace.

The AU to support an end to the unfair and unjust profiling and targeting of young people in national security operations and protect people’s rights (enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights) to peacefully and constructively call for change without being endangered.