On the 19th of March, 2018, the Wilton Park 'train' moved to Abuja, where a one week long conference on Peace-building (PB) in Africa dissected various aspects of the subject matter in the light of changing global trends. Wilton Park is an executive arm of the UK Foreign office which organises talks/seminars/conferences on contemporary subject matters all over the world. I was one of the invitees to this highly cerebral discourse.
I may not be able to remember all the participants, but a few, whose contributions struck a cord in me are listed below:
*Prof. Chidi Odinkalu - Former Chair, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nigeria
*Prof. Joy Ogwu - Nigeria's immediate past Permanent Representative to the UN
*Prof Jibrin Ibrahim - Senior Fellow, CDD
*Dr. Dayo Oluyemi-Kusa - Independent Consultant/Chair National Peace Summit Group (NPSG)/Senior Fellow, CDD
*Prof. Funmi Olonisakin - King's College, London
*Jonathan Cohen - Coalition Resources
*Iris Nxumalo - UN Women, Nigeria
*Cori Wielenga - University of Pretoria
*Ryan d'Souza - UNSOM
*Precious Omaku - Lambeth Palace
*Sandy Africa - Geneva Centre for the Demcratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF)
*Onyinye Onwuka - ECOWAS
Wilton Park tagged the discourse 'African Peace-Building'. This notion was challenged. Many participants were of the view that there is nothing like African peace-building. They said it was more accurate to talk about 'Peace-building in Africa'. This entails the fact that the subject matter under review is the practice of PB in Africa and not a 'special' type of PB tagged 'African PB'!
There were attempts to discuss 'disaster demographics' in Nigeria. Threats to peace and security were x-rayed. The communal and government responses to these crises were put under the microscope. The issue of community resilience in the light of these crises was a major point of interest. Community Development Associations (CDAs) play significant roles in protecting vulnerable citizens against armed insurgents. It was noted that in affected states, individuals owe more allegiance to religion than the family!
There are resources in communities for resilience and conflict resolution. Many participants were of the opinion that traditional methods of conflict resolution be employed on a larger scale for better results. Small arms and light weapons (SALWs) were identified as the weapons of mass destruction in Africa. SALWs can be used for up to a hundred years, while being passed from one hand to the other!
It was noted that there might be international conspiracy theories about conflicts in Nigeria. There are female headed households in Nigeria (especially in the north) than ever before due to the number of lives claimed by the insurgency. The need to create a viable national infrastructure for peace resonated throughout the conference.
For me, there were a number of 'takeaways' from the discourse:
*The locals have great ideas, but do not have the resources to actualise them in the pursuit of peace. This is where a gathering like the Wilton Park discourse could identify such ideas with a view to initiating a 'donor basket' to fund same.
*There is a need to build knowledge about PB in Africa, based on sound evidence/research. Researchers/academics and practitioners need to work together. Such synergy would engender sustainable solutions. PB efforts should be sustainable because in Africa like elsewhere, peace and conflict occur in cycles. The period in between is critical.
*There is a need to tap into available resources in communities, especially traditional methods of conflict resolution.
*There should be 'inclusivity'. Women, youths, the elderly, the disabled and other disadvantaged groups need to come on board because they are the most affected since their mobility is negatively affected by their vulnerability in times of crisis.
*The conference was a valuable opportunity to collate good/best practices in PB efforts in Africa. A broad spectrum of expertise was available. There was the possibility of transferrability of expertise/learning from various 'zones' in Africa.
*The changing dynamics of conflicts in Africa do not fit existing frameworks. The narrative is changing with Boko Haram, killer herders, militancy in oil-producing regions, etc. We need to develop new narratives.
The Wilton Park conference was indeed an intellectual feast which could spur participants - both scholars and practitioners to action with a view to coming up with relevant narratives, frameworks and interventions for mitigating conflict in Africa. Kudos to the Wilton Park team for putting together this timely, useful and un-forgettable conference on a subject matter that is crucial to the sustainability of the nation-states in Africa. I cannot wait for the next discourse on the platform of Wilton Park...
*11 African innovations in Peace-building https://lisaschirch.wordpress.com/2019/04/17/11-african-innovations-in-peacebuilding/
*The rising power of peace-building: Rethinking peace & conflict studies https://amzn.to/2Jh9mFx