Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.
For at least two decades, MCC programs have worked with churches and other actors to promote peace in West Africa, a region that has been marked during this period by sustained interethnic and interreligious conflict, conflict that often turns violent. Motivated by Anabaptist commitment to the gospel of peace and reconciliation, MCC Nigeria officially inaugurated a peace program in 2001. Over the ensuing years, this multi-pronged peacebuilding program in Nigeria and other West African countries has held peace theology courses in seminaries, organized workshops with church leaders on the theological foundations of working for peace and reconciliation in their societies and partnered with a consortium of peacebuilding organizations actively seeking to prevent violent conflict and transform ongoing conflict. This broad-minded approach has earned MCC acceptance among different religious groupings and ethnic nationalities as a committed peacebuilding leader.
The core of MCC’s peacebuilding program in West Africa is a commitment to equip local leaders with knowledge and skills to restore and sustain peace in their communities. Through MCC-supported and -facilitated training, many community leaders have become effective peace activists, educators, mediators and trainers within their religious institutions, organizations and communities. In addition to organizing its own peacebuilding trainings, MCC in West Africa has provided foundational support and accompaniment for the West Africa Peacebuilding Institute (WAPI), the Peace Training Centre in Jos, Nigeria, and Emergency Preparedness and Response Teams (EPRT) in Plateau State, Nigeria, which work at rapid conflict prevention as well as conflict transformation. The EPRT model has had great success: efforts are underway to replicate its work in other parts of Nigeria.
MCC peacebuilding work in West Africa pays attention to the important role that victim survivors of violent conflict can play in sustainable peacebuilding. Many survivors of violence are wounded, bereaved, traumatized, homeless and seemingly helpless: as such, they are often treated as people in need who must be helped, as burdens because they have lost everything or as potential sources of violence, because they may seek revenge for their losses. MCC, in contrast, has adopted a bottom-up approach in its peacebuilding work in West Africa. Building on the fact that peacebuilding requires high levels of commitment and diligence, MCC has also recognized that survivors of violent conflict are also often highly committed and diligent, simply as a matter of survival. Survivors of violence are already energized: the challenge for peacebuilders is harnessing this energy not for fury and revenge but for passionate commitment to conflict transformation. When survivors of violence help to design and implement peacebuilding strategies, their visible anger and energy for vengeance are transformed into constructive energy for peacebuilding. Over time, MCC’s commitment to working with survivors of violence has created a pool of conflict transformation practitioners who are making a difference in their respective communities.
Certainly, working to activate survivors of violence as peacebuilders is challenging. They are often depressed, aggrieved and antagonistic. To establish trust and confidence goes beyond holding a series of workshops and trainings. It is a herculean task that requires uncommon patience and determination. We often take three steps forward only then to fall back two steps. Yet the benefit of working with survivors of violence is enhanced sustainability of peacebuilding efforts.
As a Christian faith-based organization, MCC in its peacebuilding work has been committed to peacebuilding that strengthens collaboration across faiths and ethnicities in the faces of forces that seek to divide communities along faith and ethnic lines. This approach has boosted acceptance of MCC by diverse actors in West Africa contexts, as MCC support has been welcomed to enhance local capacities for peacebuilding action. MCC’s peacebuilding approach seeks to build a sense of ownership by stakeholders in peacebuilding work: peacebuilding should not be seen as an MCC initiative that Nigerians and other West Africans join, but as a West African priority that MCC supports. MCC provides social spaces in which stakeholders from different religious and ethnic communities collaborate to build sustainable peace.
Gopar Tapkida is MCC representative for Zimbabwe. He previously served as MCC peace coordinator for its Central and West Africa programs.
Tapkida, Gopar. “Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria: Mennonite Central Committee and Interfaith Peacebuilding.” In Borders and Bridges: Mennonite Witness in a Religious Diverse World. Ed. Alain Epp Weaver and Peter Dula, 43-56. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2007.
——. “The Momentum of Peace.” Sojourners (August 2014). Available at https://sojo.net/magazine/august-2014/momentum-peace.
——, with Mary Lou Klassen and Yakubu Joseph. “Emergency Preparedness Response Teams.” Conrad Grebel Review. 35/3 (Fall 2017). Available at https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/publications/conrad-grebel-review/issues/fall-2017/peacebuilding-initiative-profile-emergency-preparedness.
———–. “Stories of Crisis Intervention in Central Nigeria.” Peace Office Newsletter. 37/1 (January-March 2007):2-4