Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

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. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API)

The Africa Peacebuilding Institute (API) started in 2001, extending the peacebuilding work of Canadian peacebuilder Janet Schmidt. Since then, API has organized yearly training workshops for African peace practitioners seeking to study and reflect on what makes for peace in African contexts. First held in Zambia at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation, API moved to South Africa in 2013. API envisioned itself as a geographic as well as spiritual “basin” holding and channeling the water of life, the cleansing and powerful energy of peace and reconciliation in the name of Christ. Arising out of this basin, API hoped, would be an alliance of people gathering under the mantle of peace education, study and application, who would work together in a variety of concrete ways for peace in their communities.

Some participants who came to API believing in the power of violence became convinced nonviolent approaches are more effective in resolving conflict, with more sustainable outcomes.

Over 500 participants have taken part in API over the past 19 years. Participants include Christian pastors, church officials, teachers and grassroots peace practitioners. Both Christians and Muslims take part in API. Participants primarily come from sub-Saharan Africa countries, representing MCC’s church and community-based partner organizations. API participants are nominated to attend because of their peace-related work or interests in incorporating peacebuilding approaches into their relief and development work. API also welcomes Anabaptist church leaders from across the region in order to equip them in thinking about how peacebuilding is part of the church’s witness.

API has provided short-term intensive training programs on a range of peacebuilding topics, including conflict analysis, conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, Anabaptist peacemaking and leadership. API has played a critical role in individual transformation. Across the continent, many participants have reported changes of mindset, leading them to become change agents in their communities. For example, some participants who came to API believing in the power of violence became convinced nonviolent approaches are more effective in resolving conflict, with more sustainable outcomes. API has also offered an opportunity for African participants from different backgrounds to network and learn from one another.

API has certainly encountered some challenges in its trainings. So, for example, participants sometimes at first resist API’s message that working for gender equality is an essential dimension of peacebuilding, rejecting the idea initially on the grounds that the press for gender equality is a colonial import and represents the destruction of African values. Or, to take another example, API participants sometimes also express suspicion of peace committees or peace clubs, viewing them as taking away power from traditional leaders or school leaders in conflict management. For example, some communities in Burundi that adopted peace committees faced resistance from traditional leaders who saw in peace committees the loss of their arbitration powers.

Paul Oyelaran, left, Ahmed Saliju (holding ballon) and Sadiya Ibrahim participate in an eggdropping exercise with Nigerian alumni of API and the West Africa Peacebuilding Institute. (MCC photo/Dave Klassen)

Skills acquired at API have been put to good use. In 2006, for example, in protest of poor democratic practices and human rights violations in many African countries, API participants signed a petition to advocate to the African Union to strengthen democracy on the continent. Skills acquired at API also led to the birth of numerous peace infrastructures, such as the establishment of peace clubs in schools in Zambia in 2006. Peace clubs have now spread to over 13 African countries and have been introduced beyond Africa.

The African continent has a rich tradition of dealing with conflict in peaceful ways. But due to armed conflicts and other forms of violence, those values were eroded in many communities. API has sought to restore traditional peacebuilding values and approaches. For instance, API trainers have explained that working for gender equality is not a foreign import to Africa. Traditionally, women’s wisdom protects and sustains communities because women participate in decision-making. Over time, this traditional valuing of women’s wisdom was lost in many African contexts. Through peace education and initiatives, such as the introduction of women’s situation rooms, women are more and more actively involved in leadership and other decision-making processes. API has also worked to restore the value of circle approaches to resolving conflict and to underscore the importance of the traditional value of ubuntu (I am because you are). In South Africa, the traditional home of ubuntu, xenophobic attacks against African foreign nationals have been on the increase. In response to these attacks, pastor Samson Mataboro, an API alumnus, uses restorative justice approaches. The efforts by Pastor Mataboro and others to promote ubuntu and circle processes for addressing conflict have helped foster spaces in South Africa where South Africans and foreign nationals live together peacefully. There are similar experiences in Kenya, where Kikuyu and Luo children lived peacefully together in the 2007 post-election ethnic violence in Mt. Elgon, thanks to the work peace clubs had done to promote inter-ethnic solidarity.

API has worked to restore the value of circle approaches to resolving conflict and to underscore the importance of the traditional value of ubuntu (I am because you are).

API alumni are creating safe spaces for dealing with issues of trauma across the African continent. Peacebuilding efforts linked to API have seen former prisoners in Burundi, Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Uganda reconciling with their communities and vowing not to seek revenge against their former enemies anymore. One can say without any doubt that the API is laying a strong foundation for peace in the African continent by raising up people equipped in conflict prevention and resolution, community building and reconciliation based on Christian principles of nonviolence, justice, dignity of the human person and right relationships.

Mulanda Jimmy Juma is MCC representative for its program in DR Congo and Angola. He previously worked as MCC peacebuilding coordinator for southern Africa.

Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University.

Great Lakes Initiative.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

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