Why we need to look into the problem of conflict

Nearly three weeks ago, on September 21, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of Peace to recognise efforts of all those who have worked so hard to end conflict and promote peace and tranquility around the world.

Nearly three weeks ago, on September 21, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of Peace to recognise efforts of all those who have worked so hard to end conflict and promote peace and tranquility around the world. 

This date can be traced from the United Nations General Assembly resolution of November 1981 which established an annual “International Day of Peace”.  We live in an increasingly perilous world in which we cannot contemplate guaranteeing peace and security.  

The Times magazine edition of September 2012  underscored “a chain of violence from Cairo to Benghazi, following an anti-Islam video produced in the United States and raises the question, “did the Arab spring make the Middle-East more dangerous?” As we know, violence has since gone beyond Benghazi. It has ignited many parts of Asia, the Middle-East and Europe. There is already an increasing apprehension that these attacks may herald a new beginning of further Middle-East crisis. In fact, this is already happening with the American forces and their allies fighting the ISIS forces in Iraq. 

Just nearly three weeks ago, on September 21, the world celebrated the International Day of Peace, also known as Peace Day, whose theme for this year is captured under the title “A sustainable peace for a sustainable future”.  While we cannot talk about peace without mentioning the threats to peace around the world, the International Day of Peace nonetheless provides an opportunity for individuals, organisations and nations to reflect on the importance of peace.

I should point out from the outset that we cannot understand the importance of peace if we are not in position to appreciate the complexity of human nature and conflict as a phenomenon. We are informed of biological theories of conflict from Charles Darwin’s times to more recent times which emphasise that human beings are prone to conflict by their very nature and that “human beings are born aggressive and violent and since they have no control over their destiny, there is nothing they can do about it.  This view holds that conflict and indeed aggression are inextricably interwoven in man’s behaviour.

A French philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau, saw “a fundamental divide between society and human nature and contended that man was good by nature and a “noble savage” when in the state of nature”. Even Confucius in China concluded that “there is deceit and cunning in man, and from these, wars arise”.

Interestingly, some theories on conflict have provided repugnant ideas such as racism and tribalism to prevail and have consequently caused untold harm to humanity taking into consideration lessons learnt from history.

There are those who believe that the world we live in is a world of “opposing interests and of conflicts among them, moral principles and can never be fully realised, among them, but must at best be approximated through the even temporary balancing of interests and the ever precarious settlements of conflicts.  It is also argued that the wide-range of world problems such as wars, criminality, social deprivation, famine as seen in our today’s world and various catastrophes are transferable into one common denominator – the failure of man in his behaviour.

This year’s theme for International Day of Peace highlights the fact that we cannot think about building a sustainable future if there is no sustainable peace. The example of Central Africa, Somalia in the Horn of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo in our neighborhood, demonstrates that parts of our continent are afflicted by relentless instability fuelled by a multiplicity of militia groups. Without sustainable peace, we cannot have effective governance and, ultimately, we cannot have a sustainable future.  

Rwanda and other African countries are involved in peace keeping around the world not for altruistic reasons but because history teaches that from our own experience, we understand that building a culture of peace requires that people and societies value freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity and other attributes of human decency that promote respect for dialogue and understanding.

But we must be realistic if sustainable peace can be attained. As someone pointed out, unless and until peacemakers do invest time, energy and money in understanding local geo-politics, peace will remain elusive not just in our neighborhoods, but the rest of the world.