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By Jacinta Maweu

The Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and the Next Generation of Social Sciences (Next Gen) program hosted a panel at the 2024 Africa Peace Research and Education Association (AFPREA) Conference that took place between May 22nd – 26th, 2024, at the MS TCDC Training Center in Arusha, Tanzania. The general conference theme was : Ujamaa, Ubuntu, and New Pan Africanisms: The Future of World Peace.

The title of the APN and Next Gen Panel was: Connecting Pan-Africanism to Indigenous Peacebuilding in Africa: Challenges and Prospects. It brought together three APN IRG fellows and two Next Gen Fellows. Firstly, the presentations provided African perspectives to peacebuilding by focusing on the lessons and insights that can be drawn from indigenous African practices and histories/herstories in addressing and critiquing hegemonic peacebuilding discourses. Secondly, the presenters also explored how indigenous peacebuilding norms and practices can build on opportunities by connecting to the renaissance of Pan Africanisms to advance peace, democracy, and sustainable development in Africa. Lastly, the presentations highlighted the commonalities in the challenges facing the continent’s quest for peace and the potential for homegrown solutions.

The first presentation was on Pan-Africanism, Conventional Peacebuilding and Indigenous Peacebuilding Approaches in Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Prospects by Charles Felix Komba (Next Gen 2022 / 2023 /2024). In his presentation, Charles examined how African indigenous peacebuilding approaches, coordinated at the grassroots and governed from below, can become essential platforms for addressing the root causes of African conflicts, thereby building peace, promoting solidarity, and fostering sustainability. He called for indigenous bottom-up peacebuilding interventions and strategies, which view conflict as a communal concern.

The second presentation was on Navigating traditional institutions in conflict resolution: The evolution of The Njuri Ncheke in Eastern Kenya by Dr. John Mwangi Githigaro (APN IRG 2021 and Next Gen 2016 / 2018). His paper focused on a traditional alternative dispute resolution institution, Njuri Ncheke, in Eastern Kenya. It analyzed the extent to which Njuri Ncheke can be an efficient and viable alternative for managing and resolving contemporary communal conflicts, such as land and family disputes. Dr. Githigaro highlighted how Njuri Ncheke is a based non-formal indigenous peacebuilding mechanisms, which stem from the agency of local grassroots communities. He argued for the inclusion of local peacemakers with a wealth of contextual experiences, including indigenous conflict resolution structures, in the ongoing efforts towards building sustainable peace.

The third presentation was on Maasai Ethnopolitics and Institutional Literacy Towards Functional Peacebuilding by Benezet Rwelengera (Next Gen 2022 / 2023 and 2023 / 2024). His presentation critiqued the widespread depiction of Africa as a global conflict hotspot, discursively constructed as needing Western aid and assistance for peacebuilding. He observed that this discourse ignores the inherent capacities of indigenous conflict resolution strategies that existed years before colonial disruptions. Drawing from his experiences with the Maasai pastoral community, he argued that looking inward could offer insights into situated and integrated ways of peacebuilding. He interrogated the Maasai’s evolving ethnopolitics and institutional literacy to unpack the diverse mechanisms through which the Maasai, who have been negatively framed as instigators of conflicts, have maintained functional peace within their communities.

The fourth presentation was on Invisibility of Indigenous Knowledge and Philosophies On Peace Scholarship: Empirical Insight from Bibliometric Analysis of African Peace Studies by Dr. Edwin Ngowi (APN IRG 2023). He presented empirical evidence to highlight how western epistemology and thinking overwhelmingly dominate peace and conflict studies in the African context. Using bibliometric analysis, Dr. Ngowi demonstrated the presence of colonial legacy and dominance of Euro-centric epistemic in peace scholarship in Africa. He presented data from the bibliometric analysis of peace studies published between 1968 and early-2024, observing the asymmetrical power relationship in knowledge production and dissemination. The results on the authorship of publications showed that scholars from the United States and Western European countries dominate the list of productive and highly cited authors in peace and conflict studies in Africa. He argued that this perpetuates Western-centric ideas and liberal paradigms, which undermine African epistemologies, including indigenous knowledge and philosophies on peacebuilding, which are relegated to the margins of scholarly debates and discussion on peace research in Africa. He therefore called for knowledge decolonization and the promotion of indigenous knowledge and philosophies (such as Ubuntu) in African peace studies.

The final presentation was on I am Because We Are? Ubuntuism, Ethnic Conflicts and the Crisis of Identity in Africa by Dr. Jacinta Maweu (APN IRG 2015 and CWG Fellow 2022 / 2024). Dr. Maweu’s presentation interrogated the challenges and ironies of talking about Ubuntu as a unifying worldview for different ethnic communities in Africa, including the call to live as “One”, in the midst of recurrent ethnic conflicts in various countries within the continent. She argued that, although Ubuntu in the spirit of “I am Because We Are,” can forge a new African identity based on decolonized consciousness. This ‘oneness’ under certain circumstances could however be narrowly interpreted to mean members of one’s ethnic community or nationality. This paradox can be gleaned from several cases of profiling of ‘Insiders’ and ‘Outsiders’ in inter-ethnic and/or xenophobic attacks across the continent. She concluded by observing that the Ubuntu values of ‘humanness’ and ‘oneness’ can be harnessed by indigenous local peacebuilding cultures to address the recurrent inter-ethnic conflicts in most of Africa.

As the moderator, Jacinta wrapped up the panel discussion by highlighting the interconnected themes in the five presentations that emphasized the need to decolonize peacebuilding in Africa by adopting homegrown local grassroots approaches, in contrast to the conventional top-down intervention approaches. She also noted that presenters had highlighted the challenges as well as prospects of blending of indigenous peacebuilding principles and practices with a renewed sense of Pan Africanist ideas in to advancing freedom, peace, and unity in Africa.

There was a 20-minute interactive session with the audience, which included 70 participants – many of which granted positive feedback to the fellows. It was a great opportunity for the APN and Next Gen fellows to share their research findings with a scholarly audience, and to network with participants drawn from different countries in Africa, Europe and the United States.