Rev. Fr Martino Maulano of SECAM, Representative of Cardinal Pengo
Professor John Maviri, President of the Catholic Universities and Higher Institutes of Africa & Madagascar, and, Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to join you in this conference as you celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, a key member of the ACUHIAM. Allow me to congratulate you Mr Vice Chancellor on this occasion for the success of your university over the past 25 years and also for your presidency at ACUHIAM.
It is an honour and indeed a privilege to give keynote address to this august gathering which, it seems to me, is determined to tackle head-on one of the most pressing challenges facing our continent. It is befitting that Catholic educators who are entrusted with the spiritual well-being of our communities and who are also ordained to ‘preach peace’ and ‘uphold justice’ are leading the way in searching for the root causes of violence and conflict in Africa.
The ultimate goals of this conference, namely, peace and justice, are near and dear to my heart for more reasons than one. Violence and conflict particularly brutalize women and children. As a woman and a mother, I deeply relate to the misery and sufferings of these vulnerable groups of society. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your vision and leadership in this vitally important endeavour.
As you all know, Africa continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. As always and sadly, it is the instability in Madagascar or the turmoil in Eastern Congo or the fighting in Darfur or the hostilities in Delta region of Nigeria or chaos in Somalia that make it to the news rooms of the international media. The distressing images that come on TV screens are a personal affront to any human being with a measure of decency and compassion. As an African, it hurts to witness gun-totting and machete brandishing gangs and militias terrorizing civilians and shattering lives at will – another reason why I hold your initiative in high regard.
Thirdly and more importantly, I happen to come from the UN family which is committed ‘to maintain international peace and security.’ The UN family, as I speak, is running 19 peace keeping operations (8 of them in Africa) involving some 110,000 personnel with an annual budget of about $ 7.1 Billion. The estimated total cost of operations over the last 60 years is about $ 54 billion. This is no small investment. To this, we need to add the equally huge resources that routinely go to humanitarian activities which care for and resettle internally displaced people and refugees worldwide in such a way as to build lasting peace.
These figures speak for themselves. No one regrets resources channelled to save and restore lives. On the contrary, investment in peace making and peace keeping is pivotal to development. But, think about the opportunity cost of the money invested in peace keeping operations. Had it not been for the senseless wars and conflicts, the money spent on peace keeping operations could have built thousands of schools, clinics, water points and other socio-economic infrastructure.
The above information shows that, for us at the UN, no cause is more sacred and precious than peace. We abhor violence. Contrary to what some critics say, we don’t subscribe to the ‘peace-at-any price’ notion. We profoundly recognize that peace without justice is like a mirage; it is momentary at best and deceptive and unrealizable at worst.
Fourthly, the themes of the conference resonate well with the work that I do as the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. As you know, in 2008, for the first time in history, the number of people living in urban areas exceeded those in rural areas. Though Africa is yet to reach this milestone, it is the fastest urbanizing region.
However, Africa’s urbanization has not been coupled with rapid economic growth. In the 1970s, eighties and early nineties, per capita growth rate for Sub Sahara Africa was largely in the negative. In the meanwhile, inequality, measured by the Gini Coefficient has grown from 0.57 in 1970 to 0.63 in 2000. While the poverty ratio tends to fall worldwide with increased urbanisation - and fell from 37% to 16 % during the last 30 years, the poverty ratio has grown in Africa with urbanisation. Today, six out of ten urban residents in Africa are slum dwellers. Slums are cities or parts of cities where people are forced to live under one or more shelter deprivations i.e., lack of access to improved water, lack of access to sanitation, non-durable housing, insufficient living area, and lack of security of tenure. This unfolding human settlement development trend is, among other things, unleashing a process which we call the ‘urbanization of poverty.’ Most cities in Africa are ill-prepared to cope with rapidly growing urban population, and employment opportunities and livelihood options are few and far between. The consequences of these in terms of social harmony and stability are dire.
As clearly noted in UN-HABITAT’s State of the World Cities 2008/2009 report:
“In addition to creating social vulnerability by limiting access to basic services, public amenities and opportunities, inequalities are increasingly associated with social tensions, conflict and different forms of social unrest. In 2005, South Africa reported 881 protests in urban slums, at least 50 of which turned violent; three years later, in 2008, slums in Johannesburg became the sites of more violence as unemployed South African youth vented their anger at immigrants from other African countries.”
Given the context I have described above, your commitment to address the root causes of violence and conflict holds a great promise to UN-HABITAT which every single day ponders over the fate of the estimated 800 million people languishing in slums.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me at this juncture to indulge myself a bit in history in attempt to help us reckon with some of the roots causes of violence and conflict in Africa.
The woes and travails of Africa that manifested themselves in the form of pervasive violence and conflicts date back to the time of the slave trade when African coastal villages were raided and young Africans were rounded-up and exported in mass to the so-called New World. This was followed up by colonial conquests that caused further violence and bloodshed.
In addition to these well-documented atrocities, colonialism, by destabilizing traditional systems and institutions and creating artificial boundaries that dissected ethnic communities, effectively planted the seeds of future conflicts and the continent still bleeds from the wounds inflicted during colonial times. Immediately after independence, the newly minted nation states of Africa, caught in an incomplete transition, had few tools to deal with the realities of governance in a complex and polarized world. And the nation-building turmoil continued with frequent border disputes and secessionist wars.
Africa became a battle field where the Cold War ‘combatants’ bankrolled and backstopped proxy wars that fronted home grown and sometimes imposed dictatorships to plunder the continent’s huge natural resources and expand the spheres of influence of the super powers. Following the demise of the East-West divide, greedy warlords joined hands with their foreign counterparts to unleash another wave of violence better known as the “resource curse” or the ‘paradox of plenty’. Against the backdrop of deep-seated poverty and social inequality, competition for the control of natural resources (land, oil, etc) is also one of the prominent underlying factors for conflicts in Africa. The use of the so-called ‘blood money’ to finance conflicts and dehumanize fellow citizens continues to this date.
These are some of the historical causes of the violence and conflict we face in Africa today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The reason why I chose to revisit our recent history is not to externalize our problems and exonerate our political leaders. To the contrary, I am the first to admit that lack of cohesive vision and failed governance has always been Africa’s own undoing. After all, many countries in Asia suffered a colonialism that was no less brutal or dehumanising. Failed political leadership has, by exacerbating poverty and lack of opportunities, not only made us easy prey for external negative forces, but also has turned our unemployed, deeply marginalized and disillusioned youth into willing accomplices to the warlords that squander our resources and wantonly kill compatriots. Therefore, failed political leadership of the African elite is the principal contemporary cause of most conflicts and violence in Africa today.
Paul Collier in his book “the Bottom Billion” argues, for low income countries (and most of these are in Africa) the chances of war becoming a trap are higher. Indeed, this is the challenge for conflicts in Africa: they become perennial and chronic, and impair development constantly. The combination of a weak economic base and infrastructure, and poor governance makes Africa all the more vulnerable to disasters, external shocks and global crisis, such as the food, energy and economic crisis which we are going through right now. Over the last 30 years increasing numbers of people have been affected by severe flooding, drought and variable climate in the Sahel. Millions of Africans have sought refuge from these disasters. These peoples have often had to settle on marginal areas, where some have faced social tensions with new neighbouring communities. Further, climate change and its impact is an imminent threat to Africa’s agriculture and farmers. If we do not create economic cushions and resilience on urgent basis, the effects of climate change will exacerbate all of the current trends in terms of poverty and social exclusion, adding to the vicious cycle of poverty, violence and conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I had the privilege of serving on the Commission for Africa, established in 2004 by the former UK Prime Minister - Tony Blair, to promote action for a strong and prosperous Africa. One of the topics we extensively dealt with in our report was the need to establish peace and security. We reaffirmed the right to life and security as the most basic of human rights. We also recommended increased investment in conflict prevention, without which Africa will not make the rapid acceleration in development. We argued that investing in development is itself an investment in peace and security and went a step further to recommend measures like building the capacity of African states and society to prevent and manage conflict by tackling its root causes, making aid more effective at building the foundations for durable peace, improving the management of natural resource revenues, tackling the trade in small arms and ‘conflict resources’, strengthening capacities for more effective early warning, mediation and peacekeeping, improving the co-ordination and financing of post-conflict peace building and development, so that states emerging from violent conflict do not slide back into it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My intention in raising these weighty matters is by no means an attempt to spell doom and gloom. My goal in sharing some of the issues featuring in the global development and governance debate is to show the significance of your deliberations. The challenges that Africa is trying to grapple with are surely many, diverse and complex.
However, all is not lost. As Afro-pessimists want us to believe, the continent is not ‘hopeless.’ There are good reasons to believe that the dreams and hopes of Africans are still to come. The famous Lebanese-American man of letters Kahlil Gibran wrote, I quote, “how can I lose faith in the justice of life, when the dreams of those who sleep upon feathers are not more beautiful than the dreams of those who sleep upon the earth.”
The truism of this assertion is nowhere more evident than in Africa where people come in throngs to polling stations whenever they feel some democratic space has opened up and there is a chance for their voices to be heard through free and fair elections. They patiently wait, from dawn to dusk and often on empty stomachs, in lines to cast their ballot and realize their dreams and aspirations. This seemingly simple and yet powerful symbol of hope that we witness every now and then on the continent is one the foundations upon which we can build a better future for Africa. The home grown initiatives of Africa’s leaders to take charge of their own development, peacemaking and peace keeping are also hopeful signs. For visionary and long term investors Africa offers a unique potential and development frontier.
The key driver of development is human capital. Around the world, the conquest for progress is deeply related to the conquest for education and knowledge. Africa is not any different. We should build a well trained workforce, with the right kind of skills, values and personal traits, prepared to lift Africa out of poverty. I applaud ACUHIAM’s strategic choice to develop educational programmes to nurture such citizens and young minds, and to contribute to advancing peace and reconciliation in Africa. This resonates with ACUIHAM’s stated objective of making an impact on the concrete life of people in Africa.
The United Nations accords a big role to education in advancing the cause of peace and social solidarity. As you are aware, UN University for Peace based in Costa Rica is a UN mandated graduate school for peace and conflict studies. The UN decade of education for sustainable development in many ways contributes to similar goals. UN-HABITAT on its part partners with universities around the world, to influence their curricula and create better trained professionals who are prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A day before he fell to the assassin’s bullet, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the famous civil right activist, said, I quote,
‘another reason I am happy to live in this period is that we have been to a point where we are going to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it is nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.”
We are exactly at the same historic crossroad where Dr. King and his fellow activists were in late 1960s. Violence is not an option as it was not then. And, neither is injustice. We need to get this message out loud and clear across the continent. If this is understood and practiced, we will have risen up and lived up to the ‘never again’ promises that came to prominence following the Holocaust and more recently the genocide in Rwanda. We need to make good on this promise as we wouldn’t know now which one of the ongoing conflicts would turn into ethnic cleansing and mass killings and shock and shame us in ways that are unimaginable.
Finally, I like us to note that you, as clergy men and educators, have the extraordinary duty to live by the commands of the most High who, I believe, through His Word, has called on you to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
I thank you for your kind attention.