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Understanding People as a Means of Building Peace

October 14, 2022
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Wanah Immanuel Bumakor is the Cultural Ambassador – Africa at Cultural Infusion. He was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He is a peace researcher and practitioner with over a decade of research, consultancy, analysis, and programming experience in the domains of African International relations, peacebuilding, conflict management, governance, state building, intercultural communication and dialogue. He had served as an adjunct lecturer in International Relations at several universities in Cameroon. He has published numerous articles and contributed to local and international journals. He has advised, trained and assisted high-level officials in peacebuilding approaches, conflict and crisis management, and successfully led and designed several programs in intercultural dialogue, human rights, social integration, and youth empowerment. He holds a Master’s Degree in Peace and Development Studies from the Protestant University of Central Africa.

The evolution of humanity in the past century has been remarkable and unparalleled. This generation alone has seen technological breakthroughs that could appear to someone who grew up in the 1980s as science fiction. The 2019 Legatum Prosperity Index showed global prosperity to be at its highest point in history. Even though this has stalled since COVID-19, it is still true that never before have people had such unrestricted, affordable access to technology, with individuals in distant areas of the world digitally connecting daily with their loved ones in the world’s largest cities. One of the upsides of globalisation, perhaps. However, we must also consider whether this “prosperity” has made humans more enlightened or less aggressive?

No matter how globalised we become, there can be no gainsaying the acute diversity of human beings, demonstrated in the variety of ways we think, behave, organise ourselves, associate with others, our desires, our values and so on. These differences are real and manifest on political, socio-economic, sociocultural and psychological levels. Sometimes people and groups can be compatible despite their differences, but often they cannot. In peace studies, differences between people and changes (political, socio-economic and technological) are some of the main reasons for conflict.  How complex differences between people can be managed, harnessed, and transformed to constructively advance humanity is a daunting question for us all.

The truth is that war and violence are still with us and the extraordinary technological advancement of this age has not eliminated the cruelty of human towards human. Globalisation has evidently failed to dispel the fears and insecurities of many people around the world. Indeed, globalisation has brought different cultures closer together than ever before. People now experience different cultures physically and/or virtually but the high magnitude of interconnectedness experienced in the world in this age often accelerates conflict by bringing various cultures into collision with each other. (‘Conflict’ not necessarily meaning violence but what happens when two or more actors pursue incompatible outcomes, but believe that their interests or goals are just).

In the second half of the 20th century dependency theorists like Raoul Prebisch, Ander Gunder Franck and Samin Amin warned against the likely outcomes of unbalanced development in the world. Their predictions are now dawning on us. For instance, in Africa and parts of the Middle East, increased poverty has fuelled armed conflicts, thereby surging the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. People in third-world countries, particularly in Africa, still have a strong desire to move to Western countries in search of a better life. According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, an estimated 123,300 people attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe through unconventional means, and about 3,231 of them were reported dead. These are figures for the year 2021 alone. The impact in Western countries of increased immigration has indirectly led to the rise of nationalist groups in these countries.

Since the end of the Cold War in 1990, the amount of interstate warfare has reduced significantly, while the number of internal conflicts has increased. The past 15 years in particular have seen an overall deterioration of peace in the world. The number of armed conflicts in the world is surging, and 90% of the casualties in these conflicts are reported to be civilian deaths, while more than 80 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. According to the Global Humanitarian Overview, currently about 274 million people need humanitarian assistance or protection. Since 2014, the African Union (AU) has been struggling to fulfil one of it’s goals of Silencing the Guns in Africa campaign by 2020. Now this deadline has been extended to 2030. But how will this be achieved?

What lessons can we learn from international cooperation?

People should not think it is a coincidence that interstate wars have reduced so drastically. Warfare between nations has plagued European history for centuries, and it was the starting point for all two world wars. Since the end of World War II, however, the countries within the European Union have learned how to work together constructively to create flourishing economies, which requires the participation of all the member states.

Many people appear to overlook the vital role an organisation can play in preventing international conflicts by constructing a community of nations to dialogue and understand one another. It’s here one can see the strong correlation between peace and development. Despite the numerous issues affecting the European Union (EU), it seems inconceivable today that one member state would wage war against another. The EU has succeeded in establishing a platform where all member nations are heard and treated with respect. This was the main justification for awarding it the 2012 EU Nobel Peace Prize. It’s important to recognise this success and build on its model of intercultural understanding.

It would be wrong to underestimate the result of cooperation between countries in the modern world as it is the major reason we can safely travel to another country. It is also the reason why international events, be they cultural, economic, or sporting, can be organised efficiently and without major incidents. International trade and the pace of globalisation are largely the result of international cooperation. The disruption caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine that we are experiencing today is just a glimpse of why international cooperation should not be taken lightly.

What is the cause of conflict in the world?

Unfortunately, while multiculturalism has been promoted on the international stage, especially among states, it has woefully failed at the national level, especially in communities. We have long passed the era of absolutism when people were forced to think the same way, have the same religion and speak the same language. With the extraordinary levels of migration that have been going on for decades, it is evident that there is nothing like a homogenous society in the contemporary world.

It is in these communities where intercultural as opposed to monocultural – understanding must be fostered. Instead, the cross-cultural setting in most countries in the world has made people of different cultures live together but grow apart at the same time, as evidenced in the rise in identity-based conflicts in the world. Political scientists now talk of identity politics dominating all aspects of our lives, having largely replaced the old right–left polarity. It is said that 1.5 billion people live in countries with low intercultural dialogue where global challenges such as absolute poverty, terrorism and forced displacement are more prevalent.

In this regard, identity awareness and intercultural sensitivity cannot be ignored by governments, organisations and companies, especially in this digital age. We must recognise the reality of our diverse societies and work to build trust among different groups to promote peaceful coexistence and prosperity. For societies to thrive economically, positive peace should be perceived through better inclusion, equality and social justice. This kind of positive peace is only possible if people are understood in their diversity and are encouraged to learn from each other.

For an inclusive peacebuilding strategy…

As the saying goes, violence breeds violence. If human actions are the leading cause of environmental deterioration and a threat to humankind, violence is likewise a threat. If all the international institutions, particularly Western organisations, are more resolute in promoting the campaign for all humans to work together to “save the planet”, ironically reminding us of how their “civilising” mission of the 19th century became a colonial agenda, they must look back at their misleading messages of the past and humbly learn to work together with others to promote peace. Humility builds bridges, while pride builds walls. As vital as it is to protect the environment for future generations, so too is it essential to safeguard the human inhabitants of the earth. They must be protected from all harm. If an inclusive approach is needed in our efforts to prevent environmental degradation, then the envisioned end of wars and armed conflicts should also adhere to this pattern.

With humility the West may learn a great deal from a variety of cultures and their traditional practices of environmental protection in Africa, India, precolonial Australia and elsewhere. Human resources are the most valuable resources in the world, as it is our minds that transform the earth’s raw materials into products: human beings are the means and end of development. Our ability to meet the demands of humanity is the bedrock of survival. The implication of this is that understanding people and what influences their actions is essential to our survival. Since culture is what defines a person’s identity, it must be looked upon seriously.

Numerous studies demonstrate that cultural diversity stimulates creativity and productivity in the corporate world. Culture also defines our perspectives on peace, business, the environment and progress. The more we incorporate diverse cultures in addressing global concerns, the more inclusive, harmonious and peaceful world we will create for future generations. It is by these means that we can save the planet and thrive as a species. As Peter Mousaferiadis puts it, “United We Stand, Diversified We Grow.”

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