When I stumbled upon peace studies as an academic discipline in 2003, I saw the myriad questions I had developed over a life time, some of which I was unaware of, begin to gel into an intelligible, coherent pursuit. I wondered why it had taken me five years into graduate school to learn of the existence of peace studies as a discipline. And had it not been for a dissertation research fellowship, I can not tell whether I would have become acquainted with the discipline, and gone ahead to adopt it as an intellectual and activist framework. What seemed even more peculiar was that it felt so natural and intuitive; I realized I had been using it all along, only I hadn’t called it peace studies. Five years later, I have come to regard it as indispensable for the way I understand the world and our attempts towards solutions to its intractable problems. The tell-tale moment came in 2004, during field work in
It was whilst I was in the field that I learned how to appropriate peace studies to make sense of the uMunthu/uBuntu imperative which lay at the center of the pursuit for local and global peace. In order to achieve this, I began thinking, it was necessary for peace studies to take
Berlowitz’s conclusion was that Eurocentric bias pervaded the field of peace studies, and he attributed the problem to an “ideological split” that represented differing historical experiences between Euro-Americans and African Americans. In explaining why Eurocentrism was a problem in peace studies, Berlowitz listed two main reasons: it distorted our view of peace studies and the peace movement, and it precluded any viable understanding or alliance between African Americans and Euro-Americans. For example, historical events such as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and anti-colonization were active topics of research and activism in the African American community, while they were paid less attention to in mainstream peace studies.
While Berlowitz’s main concern was the place of African American peace leaders and activists in the peace studies canon, the same questions are relevant regarding the place of African peace leaders and activists. In this quest, a much more comprehensive persuasion for Africans and African contexts in peace studies has been made by Matt Meyer, a founding member of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and co-convener of the World Resisters League, and Bill Sutherland, a co-founder of the Congress for Racial Equality, and a leading thinker and activist of Pan-Africanism. Not only have Matt Meyer and Bill Sutherland asserted the place of African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and other African leaders and activists in the study of peace and justice, they have also argued for the place of Pan-Africanism and African independence and anti-colonial movements as legitimate subjects of peace studies.
Bill Sutherland and Matt Meyer’s 2000 book Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation in
In his preface to the book, former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, states that Matt Meyer and Bill Sutherland’s work evokes uBuntu ideals. Tutu says Meyer and Sutherland begin to “develop a language that looks at the roots of our humanness beyond our many private contradictions” (p. xi). Tutu says Meyer and Sutherland challenge us to “better understand concepts often seen as opposed to one another—like nonviolence and armed struggle.” In so doing, they “help to focus our attention on the larger struggles we must still wage, united: for economic justice, for true freedom and equality, and for a world of lasting peace” (ibid.). Tutu goes on to inform us that Gandhi’s philosophy of soul force and nonviolence originated in a South African context, and “were based on some concepts he learned in South Africa,” during Gandhi’s stay there (xii).
Another African anti-colonial leader and activist who also believed in nonviolence as an effective approach was the first president of
In their discussions between Meyer and Sutherland and the now deceased first president of
Amongst African countries,
If we accept Berlowitz’s claim that African American peace leaders and activists, with the exception of MLK, are absent from peace studies, African leaders and activists are even more so. If we accept Sutherland and Meyer’s argument that the African leaders they write about in their book provide an African perspective to the global peace and justice movement, then it is fair to use Berlowitz’s questions to ask why African leaders and activists are not given the attention they deserve in the peace studies scholarship. The same goes for the philosophy of uMunthu.
Amongst the texts that constitute the peace studies canon, very few of them treat
The absence of African contributions to the global peace and justice movement poses two kinds of problems. The first problem is that of language and definition. On the one hand, the language I am most familiar with, Chichewa, does not have definitive terms for peace, violence, or nonviolence. Even in English, the best we can do to offer a response to violence is nonviolence, itself a negative formulation. And when we look at the definitions used in the literature, some of my students have a difficult time understanding why the problem of peace is worthy of their attention in a college classroom. They point to the difficulty of finding universal agreement on what peace entails as evidence that peace can not be achieved, and that therefore the study of peace itself is a futile, empty endeavor.
The second problem, like the first one, also deals with teaching peace studies. On the few occasions that African contexts get mentioned in the texts we use, students see a confirmation of the stereotypes they inherit about
It is a reasonable claim that peace and justice studies is well disposed to provide a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of Africa’s problems, but the discipline can not accomplish this when the knowledge of Africa’s contributions to global peace and justice remains as underdeveloped as it currently is. The current crop of university students who feel compelled to study marginalized societies will be much better served by a peace and justice studies approach that does not ignore injustices at home, and that offers an Africa that is an integral part of historical and contemporary efforts to promote global peace.