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Traditional Cures For Modern Conflicts: Why Africa Must Return To Indigenous Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution


The African continent has been witnessing a distressing surge in violent conflicts, despite the best efforts of international organizations and Western approaches to conflict resolution. This position paper, authored by Jude Obuseh and presented by the Conflict Prevention and Peace Building Initiative (CPPBI), a Nigerian-based NGO, asserts that it is imperative to reevaluate contemporary conflict resolution methods and re-embrace traditional African mechanisms as an integral part of a holistic strategy for mitigating violence and fostering lasting peace.

I. Introduction

Africa, a continent of diverse cultures and histories, is currently facing an alarming escalation of violent conflicts (Adeniran & Tella, 2019). These conflicts have profound socio-political and economic ramifications, challenging the very foundations of stability and progress in the region (Assefa & Muwanga, 2015). It is imperative to critically assess the efficacy of existing conflict resolution approaches and consider a return to indigenous African mechanisms for resolving disputes and fostering sustainable peace.

II. Background: Western Approaches to Conflict Resolution

The prevailing Western models of conflict resolution have undeniably played a pivotal role in managing conflicts worldwide (United Nations, 2015). These models, rooted in principles of international law and diplomacy, prioritize formal negotiation processes, structured agreements, and the deployment of peacekeeping missions (United Nations, 2015). While undeniably valuable, these approaches face significant limitations when applied in the African context.

III. Indigenous African Mechanisms: An Overview

Indigenous African mechanisms for conflict resolution are deeply rooted in centuries-old customs, values, and traditions (Mamdani, 2001). They are characterized by a profound respect for community involvement, restorative justice, and cultural sensitivity (Mwagiru & Wario, 2017). These mechanisms, often facilitated by local leaders, elders, and affected parties, offer a unique perspective that is inherently embedded in the communal and relationship-focused ethos of African societies.

IV. Cultural Disconnect and Conflict Resolution

One of the fundamental challenges of applying Western approaches in Africa lies in the cultural dissonance between these methods and the societal fabric of the continent (Mazrui, 1986). The emphasis on individualism, legalistic procedures, and expedient solutions often clashes with the communal and relationship-centric nature of African societies (Mamdani, 2001). This disconnect hinders the effective resolution of conflicts and necessitates a reevaluation of the prevailing paradigms.

V. Lack of Local Ownership and Legitimacy

Western models of conflict resolution frequently sideline traditional leaders, community elders, and cultural practices, resulting in a lack of buy-in from affected communities (Assefa & Muwanga, 2015). This absence of local ownership undermines the legitimacy of peace agreements and perpetuates a cycle of conflict and instability (Ukiwo, 2006). Recognizing the critical role of these stakeholders is paramount in achieving sustainable and community-driven resolutions.

VI. Failure to Address Root Causes

A prevalent critique of Western conflict resolution models is their tendency to focus on managing the symptoms of conflict rather than delving into the deeper, underlying causes (Ukiwo, 2006). Issues such as historical grievances, resource disputes, and identity conflicts often remain unaddressed, perpetuating cycles of violence (Francis, 2007). To forge a path towards enduring peace, it is imperative to prioritize the resolution of root causes.

VII. Case Studies

The Rwandan Gacaca Courts: In the aftermath of the devastating 1994 genocide, Rwanda implemented the Gacaca Courts, a traditional mechanism wherein local communities convened to discuss and resolve conflicts (Mamdani, 2001). This approach allowed the nation to process a backlog of cases, promote truth and reconciliation, and facilitate healing within the community.

The Niger Delta Peace Process: In Nigeria’s volatile Niger Delta region, traditional leaders and elders played a pivotal role in mediating the protracted conflict between militant groups and the government (Nwafor, 2018). Their engagement and mediation efforts were instrumental in building trust, securing agreements, and ultimately reducing violence while facilitating equitable resource-sharing.

VIII. Recommendations

The Conflict Prevention and Peace Building Initiative (CPPBI) advocates a multi-pronged approach to address the increasing scenarios of violence in Africa:

Incorporate Indigenous African Mechanisms: Governments, international organizations, and NGOs should integrate traditional African mechanisms into conflict resolution strategies, placing emphasis on community involvement, restorative justice, and cultural sensitivity (Adeniran & Tella, 2019).

Capacity Building: Invest in capacity-building initiatives for traditional leaders, mediators, and local communities to enhance their conflict resolution skills and mediation capabilities (Mwagiru & Wario, 2017).

Research and Documentation: Encourage rigorous research and documentation of indigenous African mechanisms to gain deeper insights into their effectiveness and adaptability in diverse contexts (Nwafor, 2018).

Partnerships: Foster partnerships between Western and African institutions to develop hybrid conflict resolution models that draw on the strengths of both approaches, ensuring comprehensive and culturally attuned interventions (Assefa & Muwanga, 2015).

IX. Conclusion

The reevaluation and reintegration of traditional African mechanisms for conflict resolution are not a retreat from progress, but rather a dynamic step forward towards enduring peace and stability (Galtung, 1990). By blending the strengths of indigenous approaches with contemporary strategies, Africa can forge a path towards a more harmonious and prosperous future for all its peoples.

X. References

  1. Adeniran, T., & Tella, A. (2019). Traditional Conflict Resolution Mechanisms in Africa and the Emerging Challenges. In The Palgrave Handbook of African Philosophy (pp. 251-268). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Assefa, H., & Muwanga, N. (Eds.). (2015). Peace and Security in Africa: From the OAU to the African Union. Ohio University Press.
  • Francis, D. J. (2007). African Traditional Conflict Resolution Practices: A Comparative Study of the Igbo and Yoruba Ethnic Groups of Nigeria. Journal of Black Studies, 37(2), 275-296.
  • Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3), 291-305.
  • Mamdani, M. (2001). When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton University Press.
  • Mazrui, A. A. (1986). Political Values and the Educated African: A Discussion of Traditional and Modern Ideas of Social Change and Their Implications for Higher Education. Comparative Education Review, 30(4), 563-579.

The Conflict Prevention and Peace Building Initiative (CPPBI) is a Nigeria-based non-governmental organization with a commitment to fostering constructive relationships among individuals, groups, and political entities across various boundaries, including ethnic, religious, class, national, and racial divisions.

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