If you take just a cursory glance at the headlines from Africa, it’s easy to get the impression that the continent is torn apart by wars, from Cote d’Ivoire to Darfur. Looking closely at the numbers, as the Uppsala Conflict Data Project does, a different story emerges. While Africa still hosts more major conflicts than any other continent (it shares this unhappy distinction with Asia), the number of these major conflicts is down from 11 in 1998 to 6 in 2004.
(The Uppsala project defines a “major” conflict as one – civil, or cross-border – that cause at least a thousand battlefield deaths over the life of the entire conflict. Some of the conflicts Uppsala lists as continuing have been largely quiet in recent years, though they’ve been bloody in the past.)
And even in the six major conflicts still taking place in 2004 – in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and two in Sudan – there have been major steps towards peace. And while international organizations like the UN can rightly take credit for peacekeeping efforts, much of the actual peacemaking has been the province of visionary Africans who’ve dedicated themselves to bringing conflicts to a close.
When I last saw Abraham McLaughlin in South Africa, he was ebullient about the project he was reporting, a set of profiles of African peacemakers. That series is featured in the Christian Science Monitor this week, and begins with a profile of Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo. Ordered by former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi to make peace in Sudan’s north/south civil war, Sumbeiywo did an astounding job of bringing both sides to the table… and ensuring that input from third parties was constructive rather than destructive. The series features Betty Bigombe’s efforts in Northern Uganda tomorrow, and Petronille Vaweka’s struggles in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday.
John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group contends that Sumbeiywo’s strategy for peacemaking might serve as a template for efforts across the continent: a strong, respected African leader backed up by senior envoys from relavent third party nations, plus lots and lots of face time, rather than brief visits from heads of state. Unfortunately, there are still opportunities to test this model, starting with the situation in Darfur.
I’ll be reading Abe’s series with interest this week and would invite other readers to comment about it here, if you’re so inclined, especially my East African readers…