There is growing buy-in to the value of being connected to each other, and of uniting together in missions that cross cultural, racial and geographic boundaries. Whether it’s China and Africa talking about how they can work together, or Somali migrants sharing with the local community why some migrants don’t have legal documentation, the value of this crosscutting communication is immeasurable. You will find in these articles many inspiring examples of people working together, and we welcome you to send us examples of your own to share in future newsletters.
Building peace is not always about regional, ethnic or religious conflicts – one everyday opportunity to practice solidarity and working together comes in the form of gender-based issues. It was highlighted in a Making All Voices Count meeting, focussing on gender, that men and women often come to occupy different roles and this means that they experience conflict differently and can also contribute differently to peace building. However, patriarchal systems have tended to silence women’s voices, and have therefore failed to adequately address women’s needs, and have missed out on the valuable contributions that women can make.
At a conference organised by the Somali Embassy in South Africa, in honour of Somali women, we saw the men and women present taking this principle seriously as they addressed the unique challenges that Somali women face. The men present encouraged the idea of strengthening the South African Somali Women’s Network (SASOWNET), saying that women are the bedrock of society, and that when women become empowered, the whole community and future generations become empowered.
We have already seen the power of giving a voice to the marginalised, and creating a platform for people to speak to each other. At the public discussion that the ASC held as part of the Africa Month activities, the issue of illegal immigrants was raised as a particular point of tension for some members of local communities. At this point one of the women from the South African Somali Women’s Network responded to explain how language can become a barrier for immigrants when attempting to get the permits they need, which is why many end up without legal papers. This discussion was a living example of a point made at another event attended by ASC members, the Anti-Xenophobia Imbizo, that “since resistance appears to be on both sides, it was said that integration is a two-way dialogue to which both South Africans and migrants should be open and committed to learning from one other, embracing the unity of being African and sharing the same continent.”
The public discussion was one of several events that we were involved in, aimed at addressing questions about xenophobia, immigrants and refugees. In a seminar about “violence and the immigrant”, speakers talked about some of the experiences that immigrants have when they are seen as a threat, and also some possible explanations as to why immigrants get targeted. For example, the rise of a nationalistic outlook, or mistakenly holding immigrants responsible for the lack of services and opportunities that should be provided by other bodies, or even the concept of “sacrificial bodies”, which is the idea that certain people, including immigrants, have come to be classed as disposable in public discourse. For example, entitling an operation that has seen hundreds of migrants arrested “Fiela” or “sweep”, has connotations of cleaning the polluting migrants from the communities.
The Africa Day celebration held by the ASC and partners took place in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, which was one of the sites of where recent outbreaks of violence involving immigrants had taken place. The purpose of the event was to show how people of diverse backgrounds can come together and actually celebrate the difference, and how by joining together and collaborating we can achieve far more for everyone than we would on our own, or worse – fighting each other. The event started with a solidarity march, with people holding high banners with solidarity messages, and flags from every country in Africa. Following this was a celebration in which artists performed cultural dances, and speakers addressed the crowd on issues of xenophobia and the need for solidarity.
In Burundi, the pre-election climate has lead to outbreaks of violence, and people fleeing in fear. There is a widespread lack of access to information about what is happening, and the mood is tense. But in the face of all this, some of our partners are planning to hold a celebration in honour of the declaration of peace in the world, inspired by the African Solidarity Caravan initiative and Africa Day celebration. They will discuss ways to avert the threatening crisis in Burundi, and seek to influence policymakers to address the needs of the people. In the name of African solidarity, they will also stand in support of other struggles on the continent, calling for regional integration and the release of political prisoners in Swaziland.
Another important tool for promoting African heritage and the value of this colourful and diverse continent, are arts and culture initiatives. The African Union Commission drew attention to this at a recent series of meetings, highlighting the centrality of arts and culture to development in Africa. Aspiration 05 of AU Agenda 2063, states the desire for “An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics”. There was recognition that cultural artifacts, heritage sites, and contemporary arts and culture trends are integral to developing a collective African identity.
In the world we live in, not only are countries in a region affected by what’s happening around them, but the whole world is inter-connected, with struggles or agendas in one area impacting all others. In the launch of the book “Promoting Progressive African Thought Leadership”, these interconnections were explored in depth, situating Africa in the larger context of what is happening in the world. Some of these relationships are underhanded, detrimental and exploitative, and there is a need to transform these dynamics. However, there is also positive potential in building solidarity networks globally, such as by linking with non-violent movements across the world.
Africa and China have been collaborating through the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), discussing how united efforts can be of mutual benefit when negotiating around the new set of Sustainable Development Goals that are set to shape major development processes over the next 15 years. These collaborations can serve to strengthen the voice of developing countries in shaping global relations, and in laying the groundwork for truly transformational peace and development initiatives.
In Myanmar, where the tensions of a country in transition are being experienced, ASC counterpart CPCS is rolling out a series of community dialogues to encourage people to interact in a safe space. According to the draft of the People’s Dialogue handbook, “We tend to think that if people express different views then these differences lead to disagreement, argument and sometimes even conflict and war. In a dialogue this is not how we approach differences. Different views are seen as a valuable source of learning. Differences become an opportunity for people to explore why they are seeing things differently and look for ways to learn from each other.”