Peace Education in Africa from a Cultural Perspective

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Cases Studies from Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia
A Study Undertaken for UNESCO By UPEACE AFRICA PROGRAMME, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (November/December 2013)

Introduction 1.1


There is consensus amongst African scholars in the area of conflict prevention and resolution that Africa possesses various cultural and traditional systems that can be used as educational resources and good practices in peace education and conflict prevention/resolution programmes. The implementation of the Gacaca model in post genocide Rwanda as a traditional method of post‐conflict justice and the “Mato Oput” model as a method of post conflict peace building following the more than two decades of war in Northern Uganda has highlighted the importance of cultural practices in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building in the Eastern African region.  

However most of these cultural/traditional practices of conflict prevention/resolution and peace building have not be adequately studied and disseminated to increase the possibility of replication or the promotion of other cultural methods in other parts of the continent to achieve long lasting peace.

The UNESCO constitution states in categorical terms that “since wars begin in the minds of men women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defenses of peace must be constructed”.1 Therefore the construction of peace through education must include the harnessing of relevant cultural and traditional perspectives to complement western methods of conflict resolution predominantly employed in the educational sphere and practice in the area of conflict prevention, management and resolution.   

Contemporary Africa is faced with the reality of numerous evolving states that have to grapple with the inevitability of conflict. On their own, the fledgling institutions in these states cannot cope with the huge demands unleashed by everyday conflict. This therefore calls for complementarity in the teaching of peace education.

The continuing role and influence of traditional leadership and traditional conflict and post conflict peace building system in modern Africa is hard to miss. Nonetheless, the relationship between the state and traditional institutions should not be taken for granted for it is a contested terrain fraught with complexities. While traditional institutions are rooted in the culture and history of African societies, the modern state exerts a large amount of influence on these institutions .

In some cases the traditional institutions are politicized and have become instruments of propagating state ideology. In other cases, especially where they express dissent with the state, these traditional institutions have often been undermined or usurped by the state. However, the uniqueness of traditional institutions, by virtue of their endogeneity and use of local actors, cumulatively enables them to either resist or even sometimes subvert the state. These traditional institutions and mechanisms at other points have been adopted by the state when it fits the circumstances. These mechanisms also known as endogenous conflict resolution systems continue to demonstrate their relevance in post‐ conflict states. This is especially true in the context of weak states that are overwhelmed with ongoing state‐building processes.

Therefore in order to further entrench the value and importance of traditional and cultural methods of conflict resolution to complement western methods, it is immensely important to document best practices undertaken by African personalities (Women and men) and identify examples of cultural heritage sites that could serve as sites for future generations in the countries under study. While undertaking this study, it is important to note that, studies of traditional methods of conflict resolution are not a new phenomenon. In addition to identifying the traditional methods of conflict resolution, the study will also identify proverbs, legends and tales conveying the values of a culture of peace. However, the extant literature on these institutions and processes is inward‐looking, and often presented as if they existed in a political and structural vacuum.

1.2 Methodology

The four case studies countries, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia  geographically are situated in the Greater Horn of Africa that remains one of the most conflict ridden  regions of the world. in the Greater Horn of Africa region namely: Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia. The methodology employed is an in‐depth documentary study of two traditional and cultural methods of conflict resolution in each of the countries under review. The documentary studies were supplemented with interviews with people substantially knowledgeable on issues of indigenous methods of conflict resolution in the countries under study. The importance of the interviews was for the purposes of data validation considering that most African traditional practices are inherently oral in nature. The interviews enabled the feeling of gaps in literature and enabled the researcher to obtain an in‐depth understanding of the various cultural and traditional methods of conflict resolution in the different countries and how they relate to each other. In examining these practices the study looks at the implication of ethnic group formations, compositions, resettlements, social welfare characteristics, materiality and spirituality in relation to conflict prevention/resolution and post conflict peace building.

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