In Africa, perhaps more than any other continent in the world, many different types of peace struggles are going on, all at various stages of advancement. This is because of the oppression and injustices that abound in Africa. Some groups fight political injustice while others pursue economic, literacy, racial and religious campaigns.
As coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's (IFOR) Africa Project, my work involves building contacts with these groups, helping them get to know each other (for Africa is a vast continent), and making available relevant peace literature. There is a lot to learn from Africa, where there is a tradition of the peaceful solving of problems between individuals and groups. I collect such practical examples from, say, East Africa, and make these known to our contacts all over the continent.
Thus many other groups get fresh ideas of how to tackle their problems. The project is also developing a packet of articles on nonviolence, from an African perspective, for groups. Some may appear in a special African issue of IFOR magazine, Reconciliation International.
Some of our contact groups are purely religious, while others fight specific injustices. In Kenya there is a refugee group of students from Namibia who are mainly interested in getting books, pamphlets and news about the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Other groups in Kenya are working to help refugees become more self-reliant. This group says that African refugees have been "reduced to beggars.... Among other things, misery has struck them to the point of devastating their inner self."
In Uganda, groups are more concerned about rebuilding a society that has not been at peace for decades. Values have been eroded and most children do not know what peace is. So Ugandan groups have chosen to work with children, feeling this is the way to guarantee better future citizens. Last August peace groups organised thousands of Ugandan children's participation in the International Peace Lantern Floating Project. Paper lanterns bearing the children's names, photographs and messages for peace were floated on rivers and streams, to commemorate the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
In Zimbabwe some groups work with rehabilitating guerrillas, while others lead literacy campaigns in villages. These groups also run special programmes for women that train them in primary health care and how to become community leaders. In November of last year a peace group held a race in Harare in which over 300 athletes, some of them in wheelchairs, participated. It was held in honour of an international anti-apartheid conference taking place at the same time.
In Nigeria, a group of village farmers meet a few times a week to study the principles of nonviolence. They are trying to become more self sufficient in food production. There are others who have conducted peace seminars in Nigerian schools, colleges and for organisations.
Peace groups can have special problems organising in Africa. Last year in Zimbabwe a contact group planned to stretch a peace ribbon between the US and USSR embassies in Harare, again to commemorate Hiroshima day. Fifty minutes before the demonstration, riot police showed up with orders from the Minister of Police prohibiting the action. The IFOR affiliate in Zaire has sent letters of protest through the IFOR office in Alkmaar to the governments of Guatemala, Israel, and Libya. The replies, forwarded again through IFOR, are sometimes opened once they reach Zaire.
ALMOST ALL OF these groups face another drawback: the lack of funds.They depend largely on local donations. To carry out their work they need to travel, and this costs money. Others need materials such as textbooks and audio-visual equipment. Some groups have had to abandon efforts to open an office due to lack of funds.
Western peace groups can be helpful in this. The Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation donated a much-needed English dictionary to the Zaire affiliate, and a typewriter was sent from the U.K. Help is welcomed, but the groups do not want to lose their objective of becoming as self-reliant and independent as possible. Western groups who wish to help with donations or material aid should contact the IFOR office.
Some groups have also expressed the wish of having nonviolence teachers come to Africa and carry out training programmes in nonviolence. There is great hope in Africa, that as long as people maintain their desire to live in peace within themselves and also with one another, that the goal they all work towards will be realised.
By Stella Sabiiti. Ms. Sabiiti, originally from Uganda, has worked with the All Africa Conference of Churches in Nairobi and is currently coordinating the Africa Project of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Contact: International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Spoorstraat 38, 1815 BK Alkmaar, NETHERLANDS. 072 12 30 14.
UNDERNEATH THE OFFICIAL structures in Communist countries there is a new ferment. Independent citizens' groups in the East-bloc have challenged their governments' monopoly on foreign contacts by convening a series of international seminars. The authorities deeply dislike such gatherings, but so far have not found a politically feasible way to prevent them.
On November 22-23 about 120 people from 17 countries attended a seminar in Budapest called "Gorbachev's Reforms and the Prospects for Europe." Over half the participants were Hungarian. For the first time since 1956 unofficial Hungarian society could meet openly for sustained political discussion.
Most Westerners were from the peace movement. The Hungarians covered a wide spectrum, ranging from members of the democratic opposition and national populists to students from Eotvos University's College of Law, who co-sponsored the seminar with the West Berlin-based European Network for East-West Dialogue. Prominent independent Hungarian intellectuals such as Gyorgy Konrad, Miklos Haraszti and Janos Kis were principal speakers.
There was remarkable representation from other Communist countries. Two members of the Charter 77 movement managed to get to Budapest, as did a leader of Poland's independent Freedom and Peace movement. Two East German and six Yugoslav activists also came.
The East European seminars might not have happened except for the emergence of a new generation of activists. Older oppositionists participated, but it was the young who took the initiative. Youthful audacity proved very useful in countering the authorities. In Budapest, students were threatened with expulsions. Meeting room reservations were cancelled just before the first day of the seminar. A warning came that foreign participants might be arrested. In the past, international political meetings were always under the aegis of state-controlled institutions like the Hungarian Peace Council. As the seminar approached, the Peace Council head asked to be added to the organising committee. He also offered meeting rooms. The students rejected both: the seminar was independent, not up for state cooptation. The seminar went on undisturbed in a music school hall that had been secretly reserved.
A central issue in both Poland and Hungary is conscientious objection. There is no alternative civilian service in any Eastern country. Poland's Freedom and Peace movement began in 1985 when several young men refused to take the military oath that states loyalty to the Warsaw Pact. In Hungary a number of religious and political objectors are in prison. Last year the United Nations declared conscientious objection a basic human right, and activists from Eastern countries are cooperating to win this right, with help from sympathetic Westerners.
The situation is changing, though many in the West don't realise it. The change began in Eastern Europe long before glasnost and continues in the USSR where, despite harassment, independent groups are proliferating. Hope for lasting change lies in these courageous initiatives from below.
By Joanne Landy, Director of the New York-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West: P.O. Box 1640, Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025. 212 724 1157.