UBUNTU: I AM BECAUSE YOU ARE; YOU ARE BECAUSE I AM

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As Ethiopia grapples with the reality of extinguishing extremism, Ubuntu the African philosophy declaring ‘I am because you are; you are because I am’, should be a prominent pillar of game plans to ensure sustained success. Ethiopia, known as a peaceful country before the battles began, has its hands full in a quest for solutions to myriad issues from health and food security to economic stability and peace.    The latter affects the former and none can wait. Simultaneous action is required and culture may prove to be a crucial lynch pin.  The 2021 Biennal Luanda Pan African Forum for the Culture of Peace themed ‘Contribution of Arts, Culture and Heritage to Peace’ explored current and traditional trends concerning “…arts culture and heritage interplays with conflict, reconciliation and efforts to build more peaceful societies in Africa.” They documented the role of “Natural heritage conservation, protection and promotion (as) a critical contributor to peace.”

A majority of the world’s most  extraordinary habitats and landscapes are found in Africa. This diverse natural heritage, filled with iconic flora and fauna, are heavily impacted by armed conflict and those tasked with protecting said are in the line of fire. The forum goes on to state,  “…written history and oral traditions are key to building a strong cultural identity. Shared values and ethic can act as endogenous mechanisms of conflict prevention and resolution in the continent, notably through intercultural and inter-generational dialogue. Preserving traditional practices enhances a sentiment of common identity within communities, and reinforces the role of individuals as guardians of their cultural and natural heritage … .”  Hence converging interests should inspire cohesion.

It is easy to identify problems and solutions on paper, the challenge comes with application. Rwanda is often a good gauge for Africa in terms of post conflict rebuilding and re-establishment of peace and social cohesion. In 2018, Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP) was launched in the Eastern Province of Rwanda with a focus on activities and a curriculum workshop with   “…cultural artists to inform the methodology, a training of trainers with educators to adapt the methodology to local and regional contexts, and a youth camp to train young people as facilitators working alongside the adult educators to develop drama clubs and to integrate the methodology into schools.” The peace building program integrates mental health awareness and support for participants with workshops, counselling and continuous support for MAP youth and trainers.  Working with several selected schools, cultural organisations, educators, and youth they designed and delivered the MAP methodology. Training was then further extended to youth and adult trainers, creating an  informed and synchronized  network.  Artists, educators, young people and civil society wish to use MAP to “inform the National Curriculum Framework in Music, Dance and Drama in Rwanda”. Their updated website provides the actual Psychosocial Module online at https://map.lincoln.ac.uk/2022/03/17/map-psychosocial-module/ .

Ethiopia, at the helm of this journey to sustained peace, has access to best practices in addition to local indigenous knowledge to eradicate extremism. Strategies, however, should include youth perspectives and implementation through the use of the arts for effectiveness.  Though the responsibility for peace and security rests on the government’s shoulders, messages are best promoted through artist influencers. GIZ recelled this impact in their 2020 annual report entitled Partnership for Impact. Working in tandem with the African Union (AU) on peace and security, one of five focal points, GIZ notes, “On the International Day of Peace…AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, launched the Pledge for Peace Campaign on Twitter and Facebook. High-ranking staff of the AU and other international organisations as well as influencers … encouraged citizens from all region of Africa to recognise their responsibility for more peaceful coexistence using the hashtag #MyPledgeForPeace. Musician, actor and peace activist Emmanuel Jal; Grammy-nominee Niniola; actress, TV and radio host Folu Storms; as well as South African singer Zoë Modiga, lent their voices…the first week, the campaign reached an estimated 22 million people.

The joint GIZ and Mali Ministry of Craft, Culture, Hotel Industry and Tourism’s post Mali military coup arts project, aimed to reduce “…radical Islamist influences threatening the traditional cohesion of Malian society and the freedom of cultural expression.” The young of the population were the most affected, so the program gave alternatives promoting tolerant and friendly traditions, hoping to diminish the spread of extremism. “Through opportunities for cultural expression, young people play an active role in combating extremism, in political participation, in strengthening social cohesion and in crisis prevention… (which) enables authorities such as the Ministry of Culture to carry out their role … in the interests of greater social cohesion and political participation… .” Ubuntu, I am because you are; you are because I am’ becomes more than a mantra as empowered and enlightened youth choose love over hate and the arts as a vehicle for prevention and preservation of peace.   

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.