Conflicts call for more peace education in universities

A continent steeped in conflicts and struggling to achieve development for its people should provide sustainable support for universities to attain peace, says Paul Omojo Omaji, a professor of criminology and former vice-chancellor of Salem University, Lokoja in Nigeria.

“Peace is priceless in any developmental equation. Where there is no peace there is no development,” Omaji told a webinar organised by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and hosted by the Association of African Universities on 30 November.

Africa is known for frequent conflicts, and needs peace. Conflict is endemic to every society, and of itself is not necessarily bad – but becomes so when it graduates to violence and ceases to be useful.

Of the 50 poorest countries in the world, about 33 are in Africa, and the continent ranks low on indices of human endeavour and development.

Higher education is implicated in the lack of development, because in other parts of the world it has been critical in driving development in fields such as sciences. In Africa, challenges are often revealed through high levels of unemployed graduates.

Universities and peace

The higher education sector in Africa is well placed to contribute to peace, Omaji argued. The metaphor for development in Africa is unpredictability – but this could be changed with relevant expertise.

However: “It seems that the universities sector has in a way abandoned its original mandate to produce upright leaders, fostering a generation of leaders who are well rounded and have character and integrity that is useful to development,” Omaji said.

“Instead, higher education in Africa is grappling with the essence of education.”

Universities remain ivory towers that are significantly disconnected from the rest of society, industry-university linkages are poor and the engagement of universities with local communities is disheartening. “A lot of advances have been made, but we still have a long way to go.”

The responsibility for building a peaceful and enlightened society rests with higher education, Omaji said, and he acknowledged peace education efforts across the continent.

Peace education curricula have been built around four issues – peace enforcement, peace making, peace building and peace-keeping. “Peace building is the most challenging. We have to know what really happens after peace enforcement.”

Peace education history

Peace is the absence of war or direct violence, the prevalence of justice and development, the absence of structural violence, as well as respect and tolerance among people, and inner tranquility.

Post World War II provided a critical environment to cultivate peace using education. As the preamble to UNESCO’s 1945 constitution says: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

In the late 1940s, peace and conflict studies began to take shape as a discipline. In 1948 the first graduate programme in peace studies in the United States was developed by Gladys Muir at Manchester University, Indiana.

In the 1960s, as a result of the civil rights movement, resistance to structures of oppression grew and intellectual movements called for more peace. The World Bank began to accept peace development in its programmes.

Over the period, said Omaji, the basic characters of peace education emerged and they include law, political science, history, sociology, psychology and development studies.

Peace education has been institutionalised as a science concerned with causes and resolution of conflict. Today, peace education combines objective analyses and normative methods that are geared to translate ideas into practical steps to bring about peace.

Peace education in African universities

“If you consider the ideological environment, peace education is not foreign to Africa,” Omaji told the webinar. “Our forefathers had ways of conveying messages about it.”

The continent has well developed and tested indigenous methods of conflict management and resolution that must be taken into consideration in peace education.

There is no reason why universities cannot adapt indigenous initiatives like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from South Africa or the Gacaca courts – ‘justice amongst the grass’ – from Rwanda.

Staying peaceful requires a culture of peace and skills to solve conflicts constructively, said Omaji. Education (teaching and learning) encounters can take many forms.

People should be provided with knowledge that identifies and dismantles structural arrangements that produce and legitimise injustice, inequality and disharmony.

People should be empowered with skills in non-violent alternatives and managing conflict. The attitude of living in harmony with oneself, with others and with the natural environment, should be nurtured.

Omaji said types of peace education to be imparted must include conflict resolution training – focusing on the social-behavioural symptoms of conflict, and training individuals to resolve inter-personal disputes through techniques of negotiation and (peer) mediation.

Democracy education targeting political processes associated with conflict and advancing an increase in democratic participation and societies’ abilities to resolve conflict should be encouraged.

Human rights education should urge people to move closer to a peaceful global community in which all human beings can exercise personal freedoms and be legally protected from violence, oppression and indignity.

There would be healthy development and maturation of human consciousness if people were assisted to examine and transform their worldviews, which are acquired through cultural, family, historical, religious and societal influences.

The system must be structured to teach leaders to lead on peace, said Omaji, who is currently chief executive officer of Omaji Leadership Solutions and the Virtuous Leaders Development Network.

“The methods of delivery must be such that by the time students leave the lecture their attitudes must have changed.”

Teaching must be dynamic and students must learn something useful to their daily lives. If elicitative processes are encouraged, what is happening locally is studied, and students share their experiences, “whatever is prescribed from outside will be contextualised”.

Hegemonic discourses that presented peace education as new to Africa should be avoided, said Omaji, adding that ownership of programmes by local institutions would help their success. He condemned the ‘NGO-nisation’ of peace education as it resulted in half-baked and poorly implemented academic community programmes that were often not sustained.

There had been debate over whether peace education should be treated as a stand-alone or mainstream programme – and the verdict had been to integrate it into mainstream educational systems.

Governments must establish policies that encourage peace education, said Omaji.

He noted that in early 2000 the National Universities Commission in Nigeria had made peace studies mandatory for all universities as part of general studies. “There is no one model that can suit all countries, but they can learn from each other and adapt,” Omaji concluded.