COREVIP – Universities as peace-builders

African universities are joining the peace-building education movement, recognising its potential in conflict prevention and resolution, but they still have some way to go.

This trend is evident in studies to be presented at this week’s Conference of Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREVIP), held under the theme ''The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Promoting the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25)'' in Cairo, Egypt.

"African higher education institutions have significant roles in peace-building since they are centres of academia, research and community-development provisions, which can hardly be effective without peace," Endalew Fufa Qufi, researcher at Arsi University in Ethiopia, told University World News.

"African universities need to promote peace and to be agents producing citizens who can support nations [to climb] out of poverty," said Qufi who is the author of a study to be presented at the conference entitled “The place of peace-building in Ethiopian education: An integrative review on educational policy and practice".

Education as a frontline strategy

"My study suggests education as a frontline strategy to prevent the likely occurrence of conflict leading to violation of rights, the protection of people's rights and life during serious conflicts, and promotion of conflict resolution mechanisms,” Qufi said.

"I have tried to put down a model of conflict treatment and peace-building in my study which encompasses conflict prevention, protection strategies during armed conflicts, and promotion of peace-building techniques to a standard that can surpass ceasefire actions," Qufi said.

"The model also embraces peace literacy, inclusive diversity and social cohesion as inevitable components to be included in peace-building curricula."

Nashaat Edward Nashed, assistant professor at Alobur High Institute for Management Informatics in Egypt, told University World News that African universities are joining the peace education movement to spread a culture of peace which reflects positively on the economic situation of the country.

He said promoting competencies among teachers in particular could create conditions conducive to effective citizenship and democratic participation.

"Peace [studies] emanating from African universities have the potential to show results in the absence of rigidity, renunciation of violence, justice and development, and the exercise of respect and mutual tolerance," said Nashed, who is the author of another study to be presented at the conference entitled "Competitiveness of African higher education institutions in the development of peace economics from peace education.”

Conflict resolution versus prevention

While there are benefits to universities teaching peace studies, in reality the adoption of such an approach is limited, with more emphasis being placed on conflict analysis and resolution.

"As far as my experience is concerned, African higher education institutions have had little role [to play] in peace-building but more efforts in conflict analysis. Perhaps conflict analysis could be a way forward, but solutions lie in devising a means for peace-building," Qufi said. "Here, in Ethiopia, the university itself is a forum for ethnic conflict.”

According to Samuel Kale Ewusi, director of the Africa Regional Programme at United Nations University for Peace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the status of peace-building education on the continent remains relatively weak considering the shortage of funding for universities offering such courses.

International priorities

"More so, the international community has prioritised conflict resolution rather than conflict prevention," Ewusi said.

"However, with the limited funding for peace-building programmes, some African universities have established serious conflict resolution programmes."

These universities include the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Makerere University in Uganda, University of Jos in Nigeria as well as the University of Buea, Cameroon. The Africa Regional Programme of the United Nations University for Peace (UPEACE) has also played a leading role in building capacity for African institutions in the area of peace, conflict, governance and security, Ewusi said.

According to Ewusi, solutions implemented in resolving conflicts in Africa usually lack context, which is why there is a high relapse rate in Africa.

Universities fill the gap

However, he said African universities are beginning to fill the gap in terms of context specific research and building capacity in governments, civil society and NGOs working in conflict-torn regions.

"African universities have played a leading role in producing high-calibre personnel who have contributed to strengthening good governance, thus preventing conflicts," Ewusi said.

According to Ewusi, universities can be agents of peace-building by putting community service at the core and conducting relevant research which does not end up on shelves.