A Peace of Africa

12  January 2012 A Peace of Africa is a new book (2011) written by David Zarembka, Director of the African Great Lakes Initiative. He is my host, along with his wife Gladys Kamonya. This book challenges the reader to look beyond the headlines and the slick advertisements with photos of emaciated starving children from Africa. Rather than appealing to some authoritative reference he elucidates his points with a wealth of examples from his long experience in Africa and his life-long commitment to peace-making. Here I found very important lessons about Africa and peace-making that are very important for me as I begin my volunteer work in Kenya.

He describes interesting cultural differences. For example, in the U.S. we have women’s rights, but not children’s rights. In Kenya children are given the right to make their own decisions from birth. Gladys’ niece Gloria was six when she decided she wanted to stay with Gladys and David, rather than her own parents. After one week her mother visited and asked if she wanted to return home and she said, “No,” until a few days later when she felt like returning home.


Zarembka debunks two stereotypes of Africans as “simple, happy, over-sexed, singing/dancing person” or “a superstitious, violent savage full of tribal hatreds”. He shows how the international media uses these underlying, unconscious beliefs of Americans to sensationalize their stories, which gives the impression that Africa’s problems are “based on flawed human characteristics … immune to improvement … reinforcing rather than solving the problems that do exist.”


One big issue in Africa is that when problems occur, only the emergency situation is resolved, not the underlying causes that continue to fester. When one group that has experienced oppression becomes the ruling group, they might use the same oppressive tactics. Both individuals and societies need healing work to recover from trauma. In the U.S. only the individual recovery is dealt with, but the community must heal as well and this only happens gradually over a long period of time.


The African Great Lakes Initiative has conducted trauma healing work in Burundi and Rwanda after the genocide that occurred in 1993. A team was trained at the Quaker Peace Center in South Africa where they had experience with the struggle to overcome apartheid and the truth and reconciliation work that followed. From that background, they developed the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities workshops that use the conflict resolution techniques of the Alternatives to Violence Projects (AVP), but found that the deep emotion trauma was more complex than just conflict resolution. The workshops are based upon the Quaker concept that there is good in everyone, that both the victims and the perpetrators of violence experience trauma and need healing, that healing from trauma requires that everyone’s inner good and wisdom be shared with others, and that trauma recovery in individuals and building peace in a community are connected, so both must be done simultaneously. Peace-making happens when revenge is supplanted with forgiveness, and forgiveness is something granted by the victim, whether the perpetrator asks for it or not.


I recommend this book highly because this perspective on peace-making can be applied everywhere. The examples given are heart-warming and inspiring, great lessons for all of us. The book  is available at Quakerbooks, Friends United Press, and <davidzarembka.com>.


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