News / Africa

Searching for Peace Amid Violence

Kevin, a man accused of being a thief by civil servants at the Work Inspection office, lies in pain after being attacked by a man with a machete and sticks in plain view of others in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 18, 2014.
Kevin, a man accused of being a thief by civil servants at the Work Inspection office, lies in pain after being attacked by a man with a machete and sticks in plain view of others in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 18, 2014.

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Joe DeCapua
Despite the ongoing violence in such places as Central African Republic and South Sudan, one organization said the seeds of peace still exist in those countries. Search for Common Ground said while differences among people are inevitable, violence is not.
 
Search for Common Ground said it’s natural that differences in beliefs, values and backgrounds can lead to protracted and serious disagreements or arguments, which is actually the definition of conflict. But the NGO warns when individuals respond to those disagreements with anger, fear and hatred, then violence can erupt.
 
It said more than one and a half million people suffer violent deaths every year – with tens of millions of others uprooted by war.
 
Africa Senior Program Manager Mike Jobbins defines common ground.
 
“Ultimately, it’s about understanding what people agree on. What do we have in common with one another, so that we can better build a future together? It’s about understanding our differences, but also understanding where we’re the same. So you start from a point of what you can agree on.”
 
It’s not the same as compromise.
 
Jobbins said, “Compromise is one way of solving a problem. But until you can really understand what the other person wants you can’t get to a win-win solution. So, ultimately it’s about not only understanding how you can share the resources that you might have, but how you can also work together and build a better future and to grow the pie, not just how you divide it up.”
 
Much of the news from the CAR focuses on civilians being killed by Christian and Muslim militias and the displacement of thousands of Muslims.
 
“The situation that’s going on is absolutely horrible. The tragedy of the loss of life and the displaced is probably one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. But at the same time we have to understand that there are millions of people who wake up every day in the Central African Republic wanting to make a difference. And they want to see a different future for themselves, and they want to bring an end to this crisis. And so we see people working together,” he said.
 
Peace efforts in CAR involve clergy of different faiths and denominations working together – and a peace campaign featuring art by the youth of Bangui.
 
Jobbins said that campaigns are being planned for South Sudan where fighting between government forces and rebels has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.
 
“I was in South Sudan about a month ago meeting with communities and with the international community to think through how we can use media – and how we can use radio as an opportunity to drive positive discussions – and to drive the way that the conflict is being framed right now and mitigate some of the risks of increasing violence.”
 
Search for Common Ground has programs in about 30 countries around the world – most of them in Africa.
 
“Peace,” he said, “is probably the easiest product in the world sell. Everyone wants it. The question is creating an opportunity for people who do want it to build together.”
 
That means overcoming differences.
 
Jobbins said, “The divisions that exist between men and women – between different religions – between different political views – between different regions – those differences are common to every society, not just the ones where we see the violence. And ultimately, it’s not only about ending the negative aspects of conflict, but also recognizing that in those legitimate differences between people – that’s also the only source of progress. So it’s only through discussing our differences that we can hope to have any kind of development.”
 
Search for Common Ground said that peace is a long-term process that must win the trust of all parties – leading to safe, constructive and creative problem-solving.

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