Over the past three decades, the field of peace, security and conflict resolution studies has been gradually expanding all over the world. Numerous universities worldwide have launched undergraduate and graduate programmes in the field, with emphasis on conflict management, resolution and transformation, and with application to different levels of conflict, from interpersonal, community and organization levels to international and global levels.
Education in peace, security and conflict resolution has exposed students and young people to new perspectives, resulting in the development of their knowledge and skills on how to deal with conflict. These studies have also succeeded in instilling stronger values of peacemaking and peacebuilding, tolerance and multicultural understanding.
Several elements of education for peace and conflict resolution contribute to such healthy transformations:
- The pedagogy of peace and conflict resolution education is typically participatory and interactive. This allows for the exchange of experiences among students and professors, and for the introduction of peace and conflict resolution knowledge from a practical level.
- The focus on skills-building related to communication skills, problem-solving, negotiations and mediation positively influences students and youth, especially when simulations and role-plays apply to situations that they encounter in their own lives.
- The multicultural element of this education style opens youth and students’ eyes to the diverse approaches to peace and conflict resolution, and in doing so builds stronger values of tolerance and understanding across cultures.
The field of peace, security and conflict resolution education can further maximize the benefits to youth and students by preparing them to become the leaders of tomorrow and the agents of change today.
The following approaches can contribute to that end:
- Encouraging exchange programmes in which students and youth from different parts of the world can convene and share their academic and social experiences. Such approaches have proven to be effective in building cadres of peacemakers and peace advocates, especially among youth and students who are otherwise separated by conflicts.
- Implementing programmes whose focus is on building the capacity of youth and students to conduct education and training in the areas of peace and conflict resolution, and helping them find the venues to use such capacity in order to have a multiplier effect.
- Promoting the use of technology and new social media in building networks of youth and students of peace and conflict resolution programmes.
- Investing in the development of skills related to fundraising and project management in order to equip them with the skills necessary for the sustainability of their work after graduation.
- Emphasizing more rigorous research skills, including quantitative and qualitative skills, and ensuring that students and youth receive practical training on conducting such research.
Implications for Africa
Unfortunately, education for peace, security and conflict resolution is yet to develop adequately in Africa. There are very few universities in the continent that offer degrees or certificate programmes, compared to a growing number of such programmes in other parts of the world. The realities of the continent demonstrate that as much as there are factors that would hinder the accomplishment of the points listed above, especially among youth and students, there are many others which indeed confirm that the continent is conducive for efforts that would bring about stability, peace and development.
Programmes aiming at expanding and promoting a sound understanding and attainment of peacemaking skills and conflict resolution in Africa must attend to the following:
- “No self-sustainability, no peace!” should be a motto that drives the efforts of education for peace, security and conflict resolution in Africa. The entire continent continues to suffer from dependency on foreign aid and support, especially in areas related to peace and security. With such dependency comes a weakening of independent decision-making and formulation of national and continental interests. Academic efforts for education in areas of peace, conflict resolution and security in Africa must include dimensions of economic and financial independence as prerequisites for sustainable peace.
- Issues of gender, women’s oppression and discrimination require courageous academic approaches that would teach and promote how peaceful, non-violent advocacy and activism can contribute to eliminating such problems in Africa. Advocacy and activism in this regard need not divorce themselves from the cultural and religious heritage of the continent, but instead develop the appropriate methods from within, which would tackle these problems in a manner conducive to Africa’s cultural realities.
- Issues of violent religious extremism, and deep-seated misconceptions between adherents to different religions, are time bombs that either have already exploded, or could potentially explode, in parts of the continent if not addressed with scientific methods of conflict prevention and transformation. Engaging youth, women and communities in such efforts is critical for their success.
- Youth and students in Africa are gaining a stronger voice in public affairs via new social media. The use of media to promote peace, conflict resolution and dialogue should be an integral part of such educational efforts. The examples of social media use by youth and students can be alarming in terms of the expressed hostility and animosity between peoples of the continent. Such examples must be studied carefully, using appropriate and rigorous research techniques, in order to deconstruct their negative elements, and provide effective methods for change. This is particularly important in Africa given the negative legacy of how media was used during the Rwanda genocide. On the other hand, there are positive examples of how new social media and satellite TV programmes have emphasized healthy dialogue and a culture of peaceful coexistence between peoples of the region. Such programmes deserve a scientific analytical approach in order to expand the reach and effectiveness of their positive messages.
Amr Abdalla, PhD
Former Senior Advisor for Policy Analysis and Research, IPSS
Director of Assessment and Evaluation, Reform of Education in Muslim Societies, International Institute of Islamic Thought, USA
About this series
IPSS is celebrating its 10th year anniversary in 2017. As part of our celebrations, we invited select individuals who have contributed to the success of IPSS and who have also made an impact in the area of peace and security in Africa to contribute an article on the anniversary's theme: "The role of academic institutions in tackling the intellectual challenge potsed by Africa's peace and security dynamics".