Violence Around Us
The prevalence of violence as a destructive form of human behaviour has sadly become a recurrent episode of our lives, “a human universal,” according to political anthropologist Jon Abbink. In this context of widespread violence and growing insecurity, we are called upon to bear witness to God’s kingdom of love and peace. This ever-growing volatile situation presents the greatest challenge to our ministry today. The increased frequency and lethality of violent incidents in many conflict zones around the globe – Yemen, Gaza, Ukraine, and particularly in Africa – can no longer be ignored. This trend is deeply concerning because prolonged exposure to indiscriminate violence has several detrimental consequences, particularly for children and women who are susceptible to harm.
According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report, in 2023, over 15 armed conflicts, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso, and South Sudan, have caused a humanitarian crisis and human tragedy with untold suffering to refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable civilians Unfortunately, it is common for violence and insecurity to be intertwined, as an increase in one often leads to a corresponding increase in the other. The constant apprehension of potential danger or harm creates an atmosphere of anxiety and insecurity. When people face greater threats to their safety and well-being, they tend to experience heightened levels of insecurity. Against this backdrop, our time’s moral challenge is to succumb to the allure of increased violence as the preferred problem-solving mechanism. It poses a fundamental question for world security and the survival of humanity.
In this respect, conflict experts define violence as a social, physical, or psychological act against oneself, another person, or a community that is intended to cause harm, injury, deprivation, death, or damage to people or property. It is a form of aggressive behaviour that can manifest in various ways, such as physical violence (e.g., hitting, punching), verbal violence (e.g., threats, insults), emotional or psychological violence (e.g., bullying, manipulation), sexual violence (pedophilia or rape), or systemic violence (embedded institutional injustice). According to statistical data and the existing body of literature, religious and political factors are the primary drivers of widespread violence. For instance, politics and religion are the primary sources of violence and insecurity in Africa. They breed and nurture “structural violence, ” which promotes unequal power relations made up of exploitive and unjust social, political, and economic systems that prevent people from realizing their full potential.
Furthermore, we have witnessed over the past decade a dramatic rise of new radical forms of political and religious violence, with their acute expressions culminating in transnational organized crime networks and brutal terrorism. Through acts of terrorism, religious radicals, Salafist-jihadi-activists, and violent extremists use coercive means, threats, or ideologically motivated violence to achieve their sectarian, religious, political, and ideological objectives. North Africa, the Sahel, the Great Lakes, and the Horn of Africa have been particularly affected. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their home-grown affiliates Boko Haram and Al-Shabab have forced 1.7 million people from their homes, according to the Global Terrorism Index (2020). Collectively, a whopping seven million people are affected by the correlates of terrorism in Africa, and most of them (women and children) remain very apprehensive about their safety today.
The Way forward: Standing for Peace and Justice
The pervasive violence that permeates our societies and the world in general can be disheartening and leave us feeling powerless. Nevertheless, we must resist the urge to surrender to despair and resignation. To this end, a triple response mechanism is necessary to safeguard the dignity of human life and promote the welfare and safety of all individuals. The primary duty lies with elected leaders and government officials, who must fulfill their responsibility-to-protect (R2P) obligations and the rule of law by implementing well-crafted policy packages that prioritize the security of vulnerable populations. These policy initiatives must address a wide range of good governance and accountability issues, including socioeconomic inequality, poverty, unemployment, systemic discrimination, and marginalization.
The second level of responsibility falls upon traditional chiefs and religious leaders, who must moderate radical views and religiously motivated extremism in the public and political spheres. They are faithful guardians of ancestral heritage and sacred traditions of communities. It is incumbent on them to promote education on non-violence and an authentic culture of peace.
Interfaith initiatives can offer peacebuilding programs to foster inclusive dialogue, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence among people of different ethnic groups and faith traditions. In conflict-ridden areas, investing in restorative justice initiatives is crucial to help mend broken community bonds and foster mutual comprehension to successfully reintegrate offenders into society.
The third step entails personal commitment and involvement. U.S. President John F. Kennedy once eloquently stated, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” This is particularly important for messengers of the gospel in a world in need of peace and reconciliation.
The call to be peacemakers is not optional; on the contrary, it is an essential part of the Gospel message for our time. Blessed are we if we heed this call for God’s children in need of peace and security today.
By: Barthelemy Bazemo (M.Afr.)