If you want peace, you need to be familiar with conflict

Conflicts are inevitable in any human relationship. They are omnipresent and part of everyday life. We live in a society where the temptation to conflict and the desire for peace are closely related. Since conflict is natural and there is hardly any such thing as a life without conflict, it is crucial to be conscious of conflict in everyday life. Conflict is, therefore, normal since human beings are relational beings. It can destroy, just as it can build the unity of individuals or a human community. This is why it is so important to study all the parameters of conflict to reach a mutually beneficial consensus.

Conflict as a destabilising factor

Conflict implies disputes, anger, confrontation, disagreement, violence, tension, disharmony, confrontation, crisis, etc. With all these derivatives, this destabilising element disturbs the peace of human beings, the people, the community, and the nation. Unfortunately, it can devastate the social fabric, interpersonal relationships and the individual when it is not well managed. One of the most obvious negative aspects is the destruction that can result from painful experiences. Above all, it can be a source of demotivation and harmful when suspicion and mistrust prevail.

Conflict as a constructive factor

While conflict is generally considered to have negative consequences, as mentioned above, some observers argue that it can also be beneficial. Conflict can serve as a forum for socialisation, where people learn to live together by recognising that others are different from themselves. It also encourages people to question themselves and each other. Thus, it becomes a source of personal development. It can be an opportunity to coexist more effectively and restore harmony and cohesion. In Niger, for example, in January 2015, we witnessed a conflict situation that we accepted in faith and hope for a better tomorrow. It was the anti-Christian attack on the Church of Niger. Outraged by a Charlie Hebdo publication that caricatured the prophet Mohammed, some Muslims decided to take revenge by burning down churches, hotels and pubs. We watched helplessly as some forty churches were looted and set on fire. This experience enabled us to renew our friendship and fraternity with the entire Muslim community of Niger. Even though our churches were burnt down, our faith remained intact and renewed. We have remained firm and united in prayer so that love prevails over hatred and violence.  

A few factors that trigger conflict

The sources of conflict are diverse and complex. Cultural and political differences, religion, ideology, socio-economic inequalities, and communication styles significantly escalate conflict. The divergence of cultural contexts means that the interpretation of an attitude, a behaviour, a gesture, etc., does not necessarily have the same connotation from one community to another or individual to another. An in-depth understanding of these dynamics is essential for conflict prevention and resolution.

The Church’s commitment to peaceful conflict resolution

In the case of Niger, the message from the Bishops sums up the role and place of the Church in the peaceful resolution of conflicts: “We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, in deep communion with our communities that have been hit hard by the unexpected and tragic events that we have endured without knowing the reasons for them, have come to renew our friendship and fraternity with the entire Muslim community of our country. The powerful words of Jesus have always inspired us: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, wish good to those who curse you, pray for those who slander you’ (Lk 6, 27-28)”.

The Church has a vital role to play in mediation, reconciliation and the promotion of peace. Its leaders have often acted as neutral mediators in conflicts, facilitating dialogue between conflicting parties. Their moral authority and ability to transcend political and social divisions have, for the most part, helped create a safe negotiation space. These leaders must remind the faithful and invite them to follow the example of Jesus by forgiving others, even when this seems difficult or impossible. This entails the renunciation of anger, resentment and revenge. They will especially remember to invite them to be vigilant and responsible and not to give in to external influences that can weaken relationships and peaceful coexistence.

How can we, as witnesses to the Gospel, help to prevent and resolve conflicts?

In his fight against slavery, our founder Cardinal Charles Lavigerie said: “I am a man and injustice towards other men revolts my heart. I am a man, oppression is alien to my nature…”. As Missionaries of Africa and witnesses to the Gospel, we cannot remain indifferent to conflicts or run away from them. We must develop initiatives to preserve the peaceful coexistence, mutual respect for our convictions and conviviality that have always characterised our Society. It is up to us to engage in dialogue to understand more fully that our religious and ethnic diversities are riches that could contribute to consolidating our unity because “what brings us together is stronger than what divides us”.

By: Innocent Habimana, M.Afr.

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