Between April 10-12, 2019, seven alumni of two SSRC programs—the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen)—joined some of the world’s leading thinkers, practitioners, and funders in the field of peacebuilding for a two-day high-level conference organized by Wilton Park in the United Kingdom. The theme of the meeting, “Next Generation Peacebuilding: new voices, perspectives, and approaches,” was a perfect fit for our APN- and Next Gen-supported projects as well as our lived experiences as scholars based in post-conflict and conflict-affected African countries.
The conference turned about to be two days of intense brainstorming on key challenges facing the study and practice of peacebuilding in Africa. This included discussions about the relationship between traditional and new or emerging peacebuilding actors on the continent, and how transnational and networked spaces, digital technologies, and social media can become avenues for renewing peacebuilding. Other issues that participants tackled include how to think of political spaces, organizations, and social movements as new voices and networks that should be recognized and engaged, not as outliers but as active collaborators with traditional peacebuilding actors to shape the future of conflict transformation. Transborder communities also emerged as useful sites for research on next generation peacebuilding in Africa.
We were able to bring our own voices to the debates about the potential of historiography and memory to disrupt dominant narratives of violence and open new paths to peace and unity in diversity. We contributed insights from our research as a basis for rethinking methodological, epistemological, and ontological ways of producing and consuming knowledge on peacebuilding in Africa and decolonizing peacebuilding research and practice. In addition to speaking to the role of youth, women, the street as a site of change, and local ownership of community-based approaches, we also noted the importance of dealing with new challenges, including psychosocial safety and security in societies recovering from mass violence, including genocide. In the discussions about the emergence of new actors in peacebuilding, we were able to apply insights from some of our research in rethinking the relationship between mainstream peacebuilding actors at the global and regional levels and emerging non-state and state actors. Such new state actors operating in the African peacebuilding terrain include China, Russia, the Gulf States, and Turkey, among others.
The conference was a great learning and networking experience for each of us and opened our eyes to the potential to collaborate, devise new strategies, and act as change agents in the transformation of peacebuilding in Africa, and making it an everyday activity. There is a lot that we can do, as alumni of the APN and Next Gen programs, along with other African scholars and practitioners, by making use of some of the lessons learned and networks formed at Wilton Park. At this critical turn in international peacebuilding scholarship and practice, this conference has underscored the importance of integrating new African voices into the global discourse on peacebuilding, and robustly engaging a plan of action for the next generation of African peacebuilders.