Interview with Dr. Shepherd Urenje, Environmental and Sustainability Education Program Specialist
Is it possible to encourage peace in Africa?
I was born in Africa and grew up in an African village where communal interdependence was a form of insurance and custodian of peace.
I can say my village, in Zimbabwe, was very peaceful in that we managed to get along with very little.
Over 80% of the village needs were supplied by the ecological environment which was still intact yielding all forms of livelihood from food to shelter. Children were every grownups’ responsibility and there was no way one would misbehave without being noticed and disciplined – often by any adult person who was not necessarily your parent.
I grew up in an African village of communal interdependence as a custodian of peace.
Those people who were less privileged often received community help. One example was that if you did not have a span of oxen it was almost impossible to farm effectively. The community would choose one day in a week where all the people with oxen will go and help that one family. This was called nhimbe. Nhimbe was repeated several times during the course of the farming season until all those without their form of ox power had been helped. This way the possibility of destitution was eliminated and peace prevailed.
However, this peace has been disrupted in recent times by rapid urbanisation and the introduction of the capitalist cash economy.
People have become more individualistic and the gap between those who have means of producing food and money and those without has increased. This has threatened peace in the sense that criminal tendencies have crept in. In addition climate change has wreaked havoc, crops are failing and many people are without basic food requirements.
The security of the African village can be one answer to lasting peace in Africa.
What is peace? One form of peace may mean the absence of armed conflict or the freedom from fear of violence.
The security of the African village can be one answer to lasting peace in Africa.
This also includes the freedom that people experience when they are able to resolve their struggles without resorting to fighting.
This type of peace is realized when all forms of direct violence cease and there is an end to war.
It is possible to encourage this type of peace when we create safe conditions, which enable all of us to live without fear or threat of violence, and no form of violence is tolerated in law or in practice.
The other characteristic would be experiencing impartiality, when everyone regardless of cultural, socio, political and economic allegiance is equal before the law. This also means the systems for justice can be trusted.
However the Africa context is very complex considering that in addition to the evolving economic and socio, political landscape – external factors, often with completely different agendas, dictate the outcome of our peace efforts.
Peace can be much more than a lack of violence or war.
For an example, the essential mineral resources for making cell phone components, Coltan, exists in abundance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is a vital component in the capacitors that control current flow in cell phone circuit boards. Rival global companies competing for the resources do not care how the precious metals gets to them and this fans armed conflict which continues to exist as long as the resource is available (click on: coltan, Congo and conflict report). A recent report by the United Nations has claimed that all the parties involved in the local civil war have been involved in the mining and sale of Coltan.
Secondly, peace can be much more than a lack of violence or war.
Another way of describing peace would be the presence of cooperation and understanding between and among people. For this type of peace to exist, all forms of structural and cultural violence (violence embedded in systems that prioritize certain groups, classes, genders, nationalities, religions or ideologies) must be put to an end and the structures that reinforce or perpetuate violence are then dismantled.
Another way of describing peace is the presence of understanding among people.
It is possible to achieve this type of peace when direct violence has been eliminated by ending wars and civil strife. Having said this, I can now say we can encourage this type of peace in Africa when:
- We have developed constructive community participation, where we are all able to contribute in decisions and the elected are accountable to the people who chose them.
- We experience and practice equity, where all of us have unbiased and equal access to essentials of a decent quality of life – basic ecological (food, water and resources) and social (health, shelter, education and work) needs.
- We see and are able to access equal opportunities in life where everyone has equal opportunity to work and make a living, regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other aspect of identity.
This type of peace is more difficult to achieve because, sadly, Africa lacks commitment and discipline. In cases where the playing field has been leveled to include freedom of expression and democracy, it is possible to encourage and actually experience peace in Africa.
My work includes educating for a lifestyle that uses as few resources as possible and causes the least amount of environmental damage for future generations to deal with.
What are you doing to encourage peace in Africa?
My work is in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) which supports current educational programs by developing and demonstrating learning that is more relevant for young people who are growing up in a rapidly changing world.
Today young people are growing in a world where the global system is under stress.
The seriousness of this is further strained by socio-political instability and lack of equity.
I believe that education is the single most important means for empowerment.
I am encouraging ways of realising the second type of peace, (eliminating or alleviating structural and cultural violence) using education as a response to current challenges that can be viewed as potential threats to peace. I am developing and demonstrating transformative education programs that are encouraging cooperation and understanding between and among people with the aim of empowering people to become responsible citizens who do not only believe in, but also practice, doing what is right. In my work, we are responding to the environment and sustainability demands in a way that makes education relevant to the current state of affairs.
I believe that education is the single most important means for empowerment and sustained improvement in all wellbeing.
The absence of structural and cultural violence that prioritize sustainable consumption, sustainable living and social justice is a basic Human Right and unless this target is reached through Education the purpose of Education would remain unfulfilled.
In my work, we are responding to the environment and sustainability demands in a way that makes education relevant and empowering to the current state of affairs.
- I am at the forefront of promoting and demonstrating a kind of education that enables every person to have a chance to benefit from educational opportunities and learn the life style, behaviour and values necessary to create a sustainable future.
- ESD includes Peace Education which provides knowledge to be applicable to the problems of reforming and restructuring the present conflicting and violent human society to make it peaceful, unified and violence-free.
- ESD means educating for sustainable living, i.e. educating for a lifestyle that uses as few resources as possible and causes the least amount of environmental damage for future generations to deal with. Besides creating a lasting resource base for the future young people learn to deal with greed and to be content with what one needs, thus reducing the potential for conflict for resources.
- We link sustainability to social justice:
In ESD we highlight issues such as environmental catastrophes that disproportionately affect poor people in undeveloped regions; deforestation and desertification make access to resources even more difficult for those already in need, at the same time as they create barriers to gender equality, and conflict over quickly disappearing resources is an undeniable cause of violence and war.
To date, we have met with 42 teacher education universities and colleges who are preparing young teachers in southern Africa.
This program has the potential of equipping newly qualified teachers with a new way of teaching and learning, giving them methods and approaches of transformative education.
Three years after qualifying, the total number of learners influenced by the new teachers from one institution will be over 20,000.
We have met with 42 teacher education universities and colleges who are preparing young teachers in southern Africa with methodologies of transformative education.
What can others do to encourage peace in Africa?
We can all contribute to achieving peace in Africa.
We should make it a personal ambition during our life time to help someone who is in a more disadvantaged position than ours to achieve their full potential – they will in turn do the same. That way we can uplift those under the yoke of structural and cultural violence and enable community and social participation, making it possible for us to stand up for the rights of others.
This is one way of reminding the government of their social and economic responsibility.
We need self-discipline together with willpower to help us overcome laziness, procrastination and indecisiveness, enabling us to take action and persevere with it.
We need education – not just any type of education but transformational education.
In order to reach this level of maturity we need education, not just any type of education but transformational education that empowers people to become responsible citizens who do not only believe in but also practice doing what is right. I believe Education is a prerequisite to responsible and disciplined citizenship, in that it helps citizens make good decisions and deal with manipulators. When we have a sound understanding of the world in which we live we can encourage peace by being responsible citizens at both local and global levels.
The following are prerequisites of how each one of us can contribute to encouraging peace in Africa.
- Respect for authority – corporate and self-discipline
- Contributing to society and the economy
- Believing in doing what is right
- Standing up for the rights of others
- Serving others before ourselves
- Promoting the common good
- Having concern for the family and future generations
- Concern for the environment and ecological order
I believe Education is a prerequisite to responsible and disciplined citizenship.