In September this year, several peacebuilding, human rights and other civic organisations from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin, Togo, Cameroun, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and the USA gathered in Accra, Ghana, to give birth to the West African Network for Peace-building (WANEP). A strategic planning and endorsement meeting followed a twelve-month intensive exploratory exercise carried out in 8 countries of the sub-region, and consultation with prominent persons from 3 others.
The exploratory team reported the following as challenges to peacebuilding in West-Africa:
- A proliferation of human rights, conflict resolution/transformation, inter-confessional, trauma healing and reconciliation groups in all countries visited. This is partly due to the increase of violent conflicts in those countries, and partly a consequence of the flow of donor funds for peace-related activities in the world. While this increase of peace-related organisations is laudable, the lack of trained practitioners in these organisations poses a grave danger to peace-building in the sub-region.
- Chasing donor funds has become a source of competition and conflict among many local NGOs in West African countries.
- There is little or a lack of communication between the peace-building organisations and practitioners in many West African states.
- Traditional peace-building values and practices in West Africa are gravely overlooked by international and local peace-building practitioners. As a result, peace-building is viewed by many as imperial or colonial brain-washing in West Africa. This has led to apprehension and scepticism in traditional and some scholarly communities in the sub-region.
As a result, WANEP was established as an enabling and facilitating mechanism for cooperation among peacebuilding practitioners. It will embark on a training campaign to increase the capabilities of practitioners already in the field; provide a space where practitioners will meet and establish personal and functional relationships; develop and suggest a framework for the support of peace-building organisations in West Africa and promote the traditional values and practices of peace-building in West Africa through research and publication.
This initiative brings to fruition a dream of young African scholars from three universities in the USA (Eastern Mennonite, George Mason, Duquense) who met at a conference in 1997 in Virginia (USA) to discuss the plight of their continent. The Nairobi Peace Initiative based in Kenya, and the Institute for Peace-building of the Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia provided practical and moral support for the exploratory phase, while the Winston Foundation for World Peace in Washington DC made WANEP financially possible.