Part.4. African’s Peacefull Means: Micro-cultural aspects of violence in Africa
From the Book Peace By African’s Peaceful Means By Raïs Neza Boneza
With micro-cultural aspects, we shall concentrate our inquiry on local culture and customs. Africans are divided into several races, fragmented within local communities by ethnic groups, tribal denominations, and clans. These different classifications are expressed in beliefs and customs which shape a ritualistic religion or ideology.
The relationship of religion to both conflict-ridden and pacific social orders from historical, sociological, theological and practical perspectives has contributed to peace and wars as considered in the context of just war, or holy war. In traditional Africa, religious wars did not really develop until the coming of missionaries and the expansion of Islam. We can assert that in the past, religion has been the basis for establishing theocratic states. A theocratic state is a structure. Archaeology is the scientific study of past human culture and behavior, from the origins of humans to the present. Archaeology studies past human behavior through the examination of material remains of previous human societies. Violence is legitimized precisely because it favors those who belong to the state religion and marginalizes those of other faith communities. We see this in the example of President Idi Amin trying to convert Uganda to Islam. Theocracy in Africa should not be seen only as a result of imported religion, but also in the cultural concept of chieftaincy. For example, in the Bantu culture the chief is respected, elevated and seen as representing God or even perceived to be God himself. The result of such conception has given rise to a chronic cycle of dictatorial regimes and the appearance of different “isms,” such as Mobutism, Afro-centrism, tribalism, Ndugu-ism, Kabilism, Lumunbism, and others.
Violence in Africa is strongly rooted in the ethnic backgrounds of
the members of the community. The belief that one ethnic group is better than another is a classical belief which can be observed even today.
In general, an ethnic group can be described as follows:
|A community by appellation and ideology.||A community of values||A community of aspiration or conscience for a given
|Logical explanation from myths and tradition||Culture, codes and customs||That which constitutes the essential elements of
The rise of ethnic conflicts in Africa precedes colonization; it is integrated in the whole African social organization. Ethnocentrism is perceived in itself as a flagrant manner or a discriminatory practice of social rejection. In Africa, we are often in the presence of endogenous structural divisions that supply structural or latent violence, expressed through different forms such as swear words, threats, and insults.
* African violence development and the Bantu/Nilotic Myth
- 1. History of the Virunga (Great-Lakes Region)
Figure 1Great lakes of Africa
The first population to inhabit the Virunga region were the Twa, from the Pygmoid peoples of the Congo basin. It is believed that they probably lived in the area for several thousand years. The Twa were hunter-gatherers, dependent on the plant and animal resources of the vast forest for survival. In contrast, the Bantu are physically and culturally different from the Twa. The Bantu were agricultural peoples, using small–scale farming to obtain most of their food. More efficient than the hunting-gathering lifestyle of the Twa, farming allowed the Bantu to live in small communities and to increase quickly in numbers. As the Bantu population increased, more and more of the forests were cleared for crops, an activity that led to the extermination of the Twa.
The Bantu consisted of several tribes, the largest of which is the Hutu in modern-day Rwanda and Burundi; the Shi’, Nande, and Buisha in D.R.Congo; and the Baganda, Soga, Nkole, Toro, and Nyoro in modern-day Uganda. Each tribe consisted of several clans, each ruling loosely over a small area. These tribes were numerous and well-established when the next wave of immigrants arrived, this time from the northeast.
The newcomers originated from Ethiopia and Sudan and differed from the established Bantu in many ways. They spoke Nilotic
languages; they were taller, thinner. Different from the Bantu, they were pastoral, raising cattle for food. The Nilotics became numerically dominant in the drier savannahs north of Lake Kyoga. These people, often earlier Watutsi, migrated into the Virunga area from the northeast between about 1200 and 1500 A.D. Eventually the Tutsi politically dominated the more numerous Hutu and ruled the area when the Europeans came in force to take over around
- 2. The rising of the Nilo/Hamitic ideology
We shall examine the historical origins and political potency of a “mythology” in Africa, especially in the Great Lakes, concerning ethnic or racial distinctions between the Bantu and Nilotic people. The Great Lakes region is composed of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and D.R.Congo; it was, in the pre-colonial period, composed of very highly organized kingdoms such as the Buganda, Bunyoro, Rwanda or Azande. The colonizers did not want to admit that such organization existed in that area. The explorers argued that there must have been an exogenous influence from the Upper Nile.
In the 19th Century, the Hamitic Hypothesis exploded, support by people such as Jhon Speke, an English explorer of the Nile. It was inspired by the biblical tripartite division of the earth’s races based on imputed descent from the three sons of Noah – Semites (Arabs and Jews, sons of Shem), Yefites (Europeans, sons of Yafet) and Hamites (black Africans, sons of the cursed Ham) – which had already granted theological imprimatur to the slave trade and apartheid in South Africa. The ideology was supported by German colonialists and Belgian successors after the First World War in Rwanda-Burundi.
The Bantu and Nilotic ideology infects all layers of society in the Great Lakes Region and dominates the thoughts of the average person in the street. It also continues to dominate Western interpretations of the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes—e.g.the New York Times 1994, deplored a “Rwandan Tribal war between Bantu and Nilotes.”
The main lines of the Bantu/hamitic ideology elaborated by the explorers, the missionaries, the theoreticians and agents of the colonial conquest (1):
Burundi and Rwanda are populated by three distinct races: the Bahutu, the Batutsi, and the Batwa. It is important to understand that the term “race” was progressively replaced by “ethnic group” or “tribe”, in the media.
– The Bahutu are « farmers (of) Bantu race.” These « primitive
Bantu » form « the big mass of the population.
– The Batutsi are a « populates ministers hamites, (…) a class of lords conquering, come giants of the north; (they) penetrated the Great Lakes 400 years ago.»
– The Batwa are « the remainders of primitive population of small size and of type pygmoïd, that earn their living as hunters, and as servants to the other population.»
“Beside the physical characteristics of these three « races », there is the « mental characteristic » that distinguish the Mututsi « despotic » Muhutu « servile » and Mutwa «natural wild and overwhelmed due to his social position of outcast ».”
Those manipulations of the term Ham for Hamitic, or Kushite, have contributed to building up an African Hitlerist behaviour that has helped enforce the gap between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda and Burundi, which ultimately resulted in the 1994 genocide with the minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus as its victims.
Let us explore the development of cultural violence through some examples from the local languages of the Great Lakes region (Rwanda-Congo-Uganda-Burundi), recalling local words used to justify exclusion and ethnic violence.
3.1. Abatemu in Kinganda (Uganda 1980-1986)
The Ugandan conflict can be explained as a struggle between the southerners and westerners in general, and more specifically as one between the Bantu people and the Northerners (particularly Nilotic Acholi people). Abatemu is a Kiganda word meaning “killers,” which has been used to threaten the Acholi ethnic group. Successive governments have promoted that cultural word, which has favoured the installation of a dictatorial regime clothed in a costume of democracy. While fighting in 1980 to topple the Obote government, the current president Museveni recorded in several documents the motivation of his NRM/Army to pursue the war against Obote’s UPC This general hostility against the Northerners was quoted in an interview for Drum Magazine in Nairobi during the peace talks of 1984:
“The problem in Uganda is that the leadership has mainly been from the north. The southerners who are mainly Bantu have played a peripheral role all these years since independence in 1962. A lot of blood has been shed. We want genuine elections and we are sure that if these were held the best candidates would win. We are not against the northerners as such and if a popular man from Acholi or Lango or even Madi wins, he will have our mandate. What we cannot stomach is a rigged election, such as the one we had in
- 1980. We are still prepared to talk to Okello as a military leader on the future of our country but we are not going to talk out of weakness. In fact our forces are already inside Kampala and soon we may surprise the world” (41).
From this statement, we may understand that the fundamental reason for the conflict in Uganda can be explained by a profound misunderstanding between people who have the same land in common. This cultural hostility has initiated a cycle of several civil wars, such us the current one by Kony’s LRA (Lord Resistance Army), a movement whose abducted children have been categorized by the U.S. government as “international terrorists.”
3.2. Kulo Kwor ; Acholi (Uganda-Sudan)
In the monographic thesis by Professor Gingyera Pinyewa, the custom of Kulo Kwor is a recipe for a cultural, intra-familiar and community practice of violence which implies retaliation. He explains that Kulo Kwor is retribution, a legitimised use of vengeance among the Acholis. He has attributed the killings and burning of villages to that practice. Literally, Kulo means “to pay” or “to give,” especially blood compensation; and Kwar means “life that has been killed.” This practice is observed in several pastoral communities throughout the Nile Basin, such as Ethiopians and Somalis.
3.3. Ynyenzi in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda 1964-1994), or “The
Theory of the cockroaches”
In Rwanda, Ynyenzi is a word that contributed the separation this country’s society at the beginning of independence in the 1960’s, when the minority ethnic group lost its formal privileges to the benefit of the majority. Ynyenzi, meaning “cockroaches,” was used to designate the rebels, but that created a prejudice against one entire ethnic group, the Tutsi minority.
3.4. Nteramwe in kinyarwanda (1993 Rwanda-Burundi)
Nteramwe at the beginning of 1993 was a word meaning “togetherness,” literally “people who make things together.” The MRND political party in power in Rwanda that year used the word to create a militia group to unite forces against the rebel invasion from Uganda. Nevertheless, after the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the word has been used to designate one ethnic group, the Hutu majority. This contributed to the imposition of an international cultural and intellectual embargo on one ethnic group seen as the promoter of massacre and genocide. Today it is almost impossible for a Hutu to seek asylum in another country. Considering events and history in the Great-Lakes region of Africa, the Rwandan- Burundi case is comparable to a cultural Hitlerism that has contributed to jeopardize one or both ethnic groups by creating a cycle of hatred. The Great Lakes region reacts as a matrix in East
and central Africa because the conflict and culture are inter-twined, which explains the escalation of violence in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa.
3.5. Nduguism in Swahili (East D.R.Congo 1990)
The word Nduguism appeared in the late 1990s in the eastern part of D.R.Congo with the uprising of ethnic clashes between locals and those considered to be Rwando-phone communities in the ex– Zaire. Unfortunately, Nduguism (14) is not a Congolese speciality, but a global sub–Saharan ideology, which implies a different kind of nepotism (clan, tribal), racism, ethno-tribalism, and self– inflicted African apartheid in these societies. That ideology is exemplified in Zimbabwe, where leaders used a racist and Afro- centrist behaviour to brutalize peasants for their own interest.
43.6. “La theorie de la vermine”or”The Theory of the Vermin”
This was promoted by the Kabilist government after toppling the Mobutist regime. It contributed to igniting ethnic hatred in the D.R.Congo, especially in the eastern part of the country. Many people have been forced to leave the country and lose their nationality. In other cases, the ethnic clashes between Lendu and Hema since 1998, in the northeast of Congo (Bunia), which are another version of the Rwandan genocide, have inflicted further damage on the local structure of the populations, and reduced the potential of survival in the region.
The conflict in Sub-Saharan countries is not a simple fight for power, as would be the case between two opposed political parties or a simple fight between tribes or ethnic groups; rather, it is a fight between groups of the same populations defending their own interests, but who behave as if it was a question of different incompatible biological types, each one looking to seize supremacy and to be in total control, or to exclusively hunt and exterminate the group that hinders their plans. The fact is that Africans have not been able to eliminate the negative view of their quantitative or morphologic variations. But by employing transcendent methodology those variations could avoid becoming a
problem that generates more violence, since diversity is one of the basic characteristics of all human populations.
People of different ethnic groups can coexist peacefully and at the end coalesce into a new political or social entity. Therefore, it is not only a fight between supposed ethnic entities that describes the African dilemma; we must not forget the ethnic-endogenous and pre-colonial racism that has been reinforced by hexogen agents imported by colonialism and internalized by the autochthonous communities.
* The different theories and their relation to gender
“When you educate a man you educate an individual. When you educate a woman you educate a nation.” Malcolm X
Women are unfortunate to have grown up for many generations in societies that considered God as male. A woman never has her identity affirmed as a reflection of the divine if she lives in a society of a Father God. In trying to explore this aspect, I am not trying to give any sexual identity to a given Divinity. But through exploring culture, history and development, we are trying to explain an aspect that cannot be neglected, especially in terms of repairing African societies. In this view, women and men must realize that divinity has a female aspect as well – that for thousands of years ancient cultures worshiped goddesses. As a first step for their empowerment in Africa as well as other parts of world, women might begin to experiment with the sacred side of their femininity in their own life, to see the divine in themselves and themselves in the divine.
According to Robert Graves (English poet and classical scholar,
1895-1985), the earliest societies and religions were matriarchal. The moon (female) was thought to control the sun (male). In the Bantu culture, today it is said that Women are the stronghold in the education of society.
In contemporary Africa, societies have forgotten and hidden the highest position of the Queen Mother, Mother Earth, and the Goddess. Diodorus of Sicily, who had visited Egypt some time between 60 and 56 BC, writes that the Egyptians had a law “permitting men to marry their sisters” and that “it was ordained that the queen should have greater influence and honor than the king and that among private persons the wife should enjoy authority over her husband.”
I am not suggesting that women should rule over men, or vice versa, but a complementary relationship between the male and female principles is a way to harmonize and to perfect our societies. If Africa is the cradle of humanity, then we can extrapolate that African women gave birth to humanity. In ancient Africa, the Queen Mother was the source of the royal right to office because she embodied the people’s wisdom. The dowry granted by the husband’s family to the bride’s family was a guarantee that a woman was valued, treasured, respected, and an essential member of the family, village and nation. In the 5th century B.C., Herodotus, who had visited Egypt, writes that “women buy and sell; the men abide at home and weave.”
In The African Origin of civilizations: Myth or Reality (1983) by
Dr. Cheik Anta Diop; it is stated that:
Female dominated system of society with descent through the female line is the basis of the social organisation in Egypt and throughout Black Africa. In sharp contrast there has never been any proof of the existence of a paleo-Mediterranean matriarchy supposedly exclusively white. The absence of queens in Greek, Roman or Persian history should be noted and yet in stark contrast during those remote epochs, queens were frequent in Black Africa. Negro matriarchy is as alive today as it was during Antiquity. In regions where the matriarchy system has not been altered by external influences (Islam) it is the woman who transmits political rights – heredity is effective only matrilineal.
Another typical aspect of African matriarchy is the dowry paid by the man, a custom reversed in European counties. The woman
holds a privileged position in Africa and so it is she who receives a guarantee in the form of a dowry in the alliance called marriage. Thus if the marriage is broken off it is to the man’s disadvantage
A few thousand years ago, many goddess-oriented civilizations were destroyed by aggressive Indo-European tribes who worshipped aggressive sky gods, and females lost their sacredness. That is an essential ingredient in the invasion of Africa by the newer monotheistic world religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, whose one god is male. It also took shape in the Iron Age, when men dominated societies in Europe and the Middle East. The origins of patriarchal systems in Africa, and elsewhere, are a consequence of an infamy or sacrilege resulting from the brutal violation of the sacred. Marduk, the Babylonian patriarchal figure, murders his mother Tiamat and forms the cosmos from her body; similarly, Tlaloc, the patriarchal rain god of the Aztecs, began the foundation of the world by murdering his mother as soon as he was born from her body. In Greek mythology, myths describing the rise of Zeus over the Titans, have many sexual conquests; the rape of Persephone by Hades, the slaying of the Medusa by Perseus, and the slaying of the Sphinx by Oedipus, depict a transition from matriarchy to patriarchy.
In conclusion, peace building is a process that must be participatory. Therefore, men as well as women must be involved in the process. A bird (society) with one wing (gender) can not fly as it is said. Women play an equally important role in the resolution of conflicts. In the “Kogtla” process (Kalahari Desert, Namibia; south Africa. see below), the Bushmen are conscious of this, and women are not excluded. In contrast to certain tribes that don’t give the credence to women, the Bushmen promote participation of both genders in handling their community matters. An old African story explains mythically that “the reasons why many wars kill women, children and the elderly is because women give birth to those who will become the future soldiers and when they kill the women, they eliminate the children-to-be that would grow to be soldiers and take revenge. By killing the elders, they erase the memory of the past about how things were.”
My brief opinion is that African women are victimized by an African cultural sexism that has been passed down and is still being practiced as part of a normal and acceptable culture in African society. Gender issues are contradictory to the usual cultural discourse that promotes respect and dignity of women, and still not a priority for African societies. African societies must work hard to end repression of women and to promote an appropriate representation at all levels by women.
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