WEB EXTRA: Congressman speaks about conflict in African nations

U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) spoke to a crowd of more than 100 students and guests Tuesday evening in the Elliot School of International Affairs about indigenous approaches to conflict prevention, management and resolution of violence among people of African nations.

Payne is a Ranking Member of the House International Relations Committee’s sub-Committee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. He is also the author of the Sudan Peace Act. Professor Hareya Fassil, professor Barbara Miller, and the Culture in Global Affairs Research and Policy Program hosted the event.

Concerning conflicts that originate among Africans, Payne said it is “pivotal that we look for homegrown solutions from the indigenous people so that change is consistent with their values. I am not calling for an abandonment of other external forces, but it should be a blend of the two.”

Payne added that the people of Africa naturally have principles of respect for others, interdependence and reverence for human life. “The persistence of such values is remarkable to have endured through Africa’s hardships.”

In his lecture, Payne suggested using any and all effective, available tools to prevent suffering of those involved in conflicts among or within an African nation. This strategy includes utilizing cost effective mechanisms and recognizing the need for culturally meaningful approaches congruent with local values, Payne said.

One example Payne gave of an indigenous solution to an African conflict is the African trial process. This involves bringing the accused to the town where the crime was allegedly committed so that the accused can meet their accusers face-to-face. According to Payne, this method will speed up Rwanda’s trial process from a lengthy 100 years to a more reasonable eight.

“(Indigenous approaches) are not perfect processes; neither are they beyond improvement,” Payne said, adding that many indigenous approach methods are limited to local issues, thus a combination of that approach with a more broad, Western approach to conflict resolution is necessary.

Sarah Weisman, senior and president of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, asked Payne how indigenous approaches could be part of the solution in Darfur.

Payne answered, “Negotiations need to take place on a more level playing field. International players should assist the weaker players as the government in Darfur tends to divide movements of the people.”

He added that, “The world has not gotten serious about the problem of genocide even after Rwanda, when people said never again.”

Payne added that even though in 2004 the U.S. labeled the conflicts in Darfur as genocide, “we failed. Declaring genocide gave hope to the people that it would be different, however, people continue to suffer.”

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