For nations that are struggling to move beyond war or repressive regimes and rebuild their nations on democratic principles, reconciliation is one of the toughest challenges they face. Unfortunately, Africa has a fair share of such countries in virtually all its regions.
The process of turning estranged relationships around for good requires a lot to manage effectively at all levels. It involves finding common ground and mutual understanding, rekindling trust between former enemies and making conscious efforts to coexist in harmony.
With the spread of democratic values, promotion of the rule of law, and the conclusion of most civil conflicts that afflicted African countries since the early 1990s, national governments and the African Union (AU) have had greater opportunities to achieve some of the AU’s core objectives to end impunity and promoting justice and reconciliation.
During its recent four-day meeting held in Accra, Ghana, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar noted that reconciliation remains a permanent challenge for Africa. In a statement, the group noted that the Catholic Church has an indispensable role to play in finding solutions to obstacles that hinder the reconciliation process:
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“the commitment of the Church remains decisive in this area, hence, through the Episcopal Conferences, the church ought to continuously cultivate and encourage the values of peace, justice and dialogue… Africa needs these values because of what is happening in most of the countries of our dear and beautiful continent.”
Speaking from his personal experience as chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed that creating and nurturing trust and understanding between former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge, but very critical in building sustainable peace.
Necessary steps include seeking ways to ameliorating the pain and suffering of the victims, examining the motives of offenders and uniting estranged communities. However, Tutu acknowledged that there is no quick fix, particular roadmap or short cut to reconciliation, he stated:
“Reconciliation cannot be imposed on societies from offshore since no one else map can get them to their desired destination. As our experience in South Africa has taught us, each society must discover its own route to reconciliation. It must be our own solution. Faced with each new instance of violent conflict, new solutions must be devised that are appropriate to the particular context, history and culture in question.”
According to him, the best approach to guard against future occurrence of atrocities is to review the painful past, acknowledge and try to understand it, and get all parties concerned to work towards transcending it together. He noted that while his country has taken a long walk down the road of reconciliation, they must carry on without faltering because reconciliation is a continuous process that keeps improving over time.