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|S. Olusola: Humanitarian Concerns|
|By Chief Segun Olusola, Founder, African Refugees Foundation, Nigeria|
|Saturday, December 31, 2005|
The central concerns of Ambassadors for Peace in many African countries are the human beings who are left after the bombs have exploded, the warriors have marched off, the rivers polluted, and the farmlands wasted. Invariably they are widows and orphans, while among the male adults who still breathe, many are blind, limbless, or living with multiple other incapacities. These conditions, which are prevalent in many African countries, have engaged the attention of the volunteers of the African Refugees Foundation.
The spread of internal displacement arising from conflicts in many parts of Africa persuaded me and some of my friends to establish the African Refugees Foundation in 1993. Our efforts at the beginning consisted of what you might call “fire brigade” actions on the trail of battles over disputed territories. But it was not until my encounter with the work of the founder of the Universal Peace Foundation, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, that a link was forged in our quest for a long-term solution to the problem of the management of refugees and the spreading of internal displacement. In August 2000, he addressed the UN on the issue of a long-term solution to areas of conflict, proposing the establishment of stable UN peace zones. This vision of peace zones resonates with the goals of the African Refugees Foundation.
One of the persistent challenges since our founding has been the low participation of indigenous civil society organizations in preventing external displacement of refugees or managing internal displacement. Many African countries depend largely on foreign-based initiatives such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the mission of anticipating disasters, rehabilitating victims, encouraging peace, and facilitating development must be taken on by the people and nations themselves.
The problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. In our observation of conflicts and social disorders in many parts of Africa, very few such armed conflicts have proved to be of short duration. One of the short ones in our own country was the Biafra conflict that commenced in 1968. However, conflicts leading to regional social disorder have remained a constant feature of the political history of Nigeria. In the face of rising numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons in Nigeria and other African countries, we would do well to concentrate on the root causes of this phenomenon.
The story of the “Arbiter,” a dance drama which we have employed in Addis Ababa, Cape Town, and many parts of Nigeria, demonstrates the influence of external agents on the conflicts in many African countries. “The Arbiter” tells the story of two young African combatants who are unable to divide five pieces of banana among themselves satisfactorily. In order to arbitrate between them, a stranger comes in and attempts to divide the five pieces of banana equitably but ends up consuming the five pieces of banana and leaving behind a collection of arms and ammunition with the combatants, who then in a fight to the finish lose both the banana and their lives.
We should take a critical look at family instability and breakdown as well as the serious social, economic, and cultural problems that family decline generates. Furthermore, the issue of ethnic, racial, and religious conflict in many parts of the world should be re-examined. There is a critical need for political, religious, and educational institutions to work together, not only to reverse the decline of the family but also to promote greater understanding and collaboration among diverse communities. The root causes of conflict are not primarily political or economic but rather are embedded in the relationships that human beings encourage and expect from their families, neighbors, and communities with whom they relate. This is why peace must begin from within.