The Catholic University of America

Oct. 22, 2008

CUA Hosts Panel on Peacebuilding and Democracy in Africa

"You should not take peace for granted," John Katunga, an expert on peacebuilding in Africa, told a crowd of students, faculty and NGO leaders gathered at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law on Tuesday evening.

Katunga, regional technical adviser for peacebuilding and justice for Catholic Relief Services and a scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, spoke of the need for peacebuilding in the context of Kenya's recent presidential elections, the ensuing violence and efforts at peace-making, including an eventual power-share agreement. He was joined on the panel by E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and a columnist for The Washington Post, in an event cosponsored by CUA's Center for International Social Development.

Katunga spoke about the situation in Kenya as an example of how a common peacebuilding framework might be implemented elsewhere on the continent, in places where political conflicts and resource shortages have spilled over the borders of countries, such as Sudan, to become regional conflicts. In the aftermath of the disputed presidential election in Kenya, approximately one thousand people were killed and 500,000 displaced, with millions of dollars of property destroyed.

Katunga discussed how historical ethnic prejudices, divisive campaigning and unemployment and lack of education among Kenya's youth fueled the conflict, but he also talked about how CRS was able to help mitigate the damage through an information campaign and by fostering dialogue and offering counseling.

"Information is the casualty of conflict," Katunga said.

Dionne, an award-winning author and political columnist, offered insights on the role of democracy, adding that "There is democracy in name and then there is real democracy."

Real democracy, Dionne said, offers, among other things, a genuine and free exchange of ideas and the ability to speak without fear of violence. But of course, he noted, not every election or government purporting democratic rule is without violence or gross imperfections.

And in such cases, Katunga noted, escalating conflict is not the cause, but rather, the effect.

"Violence is not the problem," Katunga said. "It is the manifestation of an institution's failure to manage the contention."

The two panelists were joined by moderator Rev. Michael Perry, O.F.M., advocacy officer for Africa at Franciscans International. Father Perry recently served as foreign policy adviser for African affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.