In some highly charged environments, an election may foment conflict and political violence. This has been seen in Burundi, Kenya, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Gabon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe. A scholarly debate analyzing the use of art programs to contribute to peacebuilding before and after elections is therefore underway.
Ewubanch (2014) argues that in response to these emerging threats to peace and security in Africa, the arts (music, sculpture, dance, theater, paintings etc) are now increasingly being used to spread message of peace and unity. For instance John Lederach a leading scholar on peacebuilding and revered for coining the term “conflict transformation” allocates the role of the arts in his books, Lederach 2005a, Lederach 2005b and Lederach/Appleby 2010/2011 (Reich 2012).
In this article peacebuilding refers to a combination of efforts to prevent, reduce, transform, and help people recover from all forms of violence (in particular electoral violence) at all levels of society, and in all stages of conflict. If the arts are going to make a meaningful contribution to the field of peacebuilding, it is important to know what various art forms are appropriate in any particular cycle of conflict, and how effective the arts are in their contribution to peacebuilding. John Paul Lederach refers to this analytical process as the “strategic what,” the “strategic when,” and the “strategic how” of peacebuilding (Lederach 1999, Shank and Schirch 2008).
Katherine Wood in an article titled: The Arts and Peacebuilding: an Emerging Approach cites four-star Admiral James Stavridis (Rtd) as admitting that many artists have proved that they are peace-builders through incorporating themes of conflict resistance, justice, hope and reconciliation into their creative work and advocating for social change through the arts. This he says has resulted in an increase of donors into arts-based programs who now include USAID, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Women either funding programs in conflict zones or conduct arts programming for persons whose lives have been disrupted by violence.
Examples of Peacebuilding With Art
In Kenya, street arts have been used to educate, create awareness that mould public attitudes that encourage constructive behavior that can lead to peaceful co-existence. For instance before the 2013 general elections the Graffiti train where 10 cars of a train was inscribed with peace messages. The train was to travel through the massive Nairobi slum of Kiberia where young gangs torched, looted and killed in sporadic violence that followed the December 2007 general elections (Halliday 2016).
In Zimbabwe, the arts have always been used as a tool to resist normalization of hate, prejudice, to stand up for the citizens that have been marginalized and to advocate for a government that serves all its citizens. For instance Seda and Chivandikwa (2013) noted that:
“In August 2001, the University Of Zimbabwe Department Of Theatre was retained by Amani Trust to design and implement a popular travelling theatre project on political violence and torture. The request from Amani Trust came against the background of unprecedented levels of political violence which had accompanied Zimbabwe’s national parliamentary elections in 2000. The project was timed to coincide with the period leading up to the national presidential elections of March 2002.
According to organizers, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) the biggest in Southern Africa, held on 2-7 May 2017 was a symbolic event meant to bridge social differences that have widened among Zimbabwean citizens over the years (Nyavava 2017). The festival was held under the theme: Staging an Intervention. However, in recent years, the political polarization has scaled down such activities has playwrights and actors fear political victimization.”
An article by Andreas Kirchhof titled, Drama helps Burundian refugee cope with challenges shows how UNHCR is helping Burundi refugees who escaped from the deadly electoral violence which begun in 2015 to partner locals in the violate Uvira, Democratic to stage theatre under the name The Kings of Peace. The drama depicts the true stories of the refugees. The aim is to help refugees overcome painful experiences and live in dignity wherever they are and promote their peaceful coexistence with their host communities.
Why is Artwork Effective in Peacebuilding?
Since most major electoral conflicts in Africa have a cultural dimension, there is need to apply the arts to foster stability and development. The arts as noted above can be used to carry deep-rooted messages of ethnic co-existence, tolerance, peace and reconciliation pre and post elections. The arts therefore complement government and civil society efforts directed through public debates and holding of peace talks between warring parties. As noted by Wood (2015), the transformative power of the arts largely lies in the fact that the arts operate often simultaneously in the physical, emotional and realities. The arts can open and enlarge someone’s world view and enhance understanding of another’s leading to empathy and inclusion.
However, using the arts in conflict transformation does not guarantee peace and security in a country. There are several challenges in addressing the collation between arts and peacebuilding. Firstly, the arts are not a means to an end and cannot be used in isolation. Secondly, there is a problem of distinguishing the purpose of art and it’s possible impact. Since not all art is geared towards promoting any specific goal (Senehi 2002, Epskamp 1999 cited in Zelizer 2003). Wood (2015) gave an example of abuse of art in the videos by ISIS which is a form of art that recruit Jihadis. In this case, art is being used as an agent to fuel conflict rather than transform conflicts into peace.
Despite these challenges, this article recommends long-term investment in arts-programming models that are not a replica of other communities. The programs should be context specific and adapt to the particular needs of a community.
Ewubareh, J.2014 Promoting Peace Building And Conflict Transformation Through Art-Based Approaches: The Case Of Koko And Opuama Communities In The Niger Delta.
Halliday, G. 2016. Street Art: taking art to the people. (See africaah.org).
Kirchhof, A. 2017. Drama helps Burundian refugee cope with challenges. UNHCR (See http://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2017/1/588b1abf4/drama-helps-burundian-refugee-cope-challenges.html ).
Nyavava, K. 2017. Hifa presents peace and love. Newsday, 03 May. (See https://www.newsday.co.zw/2017/05/03/hifa-presents-peace-love/).
Reich, H. 2012. The Art of Seeing: Investigating and Transforming Conflicts with Interactive Theatre. Berlin: Berghof Foundation /Online Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation.
Se d a, O and C h i v a n d i k w a, N. 2013. Theatre in combat with violence: The University of Zimbabwe Department of Theatre Arts and Amani Trust Popular Travelling Theatre Project on Political Violence and Torture – Some Basic and Non-Basic Contradictions.
Shank, M and Schirch, L. 2008. Strategic Arts-Based Peacebuilding. Peace History Society and Peace and Justice Studies Association. (See http://escolapau.uab.es/img/programas/musica/strategic_arts.pdf).
Wood, K. 2015. The Arts and Peacebuilding: an Emerging Approach. (See https://www.usip.org/insights-newsletter/the-arts-and-peacebuilding-emerging-approach).
Zelizer, C. (2003). The Role of Artistic Processes in Peace-Building in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Peace and Conflict Studies. 10( 2). Article 4.