Updated: Mar 2
The civil society sector and the concept of community, deep-rooted in African cultures, are reflected in the ubuntu philosophy. While governments constitute essential actors as decision-makers at national and international levels, it appears imperative to strengthen the work done at the grassroots level.
This paper aims at connecting the ubuntu values to the role of communities in the search for peace and gender equality. Civil society actors have been active in implementing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda and creating an enabling environment for African women to participate in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. However, community-based efforts remain to be strengthened. This article analyses grassroots initiatives that include women as peacebuilders through the case study of the ‘Peace Hut’ initiative of Liberia. We argue that bottom-up approaches to peacebuilding are crucial to reduce the gap between policy and action and contribute to the establishment of peace and stability in Africa.
On a global scale, humanity is being threatened by conflict, genocide and human rights abuses of all kinds. In a fragmented world, the elimination of destructive behaviours becomes a priority to enable cooperative relations and build a harmonious future. The search for peace and reconciliation is embedded in the Ubuntu philosophy, otherwise defined as a “platform for bridge building, resolving conflict, inclusiveness, transformation, equity and proactive community development.” (Volmink, 2019:48) The restoration of broken relationships and the establishment of peace requires collective engagement and action. This article connects the Ubuntu paradigm to the role of grassroots women in the search for peace. Around the world, women peacebuilders play a fundamental role in conflict-resolution and peacebuilding. Based on several reports and interviews conducted in the field, our analysis focuses on Liberian women and the grassroots ‘Peace Hut’ initiative. We argue that bottom-up approaches are crucial to establishing sustainable peace and stability globally.
‘Ubuntu’ and Grassroots Peace
Peacebuilding, referring to the activities that “reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building something that is more than just the absence of war”, requires long-term engagement to enable reconciliation and eliminate conflictual relationships (Brahimi Report, 2000:3). The notion of peacebuilding appears directly connected to the Ubuntu philosophy, “dealing with the brokenness of society, bringing together parts of the community that are being broken apart.” (Volmink, 2019:63) In this regard, this concept finds itself at the heart of the reconciliation process.
In the case of Liberia, women’s collective engagement brought to an end fourteen years of civil war. In 2003, the country initiated a post-conflict recovery, with grassroots women’s activism at the forefront. The ‘Peace Hut’ initiative, co-founded in 2006 by several women activists, including Leymah Gbowee and Annie Nushann, brings people together to solve conflictual relationships. Through public hearings, the Peace Hut members mediate cases affecting their communities’ security and wellbeing. They address issues of violence in collaboration with men and security forces. According to Leymah Gbowee, the Peace Hut contributes to ending patriarchy “from the inside out” (Gbowee, 2011). In this perspective, it is essential to recognize the importance of thinking globally and acting locally, in line with the Ubuntu paradigm, emphasising “individuality at the service of the community.” (Volmink, 2019:60)
The Peace Hut initiative gained attention with the support of UN Women, urging states “to learn from their transformative example and to support the replication of Women Peace Huts in similar contexts as an effective women-led conflict prevention and peacebuilding initiative that yields vital peace dividends.” (UN Women, 2019) In 2019, the UN Population Award was granted to the National Peace Hut Women of Liberia, becoming officially registered as a national Community Based Organization. Nevertheless, despite some capacity-building support from UN Women and other international agencies, the Peace Huts mainly rely on members’ contributions to the social fund, or ‘village savings’. As observed during the fieldwork in Liberia, the lack of resources constitutes a major obstacle hindering their peacebuilding work. Thus, we emphasise the need to strengthen collaborations at all levels, from local actors to decision-makers, and provide an enabling environment for grassroots initiatives to address people’s needs.
The Liberian case pictures grassroots women as active actors in conflict-resolution and peacebuilding processes. The Peace Huts of Liberia are directed toward the common goal of establishing harmonious relationships within the community. This perspective is rooted in the idea that social fragmentation threatens peace and security. This article advances the importance of community-based initiatives to fill the gap between policy and implementation. Thus, collaborative action and partnerships between all stakeholders appear essential to promote bottom-up approaches to peace and to build sustainable, equal, and inclusive societies. Aligned with the Ubuntu philosophy, grassroots initiatives are crucial to address the needs of communities and give a voice to the most vulnerable.
Brahimi, L. (2000). Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. General Assembly Security Council, A/55/305-S/2000/809, UN. Retrieved from: https://undocs.org/A/55/305
Gbowee, L. (2011). Mighty be our Powers: How Sisterhood Prayer and Sex Changed a Nation at War. New York: Beast Books.
Nobel Women’s Initiative Delegation to Liberia and the 20th African Union Summit in Ethiopia. (2013). Women Forging Peace. [Accessed on February 5, 2022]. Available at: https://nobelwomensinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Liberia-Report-2013-web.pdf?ref=218
UN Women. (2019). Statement: Peace Hut Women of Liberia wins 2019 UN Population Award. Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director. [Accessed on February 6, 2022]. Available at: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/6/statement-ed-phumzile-peace-hut-women-of-liberia-wins-2019-un-population-award
Volmink, J. D. (2019). “UBUNTU: Philosophy of life and social ethics”. In Ubuntu Leaders Academy. (2019). Building Bridges - Ubuntu and Servant Leadership. Edition Partnership.