Shaping Peace Together, #Art4peace.

In conflict regions around the world, art has been used in peace-building efforts to strengthen the campaigns of peacemakers through supporting and dignifying oppressed and exploited communities. The skills are also used as a medium to spread messages of peace, to give people hope and bring them together. Language barrier is often a significant contributor to non-understanding between different societies which leads to conflict, and arts can transcend language and allow for non-verbal communication. Music, dance, photography and painting can be appreciated by humans, regardless of what language they speak. Art is a resource that is available for use in all stages of a conflict. Its use can be decisive in conflict prevention thanks to education and awareness-raising around peace-building, giving and maintaining hope through a crisis, and helping communities rebuild after the end of a conflict.  Works of art that are inclusive and focus on transformation are often more engaging, therefore inviting change to those that witness the artwork.

Art can be used to facilitate engagement in a non-coercive manner that allows conflicting communities to address their differences. An example of this is the ‘Peace-building after Genocide’ initiative which was a mobile exhibition showcased around Rwanda that used storytelling and dialogue methodologies to educate people about the 1994 genocide, to examine what causes violence and to send messages of peace and social cohesion. In the stories, messages that contribute to social cohesion and peace-making were told, along with those that explored the causes of genocide and mass violence.

There is a strong connection between creative arts and building capacity for peaceful transformation of entrenched conflict.  While governments, warlords, militia and bureaucrats may control or dominate the overt peace-building process, artists of all disciplines work behind the scenes, in communities, cultural centres, refugee camps and war zones, building resilience and peace from the personal level. This is recognized even by governments who see the role of art and culture as crucial and complementary to national cohesion. Speaking during the opening ceremony of the 4th edition of the National Cultural Season Re-launch in Yaoundé in September 2019, Cameroon’s Prime Minister Dr Joseph Dion Ngute enjoined artists, “men and women” of culture to support the Head of State in the efforts to build a just, prosperous society, as well as work to promote national unity, tolerance, peace and harmonious living. “We believe that arts and culture are at the very centre of the construction of Cameroon’s national unity and national integration,” he added.

Art has considerable potential in peace-building, not only in the conflict resolution field but also in post-conflict reconciliation. Defying all linguistic boundaries, it is considered a universal language and therefore, an ideal resource to understand the perspectives of others, particularly their viewpoint on a given conflict. In India, the Seagull Foundation for the Arts, for example, has helped reduce prejudice between youth from Pakistan and India through their “Peace Works” art programme. The programme focuses on ‘learning to live with difference’, working with young people in the conflict-affected region of Kashmir. Peace Works brings Kashmiri youth to Calcutta and other towns and cities of India to see, feel, experience and understand a different world by working closely with those who are different from them, and to step away from conflict.

Like any powerful tool that can be used to influence people art can, used with wrong intentions, bring as much harm as good. Right from the propaganda movies used by the Nazis in World War II to music that is used to spread feelings of superiority within a particular group and disdain for others, art in the wrong hands can provide setbacks to the peace initiative. In Kenya, several musicians have been charged with hate speech for songs that seem to incite hatred and divisiveness between particular communities. Unfortunately, such songs may affect their target audience. It is therefore essential to keep in mind that artistic initiatives are to be used strategically and emphasis is put on inclusivity and encouraging productive dialogue.

The United Nations International Day of Peace is celebrated every year on September 21.  This is a day of global observance and not a public holiday. It is a day when nations around the world are invited to honour a cessation of hostilities. 

According to Wikipedia, a UN resolution established the International Day of Peace in 1981 to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly, the day is devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace. The first Peace Day was celebrated in 1982 and was held on the third Tuesday of September each year until 2002, when September 21 became the permanent date for the International Day of Peace. The assembly decided in 2001 that the International Day of Peace should be annually observed on September 21 starting from 2002. By setting a fixed date for the International Day of Peace, the assembly declared that the day should be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. 

By creating the International Day of Peace, the UN devoted itself to worldwide peace and encouraged people to work in cooperation for this goal. Since its inception, Peace Day has marked personal and planetary progress toward peace. It has grown to include millions of people worldwide, and many events are organized each year to commemorate and celebrate this day. 

At #defyhatenow, we joined the world in commemorating peace day on September 21st, 2015, in what we called #jubapeacejam at the Intra Africa Hotel in Juba. As our activities spread across various parts in the world, we dropped the juba, and it’s now commonly known as #peacejam. Our partners and collaborators around the world join us in jamming for peace every year. 

We have constantly used art in our activities in 2017 #DEFY the film was produced. DEFY shows an extreme yet potential example of how the misuse of social media can go spectacularly awry, indicating that hate speech has no place in our political life, our neighbourhoods and workplaces. The film aims to raise awareness and facilitate dialogue about how we can work together in our communities to address these risks and mitigate further incitement to violence arising through online hate speech. It premiered/launched in 2018.  In the same year, 2018 #Kifaya the song dropped. #Kifaya translates to #Enough. The song is a peace-building jam initiated by Talent211 entertainment in collaboration with Platform Africa and #defyhatenow to magnify the voices of the South Sudanese musicians as peace-builders in the diaspora, calling for an end to the conflicts in South Sudan. It passes a message that aims to strengthen and embrace unity in diversity.

Just as conflicts are created by a critical mass of angry, frustrated, vengeful people so can peace be created by a critical mass of people focused on peaceful thoughts through art and especially music, as it is a universal language.

Art has the power to connect people and build community. In addition to developing an affirmative community climate, activities with music, storytelling, creative movement, poetry, photography, dramatics and sports can help people gain a deeper understanding of social situations, reinforce important social messages, and provide direct opportunities to practice skills relating to conflict resolution. It would be naive to consider art as a medium that is solely trying to establish peace. Like any tool that can be transformed according to the objects it depicts or the user who moulds it, it can – and widely is – used for harmful purposes, seeking to provoke violence and tension rather than reduce it. Art is, therefore, a precious resource for peacebuilders and must be recognised as such. It can also not work by itself, to take advantage of it as a powerful, creative asset, it is essential to integrate it into a more global peace-building dynamic.

This year our partners and ourselves have several activities;

  • Youth Social Advocacy Team – Police and Refugee Leadership on Radio Pacis  #ShapingPeaceTogether RHINO CAMP  19.00 EAT (KAMPALA)/18.00 CEST (BERLIN) / 17.00 WAT (YAOUNDE)
  • #DEFYHATENOW_WCA Poetry Slam with Mac Alunge & Stephane Ndongo 15.00 WAT (YAOUNDE) / 16.00  CEST (BERLIN) / 17.00 EAT (KAMPALA)
  • #DEFYHATENOW_WCA Poetry Slam with Alemge Boris 17.00 WAT (YAOUNDE) / 18.00  CEST (BERLIN)/19.00 EAT (NAIROBI)
  • PLATFORM AFRICA – #peaceday virtual concert,  Song Release Party RHINO CAMP    20.00 EAT (KAMPALA) /19.00 CEST (BERLIN) /18.00 WAT (YAOUNDE)
  • #DEFYHATENOW; How do digital ecosystems support the impact of activists to sustain peace. 15.00 WAT (YAOUNDE)/16.00  CEST (BERLIN) /17.00 EAT (NAIROBI)

Join us in jamming for peace. #peaceday #peacejam2020 #UN75

Article by; Kendi Gikunda

Laughing Gas Illustration– artist Yemsrach Yetneberk.