Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Dear Leticia Xornam Afeti,
I am currently on a three month fellowship program on international conflict resolution at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. I am here with 20 other fellows from 16 countries whom I am learning so much from. On 29th November, 2015 I facilitated a workshop on peace education at the Keta Senior High Technical School in the Volta Region of Ghana of which you were a participant. In my attempt to demonstrate the record of nonviolence as the most successful conflict handling approach, I referred to Mr. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King and proclaimed them as my nonviolent idol. You were not happy about the geographic distance of my choices and so you walked up to me after the workshop and wanted to know why my list of nonviolent icons did not include any Ghanaian.
I tried to explain but the gloomy look on your face told me you were not being convinced by what I was saying. In order to bring some smiles back to your face, I made a promise to you that the next time I get the opportunity to name a nonviolent icon, it would be a Ghanaian. I am sorry to inform you that I broke that promise at the Rotary Peace Center, Chulalongkorn University. It happened that as part of the personal introduction of fellows on the first day of class, our facilitators – Prof. Tom Woodhouse of Bradford University and Mrs. Irene Santiago – asked each one of us to name our peace idols. When it got to my turn I went like ‘My peace idol is Mahatma Gandhi of India because he epitomized nonviolence.’ Sooner than later, I remembered the promise I had made to you and felt very sad that I did not keep it. I hope you are strong enough to forgive me; as my nonviolent idol would say ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’
Mahatma Gandhi (October 2, 1869 to January 30, 1948)
It is a fact that since independence in 1957, Ghana has remained very peaceful except that there was a series of military governments but after the country returned to the democratic path in 1992; many have touted its credential as a stable democracy in the West African sub-region. Francis (2009) described Ghana as an oasis of peace in an otherwise “violent and ‘bad neighbourhood’ with weak and collapsed states that ‘habitually’ intervene in member states.” I have not forgotten about the trail blazing Ghanaians who have distinguished themselves in the sphere of peace and conflict resolution. For example, the 7th Secretary General of the United Nations, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Kofi Annan who was incidentally the first black African to hold that prestigious position is a Ghanaian. So, how come you have not been able to find a Ghanaian nonviolent idol? You may ask.
My answer would be; maybe I have been looking at the wrong place for one. You see, beneath the peacefulness of Ghana lies pockets of protracted local conflicts that are largely centered on contestations over land and chieftaincy claims. In our country today, there still exists the risk of electoral violence and you will agree with me that as we inch into the November 2016 general elections tensions are already high. I have therefore been looking for my Ghanaian nonviolent idol from among the Chiefs or Royals across the country who have found themselves in one conflict or the other and have chosen nonviolence to deal with the conflict. Sadly, I have not found one yet. I am looking for a Ghanaian nonviolent idol from among political activists who have chosen nonviolence as a strategy to realize their goals. My Ghanaian nonviolent idol would be that police officer who would not resort to unwarranted brute force to disperse fellow Ghanaians who are demonstrating for a cause they believe in. I am also looking for my Ghanaian nonviolent idol from Ghanaian student body who would not resort to riot and cause damage to school property simply because the power went off (dumsor) and they could not have their end of term jamboree. I am still looking but I have not found one yet; maybe I am looking at the wrong place.
I am sure the next question on your mind is ‘how can one live a nonviolent life’? Gandhi advised that whenever an opponent confronts us with violence, we should conquer him (the opponent) with love. But what then is violence? Violence according to Fisher et al. (2000) consists of actions, words, attitudes, structures or systems that cause physical, psychological, social or environmental damage and/or prevent people from reaching their full human potential. So how can I show love to my opponent, my oppressor; someone who is preventing me from attaining my full human potential? Living by Gandhi’s advice must certainly be a herculean task, I used to wonder too.
But last week I got the answer, one of our resource persons – Dr. Chanchai – took us through the Aikido way of making nonviolence a way of life. This involves living in a daily experience of Aikido whereby you get attacks (violence) from all around you and with your eyes closed (deliberately) you only sense the attacking energy coming. Still with your eyes closed (consciously) you blend and flow with the coming energy and transfer them to other safe places (dialogue, negotiation etc.) rather than confronting them with your body. If you respond to violence in this manner, nonviolence becomes your way of life. You would have practically and purposefully immersed yourself in nonviolence. Nonviolence then becomes a constant and deliberate effort as you would with Aikido. Ten years from today, someone will step out to be crowned a nonviolent icon, let it be you!
David Normanyo, Ghana
Rotary Peace Fellow, January 2016 session.