In the month of March, the focus would be on the need for a culture of peace particularly among young people in Liberia. The column would focus on respect for diversity, how we express our views without imposing them, religion and peace, communication skills such as saying simple thank you to show appreciation and conflict resolution when there is overt or covert conflict among young people. All essential elements required for peaceful society.
In his book The Mask of Anarchy, Stephen Ellis wrote on page 285 that: “Younger Liberians especially those who came of age during the war, often have views and attitudes significantly different from those of their elders. One obvious difference is that young Liberians today are generally less respectful of their elders than would have been thought proper in the past. They also tend to be far more individualistic generally, a trait which many Liberians regard with some alarm”.
Individualism, according to Walter A. Wright in his article on Cultural Issues in Mediation, is a social pattern that places the highest value on the interest of the individual. Individualists view themselves as independent and only loosely connected to the groups of which they are a part.
In our African context, this is not always the case. We believe in African collectivism as a social pattern that places the highest value on the interests of the groups. In the same article, Walter described collectivists as interdependent and closely linked to one or more groups. He went on to state that “They are often willing to maintain a commitment to a group even when their obligations to the group are personally disadvantageous. Norms, obligations and duties to groups are collectivists’ primary concerns, and they tend to place a high value on group harmony and solidarity. Respectfulness and cooperation are common collectivists’ traits”
Are we missing something among the Liberian young people? Do we agree with the assertion of Moses Nagbe that “Collectivism has largely fallen victim to individualism (…)” or do we believe that all people manifest individualists and collectivist characteristics in varying degrees. While it is obvious that the Liberian crisis created new expectations among the young, as wars and social economic conditions often do, poverty is not (and should never be) the proximate cause of conflict. Our attitude and behavior to conflict, conflict resolution and to peace should be examined closely and new ideas developed.
As children we tend to begin life in a collectivist context, dependent on our parents and other relatives that we live with. As young people, we are mandated to continue in this context but with the passage of time, our pursuit of personal ends and our socialization process gets in the way.
In our quest for sustainable peace in Liberia, we need to reexamine our culture and bring young people and youth groups on board. We are destined to repeat history if our young people are uninvolved and loss focus of our collective responsibilities. We cannot prepare for sustainable peace if we do not engage young people properly. We are as good as the generation we live in.
Peacebuilding is a unique field that comes with much dedication and commitment. It requires collective efforts from every stakeholder (youth, women and men). Conflict prevention contributes immensely in the sustainability of peace. Therefore, we need to reinstate civil education in schools and include peace education on early signs and warnings and early response.
In Messengers of Peace-Liberia, we inculcate in our volunteers the need for harmony and cooperation with members of their groups in schools and communities. Our volunteers are aware of the cultural assumptions upon which they operate in various schools and communities and we are always very proud of their representation and the school/community based self help programmes they carry out.
Our volunteers are also required to show respect for elders, authorities and to unleash their potentials for academic excellence rather than the pursuit for material success. To paraphrase Stephen Ellis, young people who believe they can acquire good things of life through aggressiveness or by a good fortune have its origin in the invisible world.
We would like to conclude this piece with a quote from the 2004 Noble Peace laureate, Wangari Maathai who said “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground; a time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”
Messengers of Peace-Liberia is opitimistic about Liberia’s future and we look forward to contributing further to efforts to solidify peace in Liberia. Peace is possible, Peace is achievable….Lets give peace a chance!
Until next week. Peace, above all. Peace First. Let Peace Prevail.