East Africa: Developing a Knowledge Society for Peace in the Horn of Africa

29 January 2021

Kwame Nkrumah writes in his classic Africa Must Unite of naysayers who insist that Africa "lacks the three necessary ingredients for unity; a common race, culture, and language."[1] Pointing out that such divisions are inevitable due to our historical background, Kwame Nkrumah describes the sense of one-ness Africans feel when they meet as outweighing that which divides them.

The Horn of Africa (HoA) is often beset with violent conflict that warrants serious concern. The violent conflicts in the region fall under similar categories such as border, territorial, identity, governance or resource-based conflicts. The necessary ingredients for unity go beyond what Nkrumah described to encompass shared knowledge by the citizenry on the contents of peace and political settlements of not only other countries in the Horn, but sometimes even of their own country. Does the citizen affected by an identity crisis in Somalia know of the contents of peace agreements on similar processes in, for instance, Eritrea?

The upcoming African Union High-Level Implementation Panel conference chaired by President Thabo Mbeki provides an opportunity to create a knowledge society[2] by comparing lessons learnt or unlearnt from peace and political settlements.

Why are the contents of political peace processes not common knowledge?

There are many reasons explaining why knowledge of the content of peace and political settlements is not widely shared. Many of the peace agreements in the region are drafted by non-locals who do not stay on to ensure implementation or ensure sharing in the country and across the region. Discussion outside of the room where the peace process is happening is, in many cases, often also not on content, but on donor funding. The scholar K. Y. Tieku describes negotiators as almost always "living free of charge in five-star hotels and receiving the equivalent of five months pay in one week of per diems making continued talks more attractive than achieving peace."[3]

Another scholar, Séverine Autesserre describes non-locals working on humanitarian and peace processes as showing up set on not accepting any knowledge but the one they possess, with "pre-existing, pre-formatted knowledge" based on being "products of similar educational backgrounds and professional socialization" that dismisses "local continuities of understanding and erects barriers towards the host population", while "valuing technical knowledge over local expertise" making their "interventions irrelevant."[4]

A shared history of fragmentation imposed through colonial boundaries and polices such as "divide and rule" have made the region vulnerable to neo-colonial intervention. Post-independent governments in some cases unfortunately extended the destructive legacy.

Developing a knowledge society based on political peace settlements

A consolidated response from the region calls for nothing less than launching a human renaissance regardless of ethnicity and religion. This will involve learning each other's histories, investing in joint knowledge creation across the educational, cultural and economic dimensions of a people linked through geographical proximity.

There are challenges. Many communities are still highly fractured and would not imagine developing common strategies on a joint knowledge society. For this reason, any movement towards progressive change requires leaders to agree on a way forward.

The leaders in the upcoming conference on peace, security, stability, cooperation and development in the HoA to be convened by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel could discuss whether peace and political settlements have become declarations or principles with no effect - and how to create a knowledge society from knowledge available in peace and political agreements?

The success of the human renaissance in the region will be defined by a cultural and educational drive. Joint knowledge creation can create a pluralistic culture and reinforce an ability to underpin resilience in taking on emerging challenges. This will require independent political will, creativity and openness towards embracing new knowledge.

Recommendations for the conference


Understanding current efforts (if any) on the creation of a joint political processes' knowledge society.

Identification of effective strategies to build a knowledge society.

Understanding the role of individual citizens, inter-governmental, governmental and civil society actors in building a knowledge society.


Regional Round Tables bringing together academic, traditional and oral historians versed in the study of political peace settlements.

Avail expert resource persons to lead public discussions on the creation of joint regional knowledge on methods of conflict resolution, dialogue facilitation, mediation, negotiation, governance and the crucial roles of, among others, women and youth in resolving conflict.

Articulate a knowledge creation plan with recommendations for action by Parliament or law enforcement agencies, provide broad civic education on citizenship, rights, obligations and regional cohesion and teach the elements of a knowledge society based on political peace processes in schools.

Undertake consultations with political leaders to reinforce messages identifying areas of mutual concern on a knowledge society.

Begin and sustain tracks of dialogues among key non-political stakeholders such as business leaders on the benefits of a regional knowledge society.

Articulate an inclusive vision on a knowledge society for public discussion in public forums.

Consolidate a change in consciousness by commissioning thematic papers to enable informed decision and sound recommendations on the following topics:

Analysing and identifying coordination mechanisms across political peace settlements.

Assessments on level of regional preparedness to transition into a knowledge society.

The role of memorials, historical exhibits, books, and discussions, theatre and art productions in making values from peace and political settlements visible. What in terms of joint knowledge creation would the region choose to remember in preparing knowledge for the future?

Ensuring knowledge creation of collective responsibility as opposed to collective guilt.

Anticipating and proactively addressing implementation of political peace processes and formulating appropriate approaches relating to regional partnerships towards a coherent and coordinated knowledge society.

The role of literature, music and the arts in interpreting political peace settlements.

The intergenerational transmission of values and beliefs guiding traditionally led political peace settlements.

In the absence of political will little headway in creating a knowledge society will be made; and an important opportunity will have passed through the continent's hands.

End Notes

[1]Nkrumah, K. (1963) Africa Must Unite, London: Panaf Books.

[2]Definition: "A knowledge society is a formal association of people with similar interests, who try to make effective use of their combined knowledge about their areas of interest and in the process contribute to this knowledge". http://www.lisbdnet.com/knowledge-society-definition/. Accessed 9 September 2020.

[3]Tieku, K. T(2012) How Perks for Delegates Can Influence Peace Process Outcomes. Discussion Paper No. 3. http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/7056~v~How_Perks_for_Delegates_Can_Influence_Peace_Process_Outcomes.pdf. Accessed 1 May 2020.

[4]Autesserre, S. (2014). Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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