Traditional African conflict prevention and transformation methods : case studies of Sukwa, Ngoni, Chewa and Yao tribes in Malawi.
This study sought to investigate if there are common cultural elements for preventing and transforming violent conflict in selected patrilineal and matrilineal tribes in Malawi, as well as selected societies from other parts of Africa. The researcher argues that in both patrilineal and matrilineal tribes in Malawi, violent conflict prevention and transformation methods are inherently rooted in elaborate socio-political governance structures. This also applies to other societies in Africa, such as the pre-colonial traditional societies of Rwanda, the Pokot pastoral community in the North Rift of Kenya, the ubuntu societies in South Africa and the Acholi of Northern Uganda. The basic framework for these structures comprise the individuals (men, women and older children), as the primary building blocks, the family component comprising of the nucleus and extended families as secondary building block and traditional leadership component. Within these socio-political governance structures, individuals coexist and are inextricably bound in multi-layered social relationships and networks with others. In these governance structures, a certain level of conflict between individuals or groups is considered normal and desirable, as it brings about vital progressive changes as well as creates the necessary diversity, which makes the community interesting. However, violent conflicts are regarded as undesirable and require intervention. Consequently, the multi-layered social networks have several intrinsic features, which enable the communities to prevent the occurrence of violent conflicts or transform them when they occur, in order to maintain social harmony. The first findings show that each level of the social networks has appropriate mechanisms for dissipating violent conflicts, which go beyond tolerable levels. Secondly, individuals have an obligation to intervene in violent conflicts as part of social and moral roles, duties and commitments, which they have to fulfil. Thirdly, the networks have forums in which selected competent elders from the society facilitate open discussions of violent conflicts and decisions are made by consensus involving as many men and women as possible. In these forums, each individual is valued and dignified. Fourthly, there are deliberate efforts to advance transparency and accountability in the forums where violent conflicts are discussed. However, in general terms, women occupy a subordinate status in both leadership and decision-making processes, though they actively participate in violent conflict interventions and some of them hold leadership positions. In addition, the findings show that the tribes researched have an elaborate process for transforming violent conflicts. This process includes the creation of an environment conducive for discussing violent conflicts, listening to each of the disputants, establishing the truth, exhausting all issues, reconciling the disputants and in case one disputant is not satisfied with the outcomes of the discussions, referring the violent conflict for discussion to another forum. Furthermore, individuals in both patrilineal and matrilineal tribes are governed by moral values including respect, relations, relationships, interdependence, unity, kindness, friendliness, sharing, love, transparency, tolerance, self-restraint, humility, trustworthiness and obedience. These moral values enhance self-restraint, prevent aggressive behaviour, as well as promote and enhance good relationships between individuals in the family and the society as a whole. The researcher argues that the positive cultural factors for prevention and transformation of violent conflict, outlined above, which are inherent in the traditional African socio-political governance system should be deliberately promoted for incorporation into the modern state socio-political governance systems through peace-building and development initiatives as well as democratisation processes. This could be one of the interventions for dealing with violent conflict devastating Africa today.