Reflections on Peace Education – Conceptual and Operational Dilemmas

[Image: Professor David Francis delivering a keynote address, Zimbabwe]

On 2-3 July 2015 representatives from JEFCAS participated at a University of Bradford facilitated Curriculum Development and Staff Training on Peace & Security Education in Zimbabwe.

photo 2Since its inception in 2004, peace education in Zimbabwe still has its fair share of multidimensional and multi-layered challenges to address in the conflict-prone context. The myriad challenges range from: strange bedfellows of politicians and peace academics – though they are expected to be mutually reinforcing and interlacing; the backwater communal narrative of marginalization and attendant challenges of rising poverty, hunger, dysfunctional hospitals and schools, increasingly polarized ethnic groups; a monumental economic comatose characterized by heightened company closures and job loses; both investor and capital flight further compounded by lack of balance of payment support from bilateral and multilateral financial institutions and a frosty relationship with a Commonwealth family to bloodletting factional politics – characterized by purging and decapitation of dissenting  voices.

Munyaradzi Nyakudya, Prof. Pamela machakanja, Prof. David Francis, Prof. Jeffrey Kurebwa, Dr Arthur Bainomugisha. Prof. Kurehwa, Mr John katsinde
Munyaradzi Nyakudya, Prof. Pamela machakanja, Prof. David Francis, Prof. Jeffrey Kurebwa, Dr Arthur Bainomugisha. Prof. Kurehwa, Mr John katsinde

It is in light of these challenges that peace education was introduced as antidote, premised on two assumptions. First, that peace is the purveyor of security and development in a conflict-prone, stressed, fragile, failed state, and second, that a robust peace education curriculum can be instrumental in stopping hostilities that normally undermine the productive use of resources in Zimbabwe. Despite such projections, peace education has suffered conceptual and operations deficiencies. Operational deficits include institutional, structural and ideological. Institutionally, there is dearth of qualified lecturers, possibly the reason why peace education is undervalued in Zimbabwe. Relatedly, because of lack of proper qualifications, peace academics don’t have a voice. As such, offering a robust curriculum in a conflict-prone environment is viable if the peace educators have a significant voice. The 2-3 July 2015 Curriculum Development and Staff Training on Peace & Security Education in Zimbabwe was mooted, among other objectives, to design a tapestry of curricula that address the complex conflicts and build pedagogic capacities of peace educators from fourteen universities. The workshop ran under the theme “Mapping an Agenda for Peace and Security Education for Sustainable Development”. Lead facilitators included: Professor David. J. Francis (Head of Peace Studies, JEFCAS Director, Commonwealth Scholarship Commissioner at the University of Bradford), Professor Pamela Machakanja (Director of the Institute for  Peace, Leadership and Governance, Africa University) and Dr. Author Bainomugisha (Executive Director of ACODE and Lecturer of Peace and Conflict Studies, Makerere University).

The training was part of the second phase of a collaborative project on curriculum development between peace academics in Zimbabwe and University of Bradford. While the first phase primarily focused on producing peace education guide, ways of mainstreaming peace in the existing curriculum and teaching and learning strategies, the sequential second workshop (carried after 10 years) focused on explicit processes of designing curriculum. Most significantly, the workshop sought to re-conceptualize the peace curriculum by involving wider community members, inclusive of the security sector actors (army and police), line ministry (Ministry of Education Sport and Culture), NGOs and students. Each university represented was given an opportunity to share curriculum experiences, milestones and militating factors. What emerged was a crying chorus demanding a totally new peace approach commensurate with increasingly dynamic internal conflicts. In his key note address, running under the title: Education for Peace Education in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, and as a lead facilitator, David Francis identified militating factors confronting the viability of education for peace in the 21st century Africa. Among others, the most prominent being:

  • Imposition of a liberal peacebuilding agenda in Africa
  • Failure to indigenize peacebuilding in Africa
  • Disjoint between education for peace interventions and the ‘Peace Writ Large’ framework in transition societies
  • Failure of discipline of peace education / peace and conflict research to re-invent itself
  • ‘Militarization’ of peace education curriculum and opposition from higher education because of entrenched interests
Professor David Francis

Despite this ugly picture, Francis also opined that there are some notable prospects that may increase the visibility of peace education in Africa, among being:

  • The revival of international interest in African universities after decades of neglect
  • Positive trend and context of reform at Africa universities which is now characterized by: ‘privatization’ of public universities, proliferation of private universities, decrease in wars and armed conflicts, increase in political governance, prospects for economic growth and development and demands for new course provisions
  • Demand for peace in transition societies in Africa which has culminated in opportunity to mainstream and institutionalize education for peace, peace and conflict research curriculum to service the peace industry

He also emphasized that education is a catalytic force to a create culture of peace. As such he recommended that the transformative role of education requires different forms of education provision which include formal, informal, non-formal, multiple levels of education, universities/tertiary sector, school systems: primary and secondary, civil society, local community, household, and grassroots levels. He also called on all present to speak the language of peace in their own vernacular language not the colonial language. Francis ended on a high note when he called on the academics present to abort the colonial education curriculum that is often taken up in most African countries and look at new narratives to understand peace in the local context.

The second facilitator, Prof. Pamela Machakanja (Africa University), in her key note address running under the theme: Education for Peace Education in Zimbabwe: Challenges and Prospects, and weighed in on Francis’ thoughts reinforcing that:

  • There is need to move out of the minimalist approach to peace education by incorporating many actors – embracing government, the NGOs, local private sector as well as international actors. Inclusive approach would ensure a cross cutting peace education curriculum.
  • Peace education curriculum should address a myriad insecurities, inclusive of food, unemployment, vendor economy, climate change, diseases, natural resources, water, political, knowledge and technological insecurities.

She recommended the need to generate our own African knowledge system to peace education. The presenter further challenged the academics to desist from being just consumers of western oriented ideologies but rather they should also generate knowledge. She said there is great need to publish a lot and invent indigenous knowledge systems. She also recommended that there is need to develop our own publication citation which is African centered. The presenter also emphasized that the need to strengthen public policy agenda and develop policies that incorporate different policy communities such as the business, the private and the public sector.  This collective interaction, she said, can sustain and promote peace education in Zimbabwe.

Dr Arthur Bainomugisha (ACODE and Makerere University- Uganda) in his key note speech: Introducing Peace and Conflict Studies in Higher Institutions of Learning: Uganda’s Experience, could not fall short of emphasizing on emerging issues raised by the first two key note speakers. He highlighted that the concept of conflict- is the intrinsic and inevitable aspect of social change. It is an expression of the heterogeneity of interests, values and beliefs that arise as new formations generated by social change come up against inherited constraints. The presenter also gave an overview of Uganda’s political history and conflicts. Arthur outlined typologies of major armed conflicts in Uganda which include Teso Rebellion (1986-91), LRA Rebellion 1986 to date, Cattle rustling in Karamoja sub-region, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebellion, West Nile Bank Front, National Rescue Front, Peoples Redemption Army (PRA) and new armed groups recently formed. He further mentioned how devastating these conflicts have been to the economic and social capital of Ugandans. Arthur highlighted that the introduction of Peace studies at Makerere University and indeed to some of the universities in Uganda in 2003 was a response to conflict prevention and peacebuilding demands. He pointed out that the idea of peace education was born in the Department of Religious Studies, Makerere University yet lacked pedagogic capacity to pursue this path.

In order to respond to the dearth of expertise, a collaborative partnership was entered into between University of Bradford, ACODE, Mbarara University of Science and Technology. This became to be known as MACOMBA Link Partnership. The peace education activities were being supported by DFID through British Council. MACOMBA Link was subsequently expanded to bring more universities on board which wanted to teach peace studies. These include: Gulu University; Nkozi Catholic University; Mbale Islamic University and Kampala University.

David Makwere
David Makwere

The presenter further outlined the challenges for teaching peace and conflicts in Institutions of Higher Learning in Uganda. As in the case of Zimbabwe, they include lack of subject experts to deliver quality education, lack of text books and other teaching materials, poor financing of institutions of higher learning by government, negative attitude towards peace studies by government, changing interests of donors, and peace project as a threat to the war economy agenda and competition among various faculties. The presentation also identified opportunities for teaching peace and conflicts in institutions of higher learning in Uganda. These include (among others) the:

  • International support for the infrastructure for peace in Africa – support from Bradford as a prime example.
  • Growing demand for peace education beyond university walls, to include private and security sector actors

The presenter concluded by saying peace education is the most important infrastructure for peace in Africa and time has come for the sons and daughters of Africa to stand up and change the ‘negative image of hopeless Africa to Africa is rising’ through peace education at all levels.

As a reflection on what has been shared by leading academics in peace education and the existential realities as they are obtaining in Africa in general, and Zimbabwe in particular, one cannot avoid to ask: How can peace education and those who champion it allay the conceptual and operational challenges and the negative perceptions simmering from authoritarian regimes? There are divergent views about peace education and its efficacious role in addressing threats that undermine security and development in conflict-prone countries from global South. Peace is utopian, some say. What and whose peace, others question! The Patriot Newspaper writes of peace education in universities: ‘we observed that our universities have been infiltrated by Western ‘soft power’ peddlers with neocolonial agenda to re-establish control over Africa’ rich natural resources through a new ad more sophisticated form of colonialism that seeks to promote white interests by controlling the mind-set of the African elite’ (Godobori 2015: 1) and the role of University of Bradford as ‘appears to be the premier British academic institution charged with the responsibility to transform African students into champions of self-hate and Afrophobia for the benefit of the whiteman’ (Godobori 2015).20150702_103946

Two conclusions can be drawn from the criticism above: one being that the philosophical underpinnings of peace is not clear to the generality of the population – therefore runs the risk of being misconstrued as a regime change agenda, and the other- though related to the first point, being of unclear ideological relationship between politicians, academia and economists, as peace education effervescently cuts across such everyday life domains in conflict settings. The intellectual nuances of peace education have not been made clear by pioneers of peace education. For instance, the early peace educator Betty Reardon (2000), defined peace education  as ‘the transmission of knowledge about the requirements of, the obstacles to and possibilities for achieving and maintaining peace, training in skills for interpreting the knowledge, and the development of reflective and participatory capacities for applying the knowledge to overcoming problems and achieving possibilities’. Where is the confusion then? This author, and many that share her thinking, seem to downplay the tension that exist between peace education – which is content related, and education for peace – which is holistic in transforming individuals and societies as it focuses on processes and practices. This tension manifests in many of the peace education curricula in Zimbabwe that seem to lack coherence as evidenced by numerous courses with conflicting titles – conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, peace leadership and governance, non-violence and human rights education.


Possibly more conversations are needed on what peace entails, before it loses relevance in a changing context. Despite introducing universities wide peace education in Zimbabwe, and often supported by community outreach programmes, Zimbabwe is becoming less peaceful. However, a critical lesson learnt from the workshop was that threats, conceptual and operational challenges the local academics are still motivated to significantly contribute to the development of peace education in Zimbabwe.


Betty A. Reardon (2004) Peace Education: A Review and Projection, New York. Routledge

Godobori Godobori (2015) Africa University’s Peace and Governance Programme — is it innocent as it looks? The Patriot Newspaper, published July 9, 2015. Accessed 9 July 2015


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