Quaker Peace Network – Africa (QPN-Africa)
In 1998 three Quaker policy organizations (the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) in the US, the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), and Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain) came together with others involved with international peace work, for sharing and consultation. That first meeting, called the Quaker Consultation for the Peaceful Prevention of Violent Conflict, was held in England. The second meeting was held two years later, at QUNO New York and at the FCNL office in Washington DC. The topic was violent conflicts in the world, and three African participants, with experience of this, were invited to the meeting, one each from Burundi, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At the end of the meeting, the Burundian representative invited the group to meet next in Bujumbura, Burundi.
In September 2002, the group met in Bujumbura. Participants came from those parts of Africa where Quakers were present -- Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, South Africa, and West Africa. QUNO (both New York and Geneva), FCNL, QPSW, the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), Change Agents for Peace – International (CAPI) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) were also present.
In 2004, they met in Kakamega, Kenya. There they recognised that elections were one of the major causes of violence in Africa, and the idea of supporting each other in election observing was born. The Burundian Quaker organizations soon became involved with election observing for the 2005 Burundian elections, and international observers were brought from Rwanda, DRC, Kenya, and overseas. This was a positive experience, so at their 2006 meeting in Kibuye, Rwanda, the group decided to take on election observing as an institutional charge. They also began to support each other by being witnesses and mediators in local yearly meetings that were having conflicts, particularly when yearly meeting leaders were being chosen.
The next meeting was in 2009,in Gitega, Burundi, at the Quaker retreat centre – Ministry for Peace and Reconciliation Under the Cross (Mi-PAREC, French initials). It was at this conference that the idea of using a significant fraction of the time together for education was implemented, with presentations about ‘Responding to Conflict’, a method of analyzing peace-building activities. At this meeting it was also decided that the official name of the group would be Quaker Peace Network-Africa (QPN-Africa). CAPI took on administrative tasks and funding.
In addition to the all-Africa gatherings every two or three years, QPN-Africa is now divided into four regions – QPN-East Africa, QPN-Central Africa, QPN-West Africa, and QPN-Southern Africa. Some QPN regional groups, particularly East Africa and Central Africa, have met between the all-Africa gatherings. In addition there are some country QPN groups, notably Kenya, which have met again on their own to develop interactions and make countrywide plans.
In the future QPN-Africa hopes to develop its work in several ways. It can see its potential as a channel of communication between grass roots work and the policy level, and also as a shared ‘memory’ of the many different experiences, and shared learning, across the network, so that these are not lost. It would also be very interested in developing non-formal diplomacy activity in Africa, with help and guidance from QUNO.
In May 2012 QPN-Africa met in Uvira, South Kivu, DRC. The education strand took the form of a keynote address on Quaker values. The hope is that the next QPN-Africa meeting will be in West Africa, for the first time. The vast majority of African Quaker peacemakers reside in East or Central Africa so meetings in those regions incur far less travel costs than would meetings in Southern or West Africa. Nonetheless the group feels that West Africa should have this opportunity, even if attendance is likely to be lower.
QPN-Africa originated in a meeting of FCNL, QUNO, QPSW and others, and their representatives have attended the QPN-Africa meetings when possible. However there are no comparable networks elsewhere in the world. At the World Gathering of Friends, held in Kenya in April 2012, the Quaker Peacemakers Group recommended that other parts of the world develop their own Quaker Peace Networks. A future World Gathering could focus on Quaker peacemaking, and could bring the networks together, to share and learn from each other.