Videography: Jean-Pierre Larroque, Production Coordination: Andrea Jovanovic, Interviewed by Jessica Chapman, Flat Earth Media

Is peace in the 21st century possible?

A Potential Avenue to Amani[i]!

This question was the center of deliberations at the recent One Earth Future Forum in Aspen, Colorado. The Forum brought together thought-leaders including Ambassador (“Balozi[ii]”) Charles Stith who is captured in the video clip above (transcript is below). Ambassador Charles Stith is currently an adjunct member of faculty at Boston University’s Fredrick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, where he also serves as the Director of the Africa Presidential Archives and Research Centre (APARC). The APARC provides a unique residency forum where formerly elected African leaders, in periods of up to two years at a time, dialogue with the wider Boston University community and share their experiences in the form of lectures and writings. Ambassador Stith is also a former US Ambassador to the Republic of Tanzania during the trying times around the tragic August 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. His background and wide network of private and public sector contacts, lends great credibility to his work at APARC and to the subject of global conflict.

When the question on the likelihood of peace was raised to Ambassador Stith, he discussed how his vast experience and background shape his opinion on the matter. As a start, he mentions that he is the product of the US civil rights movement and recalls growing up during the sad events around the lynching of Emmett Till - a particularly gruesome episode in race relations in the US. His efforts at desegregation of movie theaters in his St. Louis, Missouri hometown, where racial tensions continue to be felt as a result of a shooting death in the Ferguson suburb, and other initiatives around “changing and reshaping society” provide a lens through which he views this question. In the eyes of Ambassador Stith, a major issue that drives conflict here in the US and even further afield in the emerging democracies of Africa, is “marginalization and people’s sense of unfair treatment.” Indeed, it is these underlying grievances that several scholars have found to have contributed to the 2007/8 post-election violence in Kenya. A significant part of my recent case study on Kenyan business involvement in preventing electoral violence during the 2013 cycle captures these same sentiments.

For Ambassador Stith, tackling the challenge of tensions that ultimately lead to active conflict can be done through preemptive measures. At the core of these measures is the development of an understanding of how to quantify the sense of unfairness that drives conflict. By doing so, “Balozi” Stith provides us with a possible avenue to “Amani” in the 21st century!

[i] Kiswahili for “peace”

[ii] Kiswahili for “Ambassador”

(Ambassador Stith)    

Peace is a possibility? Absolutely not likely. Understand that peace is relative.  There are those elements in human society that have existed time immemorial that indicate that we've got violent tendencies, and as long as you have violent tendencies you have the potential for war. 

But what we've also learned – particularly over the last 50 years – is that there are ways to manage and mediate conflict in peaceful ways, and probably one of the most significant and successful was the civil rights movement in this country, and the transformation that it precipitated here.  The residual impact that we saw in places like Poland, Walesa, and the union movement - they're saying, "We shall overcome." 

I'm literally a child and a product of the civil rights movement in this country. I was born in 1949 with the lynching of Emmett Till.  I was a little young to connect all of the dots, but I understood what that meant.  We were part of the group of kids that desegregated movie theaters in St. Louis, Missouri.  Over a lifetime I have been involved in various efforts to change and reshape society.  So, you know, I'm optimistic about the possibility of change if we make our minds up to do so.  But having said that, we're challenged at the moment in some profound ways.  You know, even as we speak we've got protests going on in Ferguson, Missouri.  In places like Tanzania where all of the economic indicators are headed in the right direction, there's still also a rising level of discontent. 

So the issue of how we manage to deal with people's sense of unfair treatment, of being marginalized, instead of seeing more opportunities to move into the mainstream, remain challenges today.

The lack of food makes for violent people.  Maybe the only thing that makes for more violent people is the lack of fairness.  Beginning to understand how we quantify that, how we understand it, so that we can take preemptive measures, I think will go a long way toward furthering the cause of peace.