THE late Foday Sankoh is perhaps one of the worst human beings to walk the earth. It is not his part in the 11-year war in Sierra Leone that made him undesirable but the ease with which he mutilated civilians of all ages as punishment for opposing him.

It is difficult to put to words his reign of terror, yet what remains shocking is that such a proprietor of horror had supporters that gave financially and materially guns and men to advance his cause.

This is what makes war a complex matter because the parties who directly engage in combat represent other groups that stand to benefit in some form. This is part of the reason peace is negotiated because peace must be defined extensively by those shadow interests as well as those impacted.  

The negotiated peace must have certain guarantees for combatants and their interests more so than civilians who bare the brunt of curated destruction. The war for peace is much a battle to control the narrative of who is wrong, who is the victim and who deserves protection and allegiance.

These external forces create opinions that often have the power to pull warring parties to the negotiating table. The power of narrative can retain or conceal violence.

For example, the war in Sudan that began on April 15, 2023 has been quickly overtaken in the news as negotiators become somewhat overwhelmed with three wars at the same time, namely, Russia: Ukraine and Israel: Hamas (Gaza/Palestine).

For all intents and purposes, the war in Sudan is a difference between two individuals that should never have involved civilians at all.

Internal complexities notwithstanding, such differences are normally resolved through a trusted or monitored electoral system. An example of a country that had potential to implode is South Africa before the elections of 1995 which ended apartheid.  

While it is acceptable that domestic peculiarities override such comparisons, an even more overarching truth is that it takes the courage of consensual conscience and compromise to choose peace irrespective of tribe, religion, nationality or inclination.

It is too simple to expect to live in peace only with those who agree with us.

As far as complexities, the Russia-Ukraine discord concerns two nations with an inextricably interlinked history. Many opinions can be proposed for why there is a war between the two neighbours: a simpler one is that Ukraine had divergent ambitions from Russia for its future.

A slightly more complex one is that Ukraine’s ambitions posed a military threat to Russia; and that the latter had expressed those concerns to Ukraine’s would-be partners for over a decade.

However, simple or complex justifications for and against war rarely express the absolute anguish of being bombarded with gunfire and machinery whose purpose is to terminate life.

So, while allies and vested interests discuss positions and perceptions, guns pay no attention to intellectual interpretations.  

Indeed, every war, every disturbance to the norm of peace receives its share of attention in its early stages as people grasp to halt the carnage of unrestrained violence.

In most cases, those with the power to end hostilities refrain from taking sides and rather call on opposing parties to resolve their grievances without the consequence of bloodshed.

In some other cases, the call to peace can be created by the fear of retaliatory violence from partners or allies of one of the warring parties.

There was a time in this world when the two superpowers, the United States of America and Russia, former USSR, were opposed to each other in what became the cold war.

What followed was a nuclear arms race where the fear of nuclear weapons and advanced weapons of unimaginable violence resulted in a tense peace.

The end of the cold war was necessitated by painstaking diplomacy over several years and the courage of a few politicians who understood that peace must be a natural stay, than an imposition created by the fear of violence.

In the latter stages of global politics, beginning in the 1990s, trade and international finance became more pronounced than any other time in history.

At first, that stage of unipolarity or Pax Americana witnessed the advancement of global capitalism led by North America and western Europe.

The theory that trade and commerce enticed nations to seek peaceful solutions to conflict reigned true for a while, at least in some places. To an extent, the globe converged around this notion that economic success was best achieved in a peaceful environment.

Even in Africa, peace efforts were intensified to ensure the continent unlocked its full economic might. The liberation movements for political freedom from the early 1930s were largely replaced by the fight for economic freedom in 1990s, led by Zambia and Ghana.

Yet through all this narrative, and certainly with some hindsight, one observes that the easiest way to justify war and exterminate an entire people is to dehumanise that people by referring to them in isolation.

For example, as a Jew, or Taliban, terrorist, plunderer, slave, black, or anything undesirable enough to justify their ruin.

Paradoxically, such precursors to discrimination rarely destroy the resolve of those intended people. Violence and counter-violence became endemic and endless.

Even in nations that enjoy relative peace, such dehumanisation references can cause internecine implosions that change the course of life permanently.

Peace must be foremost. It must be pursued with every sinew of mind and matter. But it requires a level of mutual respect that even the most passive may not be comfortable with because people, for right or wrong, enjoy a level of hierarchy.

When in 1970 Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia spoke at the United Nations in his famous speech about ending artificial global hierarchies, he knew that no human spirit is ever permanently comfortable being dominated.

Self-determination is a natural consequence of existence. If peace is defined by those with weapons to ensure only their peace, the result is resentment.

Three major global conflicts at one single time requires a deep reflection by the international community and the realisation that hierarchy is not permanent.   


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