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The Impact of Conflict on African Families Emma L. A. Oketch



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The Impact of Conflict on African Families Emma L A Oketch Lecturer Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies University of Nairobi Institute of Humanities Education and Development Studies Strathmore University Introduction Since Independence and the end of colonialism and the Cold War the image of the African continent has been marred by the occurrence and recurrence of conflicts within and between states Although the conflicts are internal in nature they tend to be internationalized Due to the devastating effects of conflict such as great losses in Gross Domestic Product GDP high mortality and casualty rates influx of refugees destruction of infrastructure famine damage to human rights mass deportation loss of livelihoods recruitment of children torture rape and imprisonment attention has increasingly been placed on methods of conflict prevention and management Traditional societies in Africa and elsewhere are reputed to hold secrets of traditional cures for diseases and peacemaking locked in their ways formed from centuries of custom before the disruption of colonialism 1 These are often ignored in favour of western cures and methods and thus legitimizing the West and illegitimating African thought patterns Some of these methods have been used in inter communal conflicts with varying degrees of success However the persistence of violent conflict in Africa points to the fact those homegrown measures on their own are not adequate in preventing and managing conflict perhaps because of the modernizing change experienced in most African states or the new challenges of modern conflict At the same time new methods have been devised and used to prevent and manage African conflicts like peacekeeping operations and third party mediation The persistence of African conflicts despite these modern international methods shows that they are also defective in facing the challenges These methods are often faulted for being non African and foreign Both traditional and modern methods of conflict prevention and management may be sound but neither have been well implemented or applied Together they can also be used effectively and efficiently This paper will focus on the question of the family in conflict situations Families are broken up the structure is changed as family members are killed and maimed internally displaced or separated during conflict situations The family is the basic unit and structure of society However it is becoming apparent that in conflict prevention and management the family as an institution is largely ignored and efforts focus on individuals In conflict prevention and management the structures usually targeted are political economic and developmental because conflict typically arises in situations of poverty and want In post conflict peace building and reconstruction the structures targeted are educational economic and 1 Zartman W Traditional Cures for Modern Conflicts African Conflict Medicine London Lynne Rienner Publishers 2000 p 1 See also Brock Utne B Indigenous conflict resolution in Africa draft presente at the University of Oslo Institute for Educational Research 23 24 February 2001 at http africavenir com publications occasional papers BrockUtneTradConflictResolution pdf visited 30 June 2007 political Politically individuals are given civic education socially and economically they are resettled demobilized and reunited given loans to start small businesses and provided with medical care Psychologically they are counseled to help relieve the trauma of conflict In all this the family and its contribution to society are left on the fringes Families are not restructured after situations of conflict and it is assumed that any help given to individuals will necessarily translate into group or family benefits In post conflict situations families face many problems that eventually seep back into the society The peace created is negative peace the absence of war and is therefore not a lasting or durable peace as familial and societal structures give rise to conflict again This paper looks at these aspects and argues for the restructuring and strengthening of families in order to enhance conflict prevention and management The African Family The institution of family has been central to the well being of African societies over the years African families have undergone significant transformations caused by the interplay of indigenous Arabic Islamic and European Christian cultures At the same time colonialism modernization urbanization and migration have played and continue to play a role in the transformation of families across the continent Profound transitions have also occurred in family structure and processes since the post colonial period Those transitions include the changing modes of decision making due to the establishment of a cash crop economy and the ownership of land changing maternal roles an increasing age at marriage and declining fertility a growing number of households headed by women an increase in the rate of marital instability and dissolution and changing patterns in family relations A host of issues and challenges have the potential to weaken or threaten the survival of the traditional African family including the HIV AIDS pandemic conflict situations a growing elderly population declining governmental support and economic decay Urbanization and modernization have placed heavy burdens on families who still shoulder the socio economic responsibilities of the extended family It is not as easy as in the past to provide children with the same amount of care and attention they automatically receive in the extended family arrangement Urbanization and modernization cut directly across ancestry based residence and mutual social spiritual and economic co operation With regular employment at decent wage levels a rarity mothers are constrained to combine their traditional roles childrearing and household chores with earning money to supplement the household income The tension inherent in the uncertainties of the new society has far reaching implications for the physical and mental well being of all The reaction of the post colonial family to these potential threats and challenges could either maintain or undermine the family s role as a major organizing principle in Africa While it is true that the traditional family has changed in many ways and that African families are continuously confronted with new challenges it has also adapted to the emerging


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