From April 1 to 5, 2004, around 50 representatives of international Quaker organizations met in Kakamega, Kenya, for the fifth international consultation of the Quaker Network for the Prevention of Violent Conflict.
The origins of this network go back to 2000, when Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW), based in Britain, met to examine alternatives to bombing in the aftermath of the war in Kosovo. Representatives of Quaker organizations at that summit recognized that if they waited until the bombs were falling to seek peaceful alternatives for addressing conflict, it was too late. The work of promoting peaceful methods for managing natural human conflict should come long before the resort to violence. The result of that initial consultation was a growing network that explores how Quaker organizations can not only help rebuild war-torn societies and respond to the outbreak of violence, but also help prevent violence before it starts.
The Quaker Network for the Prevention of Violent Conflict is an ongoing experiment in developing channels of relationships among representatives of Quaker agencies so that participating organizations can share knowledge and experience and increase individual and collective capacities for preventing deadly conflict. The network is spirit-led, not an official organization or Quaker body with any authority. Periodically the network helps gather staff of Quaker organizations in an informal process. Meetings of this growing group—based mostly in the United States, Europe, and Africa—have now been held in 2000 (London, UK), 2001 (New York and Washington, D.C., USA), 2002 (Bujumbura, Burundi), 2003 (Kigali, Rwanda, and London, UK), and 2004 (Kakamega, Kenya).
In Kenya this past April, representatives gathered from Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Norway, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We labored together on a challenge: how can we strengthen our individual and gathered Quaker organizational capacities to effectively prevent deadly conflict? The regional focus of the consultation was Africa, and we discussed trends in preventing deadly conflict at the policy level and at the local level. I attended on behalf of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and learned from African Friends some of the direct, usually negative, impacts of U.S. policy on their peacemaking efforts.
We were meeting around the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, and that failure of the international community to prevent mass killing shaped our conversations. One Friend described her efforts to raise warnings with the UN and what is now the African Union in the lead-up to the genocide, and her feeling of helplessness when more than 800,000 people were killed in just a few months. "I believe," she said, "that if we had a stronger, coordinated international Quaker effort to prevent these things, we could have saved lives; we could have made a difference."
As a network of diverse Quaker organizations gathering together, we are faced with our own challenges as well. We cannot ignore the differences in capacities and resources among our groups—between African, U.S., and European Quaker agencies; between long-standing organizations and brand-new projects; between those with experience on the ground in situations of conflict and those with experience at the policymaking level in places of power. As a network of Friends organizations, we too may reflect the realities of massive global disparities in wealth and power that often feed conflicts, or that may prevent the peaceful management of disputes. We must grapple with those issues together as a faith community. John Woolman’s call is more relevant than ever, particularly for Friends in the global North: "May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not."
Whatever our differences, though, we share a common root—the attempt of Friends in different places at different times to translate their faith into a practical human effort to help build the Community of God. And, within the network, we share a common goal as well—increasing our individual and gathered capacities to effectively help prevent genocide and deadly conflict. We discovered in Kenya that our differences can be sources of opportunity when we can match the gifts of some with the needs of others and collaborate on a shared vision.
After four years, we have only just begun to make connections. There is currently no budget and no staff devoted specifically to the network. Still, we are encouraged by the many seeds that have been planted. We envision an even broader network in the future, one that links Quaker organizations working in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America, that will demonstrate in practical terms what the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict might look like.