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Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for Philosophy in Africa, in collaboration with Stockholm University’s Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, recently hosted a workshop that grappled with the ethics of war and conflict.


From left, Professor Dennis Masaka, Drs Todd Karhu and Christine Hobden, Professors Uchenna Okeja, Helen Frowe and Lawrence Ogbo Ugwuanyi, and Karabo Maiyane

The two-day workshop on South Campus was conceived through engagements with colleagues from Sweden and the United Kingdom, to analyse conflict within the context of a democratic imagination.

Different perspectives put forth by the researchers looked at how new iterations of conflicts emerge within democratic societies, and how these societies ought to respond to conflicts, given their own commitments.

“I tried to make sense of the question regarding democratic peace; that is the assumption that democracies are more prone to maintain peace or to have a peaceful outlook towards other democracies,” said the principal organiser of the workshop, Professor Uchenna Okeja from Mandela University.

He then demonstrated that the arguments, which mobilised to conclusions regarding the connection between democratic peace and the attainment of resilient societies, fail. Although the arguments do not provide robust justification of the claims made, the entire imagination of democratic peace is not useless.

“We should approach the question of peace for democracies from a different paradigm, one that integrates the question of justice with the responsibility for trauma, especially traumas that result from deep conflicts,” said Prof Okeja.

Among the workshop participants was Prof Dennis Masaka from the Great Zimbabwe University, who said that war is often taken as a consequence of injustice. He added that both at state and global level, there is this thinking that perhaps war could be a solution to injustice.

“War gives rise to bogus peace, and wars often create new layers of injustice; whenever wars have taken place, even on the pretence of a good cause, we have new forms of injustice coming up” argued Prof Masaka, to which he proposed an alternative of Ubuntu-based intervention.

Wits University’s Dr Christine Hobden then assessed the role that citizenry plays government’s involvement in war, in her submission entitled ‘democratic citizenship, collective moral responsibility, and war’.

“We live in a deeply unjust world and many individuals, corporations and state actors, could be collectively responsible for what is going on. Together though, we participate in the endorsement and perpetuation of injustice, so there is a responsibility gap that we need to take more seriously,” said Dr Hobden.

“Being a member of a collective that is morally responsible does not make individuals accountable; it’s a collective obligation that can ground individuals to do their part in fulfilling the collective response” she added.

Dr Hobden then concluded by proposing Big Tech as a tool for collective response, stating that the consolidation of the citizenry’s voice, will influence the interest of states and what they feel legitimised to do.

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