Why Development for Peace Education was formed

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By Sofonea Shale

THE Development for Peace Education (DPE), one of the civil society organisations in Lesotho remembered its founder, the late Sr Veronica ‘Mapaseka Phafoli last week.  Though the debate concentrated on the ideas of this Mosotho peace philosopher, critical questions and reflections went beyond DPE to civil society as the sector as some people looked at other organisations as well.

These reflections basically led to the fundamental question’ why was the DPE formed?  This article seeks to respond to this question in few sentences which may be limiting the discussion and raise questions that informed this debate and locate DPE in context.  The latter approach is chosen because it will further the debate on whether DPE has lived to the expectation and the extent to which its existence is relevant to contemporary challenges.

The role of civil society organisations in Lesotho has been perceived differently by different people depending largely on the level of awareness and the political affiliation.  Civil society organisations have categories; service delivery, capacity building and advocacy. The first two are normally accepted by the government and those who support political parties that lead such government. Without realising how advocacy organisations help government in its operations, government and the rank and file in the political parties that form such administrations find it easy to despise them.

Although there are many names which are used interchangeably; non-governmental organisations, social movements, non-state actors and voluntary associations for those involved closely either as intellectuals or activists, there is a marked difference. The intellectuals and activists believe that while they may all subscribe to the idea that solidarity is a relationship forged through political struggle which seeks to challenge forms of oppression, they may fundamentally differ in approaches.

Without indulging in any theoretical contours of this sector, exposing how political systems work and how they may be buttressed or challenged by groups and actors which are not in state machinery may enable this debate. Civil society can either be hegemonic or counter-hegemonic.

The political regime is sustained by the intellectuals and other dominant groups exercising some functions of social hegemony and political government. Civil society, in its various forms, will take care of maintaining the system. In this way, the political regime may not only use coercion, alienation and fear to deter masses from revolting against it but manipulation.

In a democracy, overt violence may not be adequate to retain a capitalist domination.  The domination is perpetuated by the coercive state machinery by rewards and sanctions, the intellectual and moral leadership moulds personal convictions of citizens into a carbon copy of the norms set by the leader. This latter dimension of domination is pushed by civil society groups which may either be coercive or non-coercive. The use of the term “hegemony” denotes not only domination by expression of overt force, but a reciprocal logic between that coercion and consent induced by state indirectly. 

The political regime legitimates its power to impose its will over people through institutions, procedures and concessions, thus winning over subordinate groups to support existing social structures. If citizens are passive and accept inhumane treatment and are not able to engage leaders and hold government accountable, it will be on the account of civil society. The explanation of non-revolutionary if not reactionary elements within the political society is found in the ability of the state to use resources to appease civil society.  The relative satisfaction of civil society means that citizens could not rise up against the state, although the state may remain oppressive.

In this scheme of things, there is reciprocity where dominant social forces profit from institutions that lure the weaker into subordination through consensus building. In this way, the state hegemony cementing dominant ideologies in society to the extent that they are accepted as part of self, is facilitated by civil society institutions, such as the church, media, voluntary organisations and the educational system. In this way, an oppressive government may survive without necessarily using the potential for state coercion.  If this is what civil society is capable of doing, the question is, are civil society organisations in Lesotho and DPE in particular part of this?

In practice, civil society can either work to buttress or challenge the status quo and when it chooses the latter route, it is referred to as counter-hegemonic. In the festival of ideas in Lesotho, civil society is seen as many things to many people. Some see it as an extension of the state, a buffer against government and society, a broker between government and society, a symbol of an actual political norm setter, an agent of change, regulator of the process of participation in societal norm setting, integrator of groups articulating political interests into a viable process for doing so, or representative and promoter of particular interests. For others, civil society refers to social organisations outside the state structure, excluding individually-owned or corporate-owned business or enterprises. Still for others civil society is seen as a midwife of regime change.

These groups mount solidarity campaigns with organisations beyond borders and internationally to focus on changing the policies of their governments, and of multilateral organisations, which curtail their right to construct their own world.  In the orientation of these leftist organisations, it is counter-revolutionary for the so-called northern NGOs to be directly involved in development efforts in southern countries.  The role of northern NGOs should be to support indigenous civil society groups to carry out country level projects otherwise they perpetuate that which they say they abhor.

DPE was formed to empower communities to transform their own world. In her founding conceptualisation, the founder emphasised that for real transformation to occur, there must be accurate analysis of the problems and their root causes and for it to be accurate it has to start with the people themselves.  DPE is therefore the people’s stage for the change they themselves define and act towards achieving. DPE philosophy hands over the stick to the communities to do things on their own and determine their own destiny.  Whether DPE is on the right path, is an issue for reflection not only internally but in the public sphere as well.

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