The book explores the origins and unfolding of the WFD-funded peace process in Chimanimani District in mountainous Eastern Zimbabwe.
The rural population of Chimanimani District have experienced conflict and violence for many decades. During the escalating Liberation War in the 1970s they were at the mercy of both sides of the conflict and after Independence in 1980 they suffered from spill-over from the civil war in near-by Mozambique. Home-grown party-political conflict has torn at the fabric of society throughout the 40 years since Independence. Economic decline, poverty, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation and irresponsible mining have all exerted pressures that have resulted in social ills such as crime, domestic violence and abuse, ill-educated children and youths with no hope of a secure future.
Harvesting Peace records a story of a very slow, community-rooted and on-going process of turning this deplorable situation around starting with an awakening to the need for environmental recovery in the Chikukwa community within Chimanimani District. The book falls naturally into three sections.
The first section is entitled “Chikukwa, Permaculture and CELUCT”. This looks at growing environmental disaster in the late 80s resulting in the faltering of the natural water supply. A small group of Chikukwans embraced the sustainable agricultural practices known as “permaculture” and over time these practices took root and blossomed into environmental recovery, food security and the birth of an organisation called Chikukwa Ecological Land-Use Trust (CELUCT). CELUCT became a community center for disseminating information about permaculture, locally, nationally and regionally. It became apparent, however, that improved agricultural practices do not happen in isolation. CELUCT naturally became involved in debates and programmes concerned with human relations, social cohesion and wholesome ways of resolving conflict.
In 2008 bitterly contested national elections rocked Zimbabwe bringing ugly violence and intimidation in its train. The Chikukwa community was relatively untouched by this conflict and this fact was noted by the wider society of Chimanimani District. The second section of the book is entitled “Building Constructive Community Relations”. It traces the history of the peace process from its origins in Chikukwa’s management of its own internal conflicts. In 2010 traditional, political and civil authorities in Chimanimani District issued a formal invitation to CELUCT to broaden their conflict transformation process to areas in the wider District. By 2013 CELUCT had honed conflict-transformation skills and was ready to operate on a wider stage. WFD funding was in place and a baseline survey established the parameters of what was involved, the scope of the problems and possible solutions. A District Peace Committee was set up drawing on a wide range of organisations and political and religious affiliations. Work began in five, and then seven Wards of the Chimanimani District, selected as being particularly troubled by conflict and violence. Over time the process spread to incorporate nine Wards and now happens in 12 of the 21 Wards of the District.
Essentially the process depends on the community election of Ward Peace Teams (now abbreviated to WaPeTe) representing varied interest groups such as local government, traditional leadership, women, the youth and the disadvantaged. These teams identify issues in their community that are causing conflict and means by which this conflict may be reduced. CELUCT’s role is to help WaPeTe to draw up their action plans and identify the methods and measures of success that they will employ and then, vitally, to evaluate their success in meeting their goals.
CELUCT has produced training materials and workshop programmes and maintains a constant flow of training and capacitation to support the peace process in the district. The conflict resolution work continues and expands despite setbacks such as Cyclone Idai and the Corona pandemic.
The third section of the book, “Harvesting the Seeds of Peace” embarks upon an evaluation of the process so far. Ten factors seem to have given the movement coherence and sustainability. Quoting from the text:
The conflict transformation project in Chimanimani District has achieved the success that it has because the project:
- Understands the multiple rifts within a rural society in transition, and the various functions and interests of the actors and institutions within that context;
- Directs interventions at causes leading to conflict (rather than symptoms of it) within the influence of the project, causes that are found in the denial of social, political, economic and cultural rights;
- Aims at transforming unjust systems by using conflict as a catalyst for social change through conflict sensitive approaches at all stages of conflict which dovetail modern theory and practice with traditional values;
- Recognizes the importance of attending to the mental, emotional and spiritual needs of both the individual and the community at large, to ensure a healthy functioning of people in wider society;
- Recognizes livelihoods, and food security in particular, as a very high priority in the peace process;
- Emphasizes community ownership and participation of all sections of rural society in the full cycle of project development from the organizational set-up to the hands-on action on the ground;
- Provides in CELUCT an accessible, inspiring local model of its principles in action, based on open team dialogue and simple fair management practices that ensure transparency and measurable goal-setting;
- Allows a slow, organic and flexible development of ideas and processes by the people concerned themselves, integrating failure and mistakes as positive aspects, and using simple planning, monitoring and other tools to support community understanding and analysis of conflicts;
- Understands the political background and realities of the country from a non-partisan perspective, while standing firm on values even if these lead to a challenge of the status-quo;
- Is facilitated by local people who are part of the community and use cooperative, pragmatic and flexible approaches
This evaluation section ends with a brief consideration of the extent to which the Chimanimani peace process could be reproduced elsewhere in Zimbabwe or even further afield. The writers feel cautiously optimistic that the project’s successes are transferrable so long as certain pre-conditions are present.