The Future of Belonging: Community or the State?

Fourth Equator Peace Academy, January 4-18, 2019

The border area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda presents a singular example of the challenges facing countries and communities the world over. Here, as throughout much of central and eastern Africa, the current crisis of the nation-state as a locus of belonging and communal meanings is felt acutely as a crisis of belonging. If the idea of the nation-state as a homogeneous cultural and social entity was, even in Europe, more myth than reality, in Africa it was experienced by many as a nightmare imposed by distant strangers.

Today, as since the colonial period, a political border separates a once united people in the Virunga areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda. The search for new centers of belonging has, however, mostly led to mistrust and suspicion, characterized by rampant violence between neighbors. These new loci of belonging are created both along state frontiers and within the various Christian churches, as partitioned by the early colonialists. Instead of forming the basis for a productive and life-enhancing communal life, these state-made boundaries serve to increase the separation between people and threaten any real sense of collective belonging.

As many European countries struggle to “protect their borders,” Africans in the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda are struggling with the consequences of boundaries that do not encompass much beyond state-sanctioned power and violence. If we look at locals’ sense of belonging rather than their citizenship, we find linguistic and tribal groupings that cut across state borders and are felt as more salient to discussions of community. Different local communities, speaking similar languages, live today in all three countries—not always peacefully and often in a state of enmity. A change in the status quo in any one country (such as the Rwandan genocide) inevitably leads to disruption, hostility, and renewed violence in another.

The fourth Equator Peace Academy (EPA) will explore the legacies of borders in the DRC and Uganda. It will focus on the communities of belonging in the Virunga region of Uganda and the DRC, looking at how a people who once shared a single language have been divided to form new identities in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The program will rotate between theoretical classes, experiential learning, and practical work, beginning in Kampala and continuing toward southwest Uganda, near Goma, DRC.

The EPA is an affiliate of CEDAR, whose programs combine pluralistic perspectives on religious thought and community with social scientific research on tolerance and civil society. Its goal is to transform both the theoretical models and concrete practices through which religious orientations and secular models of politics and society engage one another. Like those of other CEDAR affiliates, the EPA program combines academic courses with intensive processes that help build groups and develop working relationships across religious and ethnic identities. Its didactic goals are both social and cognitive.

The EPA is a CEDAR affiliate program working in collaboration with Uganda Martyrs University.