In many ways paradoxes mark our quest, as man. We are frightened of the trauma of War and speak romantically of Peace. But we desire prosperity and much of man’s material comfort have come from research into the tools of War and creative entrepreneurial juices that flow from adverse conditions that conflict produces. Should we then proselytize conflict that we may find progress of proportions of discovering Penicillin which can become a grand historic signpost of Man’s escape from misery?
These thoughts dominated my reflections as I said Yes to the invitation from the Centre for Peace and African Conflict Resolution(CAPCR) at the California State University in Sacramento. But the After Dinner Speech at their 26th Annual Peace Award Dinner turn out to be one I nearly did not finish. At least as a vehicle to challenge thinking on the ironies of war, peace and man’s material advance. Even more importantly the request of me was to place my remarks in the context of the family, Values and National development. I promised to mix up the issues to provoke deep introspection even if it does not invoke memories of reading the massive fiction War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
Seemed like a fun undertaking up a serious track at a time people would have just had dinner, looking forward to a little celebration of the award winners. But first I had to get to California from Lagos and fix a few thousand problems on the way. In the five days between Lagos and Sacramento I had quite a few conflicts to resolve and a number of other speeches to give.
In the hours before I jumped on the Aeroplane in Lagos I had to address the important issue of Community Development Associations, and development, especially in the face the failing state and the challenge of the youth bulge in a country where the ‘triumph of politics” and the triumphalism of self – focused political actors was clouding up the public agenda with irrelevancies when the elite should be in conclaves of sober reflection on a way forward as the Nigerian narrative was shifting to discontent writ large. Chido Onuma’s book; We all Biafrans now, it seemed captured the soul of the democratization of discontent in Nigeria. But like Nero in Rome, the political seemed to be fiddling away in acts of self love suggesting narcissism had found home in Nigeria.
I could not but think of the ‘Sac State” remarks as I gave the talk in Lagos. Is the power elite in Nigeria fiddling and inviting Robert Kaplan’s image of a coming anarchy in West Africa with the politics of now? But I had to get to London and reflect on 50 years since one big conflict we have worked very hard to pretend did not quite happen, the most under reported genocide of the 20th century – The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigeria – Biafra War.
Word was out that I was US bound from London so a quick request to address a section of Nigerian Professionals in Atlanta, enroute to a UNESCO conference in New York before arriving Sacramento. No thanks to what i chose to eat at an Italian restaurant in London the hop across the big pond was great misery, as food poisoning left me calling for a Doctor on arriving Atlanta.
Thanks to a regime of antibiotics, I survived the Atlanta dinner that went from 7pm to past 1am. Leadership failure of the class of 1966 and how Nigeria failed to claim the promise of its founders, reversing prospects, in comparison with Asian peers of the 1960s, like South Korea and Indonesia seemed to fascinate this particular grouping of “the most highly educated migrant population in the United States, the Nigerians. Evidently in “the generation that left town” as I often call those who were migrated in the face of leadership since 1966. The class of 1966 which has established “state capture” for 50 years have run Nigeria in a way that made these Nigeria ship out of town but seemed to remain concerned with how to salvage the mothership. The number that gathered at the home of World Igbo Congress Chairman, Joe Eto to welcome me, at such short notice was a true surprise
Seemed wise that my hotel was at the airport because a “hurry up offense” was required to make the flight to New York. It was as I waited to give my remarks in New York, sitting by the Deputy Governor of Plateau state that my thoughts for the ‘Sac state’ remarks took shape. I thought, in beginning with praise for the work the leadership of CAPCR I should create conflict in the thinking about peace: from pacifiers like British PM Neville Chamberlain whose positions literarily was a boost for War monger Adolf Hitler, and make the point that the great call to humanity at creation dawn (Gen 2: 15) for people of a Christian persuasion) was to be co creators with God moving creation towards its perfection. Yet much material progress has come from conflict situations. I would then be provocative and ask if peace was not overrated. If war brings so much material progress from science, as was the case Biafra, and Wars elsewhere, should man seek war that he may make progress?
I had taken for reading on the flight over, a volume of the Harvard Business Review compilation on succeeding as an Entrepreneur. One of the articles in the volume by Bhaskar Chakravorti was appropriately titled ‘Finding Competitive Advantage in Adversity’ It seemed a good point to pitch the economic growth benefits of conflict.
With enough anxiety, hopefully established, about where I was going, I would then move to show that most of history, man has fought many wars but had very modest gains from war. Indeed some of man’s biggest gains were ruined by war and lost to civilization. Showing how years of War led Europe to the resolve of the Peace of Westphalia in the 17th century, allowing the emerging sovereign nation state create conditions that led eventually to James Watts redesign of the steam engine; and the power based production it enabled, which gave us the Industrial Revolution. In the quarter of a century since the steam engine man made more material progress than in several thousand years before, during which “war without end” defined man.
No doubt the Industrial Revolution raised the appetite for colonization and the conflicts of colonial domination. But its immediate effect was to trigger the disruption of how we transform the goods of the earth, a conflict of disruption that would, especially with the Moving Assembly line at the onset of the 20th century, universalize access to these goods. New products would come to more people. Those who had made the ‘great escape’ from misery, in Angus Deaton terms, and whose material comforts had gone up significantly, the evidence suggests were less likely to be dogs of war. Indeed many of the wars to advance their interests after World War II were carried on at their behest, by surrogates as we saw in the ideology inspired conflicts of the second half of the 20th century, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. So the prosperous desire and secure peace, and prosper but the deprived fight on, as in the Resource fuelled conflicts of Africa.
The paradox of conflict and progress was that prosperity and peace work hands in gloves. But the prosperity from adversity is largely one in which the new conflict is a conflict of competition of ideas, options on how to draw from man’s native genius to create wealth, mindful that externalities associated with options of wealth creation question the sustainability of how we dwell in a planet challenged.
But I could not manage to tell them all this. Five minutes into establishing the paradox of conflicts, small and big; from West Africans quarrelling of whose Jollof Rice was the real deal to Robert Kaplan anticipating Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram in his book, The Coming Anarchy, I felt a surge of dehydration run from Head to Toe. But I had enough presence of mind to remember that the place of the family, the ultimate school of values, was critical to a world that could better manage conflict.
So I turned to reminding all of a rapidly changing world and that, as Rewans axiom reminds us, to survive such change the rate of learning ought to be equal to or greater than the rate of change in the environment. The school of character building, the family, has to orient the next generation on the dignity of human person and the cost of conflict, from wanting to dominate and abuse others. The biggest challenge for managing conflict is the value frame that predominates. A zero sum mindset and disregard for the rule of law produces a regime of impunity that play out’ n better feuds that can run for generations. In the Balkans, for example, they can date back hundreds of years. To build families that play the socialization rule with an abundance mentality, and high regard for the dignity of the human person, and set the goal of a civilization of love, is to have a society primed for harmony.
I could then hurry off the stage in search for water in the hope that I would have stirred the many Africans present to consciousness about an area of Competitive Advantage: Keeping the family strong and cultivating it as a school of values. But I could not but wonder, from there, about so many of the “wrong: conflicts currently raging in Africa. Clearly the future is bright for those who learn and to be disruptive in value creation. That conflict is the necessary and useful conflict Africa must seek to replace the brutal conflict of military shooting wars for the purpose of dominating others.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.