An African Answer: ‘taking forward the work of peace’, reports film’s director

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dr Alan Channer speaking at the showing of An African Answer (Photo: Amit Sharma)Back in London after a three-month visit to Kenya, Dr Alan Channer, Director of the movie An African Answer, presented a screening of the film in the London centre of Initiatives of Change on 1 March. He and colleagues had shot the documentary film in Kenya in 2008, following post-election violence there. 

The film shows how two rival ethnic groups, the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, enter a period of violence, fear and hatred following the disputed elections of 2007 in Kenya. In 2008, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye from Nigeria are invited as mediators to lead workshops with the population of the worst affected area, in Burnt Forest, Rift Valley Province. The initiative is purely non-governmental. The aim is to break the cycle of violence through reconciliation and forgiveness. Dr Channer was there to witness the reconciliation workshops, and together with Producer Dr Imad Karam made a movie of them.

A group from Kenya talking with Alan Channer after the film (Photo: Amit Sharma)An African Answer follows on from an earlier film, The Imam and the Pastor, shot in Nigeria in 2006, which tells the story of Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye, former enemies and militia leaders, who experienced their own reconciliation to become effective peace-makers. 

Proud and willing to do more

After watching the movie in London, the audience was invited to ask questions and make comments. Channer was asked if there has been further progress since the workshops took place. One man in Burnt Forest had told him: ‘The feelings are still here but they [the imam and the pastor] helped us calm down the reactions.’

The markets in Burnt Forest, originally run separately on ethnic lines, have been reintegrated, thanks both to the trust built during the workshops and a separate initiative by local women, Channer said. He also mentioned how proud the people there were for having been part of the process during the 2008 workshops. They were glad to be in the same movie as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and they also wanted to get the DVD to show their children what they had done. The screening in Burnt Forest was crowded out.

They asked us back because they want to deploy a strategic wider action and find the funding for it,’ Channer said. People there said they wanted to deepen the dialogue and sharing started in the 2008 workshops. They would like the Imam and the Pastor back to help them ‘take forward the work of peace’. Screenings in other areas of Kenya also gave hope and were inspiring other ethnic groups to explore the idea of inter-ethnic peace committees.

Channer reported that Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye now have a whole team of imams and pastors ready to hold such workshops across Nigeria. But it was a question of resources to do so in other countries.

What do we learn from it?

A member of the audience asking a question (Photo: Amit Sharma)Answering the question ‘why is this movie relevant for us?’ participants at the London screening gave various answers. A woman said: ‘It is just like a breath of fresh air; it doesn’t have to change something in our lives.’

A British agricultural scientist who has worked in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific told how he showed the first movie there to a few concerned people in difficult times of conflicts, hoping it could help. He was keen to get the new film to the Solomon Islands. Channer also mentioned interest in using the film in South Sudan, to foster reconciliation processes there.

A woman from South Africa and a Kenyan young man reminded the audience that in the African tradition of ubuntu (‘I am what I am because of who we all are’) a fight is never the end of the process. After the battle, the eldest would send emissaries to talk. The South African woman, Wendy Addison, Senior Advisor to 'ethicability' on Anti-Bribery and Corruption, said: ‘African people are good at sitting together and solving their problems at a grass root level, but the problem is to bring this up to the level of politicians and leaders. Thank you for reminding us this through the movie. The western world has much to learn from Africa.’

Channer outlined two next steps: editing a short movie from his recent trip to Kenya, to be added as a bonus feature on the DVD of An African Answer, and a wide campaign of film screenings before the next national elections in Kenya in 2012.