Walk with Us and Listen

Political Reconciliation in Africa

Charles Villa-Vicencio
Foreword byDesmond Tutu

"Villa-Vicencio has written a powerful reminder to hold justice in tension with genuine reconciliation, and a challenge to well-meaning international institutions to work in partnership with countries in conflict. Essential reading."
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Effective peace agreements are rarely accomplished by idealists. The process of moving from situations of entrenched oppression, armed conflict, open warfare, and mass atrocities toward peace and reconciliation requires a series of small steps and compromises to open the way for the kind of dialogue and negotiation that make political stability, the beginning of democracy, and the rule of law a possibility.

For over forty years, Charles Villa-Vicencio has been on the front lines of Africa's battle for racial equality. In Walk with Us and Listen, he argues that reconciliation needs honest talk to promote trust building and enable former enemies and adversaries to explore joint solutions to the cause of their conflicts. He offers a critical assessment of the South African experiment in transitional justice as captured in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and considers the influence of ubuntu, in which individuals are defined by their relationships, and other traditional African models of reconciliation. Political reconciliation is offered as a cautious model against which transitional politics needs to be measured. Villa-Vicencio challenges those who stress the obligation to prosecute those allegedly guilty of gross violation of human rights, replacing this call with the need for more complementarity between the International Criminal Court and African mechanisms to achieve the greater goals of justice and peace building.

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Desmond Mpilo Tutu

Introduction: Where Past and Present Meet

Prologue: Affinities and Tensions in Debate

1. An African Journey

2. Shared Peace

3. From Encounter to Settlement

4. National Conversation in South Africa

5. Ubuntu

6. Traditional African Reconciliation Practices

7. Why Reconciliation is Important

8. Seeking Consensus



"Villa-Vicencio has written a powerful reminder to hold justice in tension with genuine reconciliation, and a challenge to well-meaning international institutions to work in partnership with countries in conflict. Essential reading."—Alex Boraine, chairperson of the board, International Center for Transitional Justice

"Walk with Us and Listen provides an in-depth exploration of the complexity and importance of reconciliation in whole-body politics. Speaking from the context of his native South Africa, Villa-Vicencio gives us the most specific and useful approach to date that frames 'political reconciliation' as both a practical and needed component to transform violent conflict. From specific contexts and examples he adeptly shows the potential for a political understanding of reconciliation that transcends the shortcomings of temporary accommodation yet is not bound by the demands of full blown forgiveness between former enemies. A remarkable overview of the literature and contribution to our understanding of peacebuilding."—John Paul Lederach, professor of international peacebuilding, Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

"In Walk with Us and Listen, Charles Villa-Vicencio returns reconciliation to its rightful place at the heart of discussions of transitional justice. He shows that, far from being the purview of romantics and fantasists, reconciliation after mass atrocity entails courage, risk, leadership and above all the space for messy dialogue. In a field increasingly dominated by templates and one-size-fits-all remedies, Villa-Vicencio's call for a form of reconciliation that is culturally relevant and politically aware is most welcome."—Phil Clark, research fellow, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford and convenor, Oxford Transitional Justice Research


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Charles Villa-Vicencio is a visiting research fellow at The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a visiting professor in the Conflict Resolution Program, both at Georgetown University. He is also a senior research fellow at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa. He was executive director of the Institute from 2000-2007. He was also national research director of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author or editor of eighteen books, including A Theology of Reconstruction: Nation-Building and Human Rights, The Spirit of Freedom: South African Leaders on Religion and Politics, and The Provocations of Amnesty: Memory, Justice and Impunity.

248 pp., 6 x 9

Sep 2009

248 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-572-2
Sep 2009

248 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-883-9
Sep 2009

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