Posted by Ian Ballantine on Jul 27, 2021
The arrival of the first peace fellows at the new peace center in Kampala, Uganda, heralds the beginning of a new era for Rotary and the continent.
by Jeff Ruby Photography by Tobin Jones From the rotary.org website here.

In the last week of February, in Kampala, Uganda, 15 Rotary Peace Fellows gathered at Makerere University for the inaugural session of Rotary International’s new peace center. Among them, the peace center’s first cohort represented 11 countries and spoke, in addition to English, a dozen African languages, including Luganda, Swahili, and Zulu. “Coming from diverse backgrounds, and yet with a shared desire for peace in Africa, they are the epitome of unity in diversity,” said Anne Nkutu, a member of the Rotary Club of Kampala Naalya and the host area coordinator for the Makerere University peace center.

With an average age of 40 when they were admitted to the program, the fellows are not novice peacemakers. These are established professionals with a minimum of five years of experience in peace and development. They arrived at Makerere University — home to an established program in peace and conflict studies — already working on an initiative, or with an idea for one, that promotes peace or social change within their workplace or community. “The fellows are more interested in the practical side of peacebuilding,” said Helen Nambalirwa Nkabala, the director of the peace center. “They want to see how things are done, as opposed to our regular students, who are more interested in the theoretical aspects. So the fellows come off as, and indeed are, change agents.”

Prior to arriving at Makerere, the peace fellows began their studies with a two-week online session, the first stage in Rotary’s new yearlong certificate program in peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and development. (The peace center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, which previously offered a three-month version of the certificate program, has also adopted this new model.) Following the 10-week session in Kampala, they will return home to begin implementing their social change initiatives, checking in periodically with their instructors and fellow students. They will return to Makerere in early 2022 to complete the program.

Earlier this year, as they prepared to depart for Kampala, Rotary magazine spoke with six of the peace fellows via Zoom and WhatsApp. The conversations were a crash course in African history and politics. They were also an inspiration, offering a glimpse of the possibilities that lie ahead for Africa once these peace fellows — and those to follow in the years ahead — complete their studies at Makerere and disperse across the continent to share what they have learned.

Patience Rusare

The first time Patience Rusare encountered tribalism in her native Zimbabwe, she was in first grade. As members of the Shona tribe living in Bulawayo — a city dominated by the Ndebele people — her family didn’t speak the local language as well as their neighbors. “I answered a question in class, and the other kids laughed and called me a derogatory name,” recalls Rusare, now 32. “I went home and asked my parents: Is something wrong with us? You could see that the tensions were coming from home, and the children were bringing them to school.”

Twenty-five years later, Rusare is an editor and a senior political journalist for The Patriot, a newspaper based in Harare. In 2013, after years of writing business stories, she changed her focus. She began covering conflicts, whether political crises in Lesotho and Mali in 2014 and 2015, hostile Ugandan elections in 2016, or a coup d’état in her native Zimbabwe in 2017, often tracing underlying issues back decades to explain the current climate.

“People were not making informed decisions,” Rusare says. “And that lack of information can make people desperate and easy to manipulate.” As she wrote in an unbiased manner, she began to see a direct correlation between the information in her stories and public policy. In Lesotho, Rusare says, mediation from a Botswana-based intragovernmental organization called the Southern African Development Community led to a resolution that was influenced by a story that she had written for The Patriot. “I feel like I really made positive change in the world there,” she says. “They have some lasting peace in Lesotho.”

In 2019, in hopes of learning “the nitty-gritty of peace dealings,” she got a master’s degree in peace, leadership, and conflict resolution. “I made a commitment to myself to use the media to create a more just and peaceful world,” Rusare says.

As special elections, rescheduled from 2020, approach in Zimbabwe, the same tribal conflict that Rusare witnessed as a child rages on. Through her social change initiative, Rusare wants to change the approach of journalism in Zimbabwe. “We’ve got to get rid of the idea of ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ and work as peace practitioners,” she says. “A positive peace story can get people to buy a newspaper if it’s a good enough human-interest story.” Her plan is to train 20 journalists in the art of conflict reporting — a group of Ndebele and Shona journalists, working together — and charge each one to go out and mentor journalists among their own people until the approach extends across the country and beyond.

“I don’t want my children to go through what I went through,” says Rusare of her 8-year-old and 3-year-old. “I want them to grow up in an environment where all people love each other regardless of the ethnic groups they belong to. They will know that we are all diverse, but we are all one.”

Peter Pal

It’s simply not in Peter Pal’s personality to talk about trauma. When he speaks of harrowing experiences — fleeing a civil war in his native Sudan in 1989, seeing loved ones and friends die, spending 11 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia with no goal beyond survival — it’s with a surprising, matter-of-fact frankness. “You learn to live through it so that you can be strong,” he says.

So when Pal tells you about the day in 2001 when he left the camp and immigrated to Australia, you might think he would never look back. You’d be wrong. “I want to give South Sudan stability and improve the lives of people there,” says Pal, 52. “If I have the opportunity to help, I will. Because I am one of them.”

As a community educator for the Victorian Electoral Commission in southeastern Australia, Pal is trained in peacebuilding and diplomacy. “The electoral process is critical for good government, for choosing the right leadership and learning to exercise democracy,” he says. “People have the right to make the final decision about what’s right for them.” When he heard about the Rotary Peace Fellowship, he recognized an opportunity to use his skill set on a global level — and take it back to his home country nearly 8,000 miles away.

On a 2017 trip to South Sudan, Pal was shocked to find that formerly healthy rural areas had been urbanized without the necessary health facilities and educational opportunities. Small towns had been completely neglected by the government. He envisions combating this neglect by promoting peace — not simply the absence of war and tribal infighting, but a day-to-day stability where essential services such as health care, food, and water are available. “Without these things, people will always fight amongst themselves,” says Pal. “Only when there is this kind of peace do you have the opportunity to plant seeds of education.”

As part of his social change initiative, Pal plans to engage with professional peacebuilders to explore alternative dispute resolution. Of particular focus is the need to restore dignity for the most vulnerable victims of South Sudan’s continued crisis: mothers and children. “Ignorance continues to dehumanize them in Africa,” Pal says. “Women continue to give birth to children who don’t really flourish. And though they’re not part of the politics, they are the ones who suffer when people die in a reckless war.”

Despite all that Pal has experienced, he remains hopeful. And why not? Twenty years ago, he escaped a violent civil war in Africa, and now he has returned on a peacebuilding mission. “If we are not optimistic, we will all be stuck focusing on what’s in our own hand rather than looking into alternatives that can be applied for the betterment of all society,” he says. “Not just in South Sudan, but for Africa and the world.”

 

Jew Moonde

A democratic country in southern Africa, Zambia is not known for its record on women’s rights. As Jew Moonde explains, the country’s deeply embedded patriarchal values have traditionally subjugated women in a variety of ways, some of them violent, some systemic. Gender discrimination has been woven into the fabric of Zambian society, he says, and as a result, when election time arrives, women’s voices are not heard.

“Women have not gotten a fair share of participation in the electoral process,” says Moonde, 50, the peace and conflict manager of the Electoral Commission of Zambia. “And if women are not engaged in the political process, their grievances will continue building up. It is time for women to take a stand politically.”

Zambia’s recent elections have been marred by violence and intimidation, which breaks Moonde’s heart. For nearly half his life, the Lusaka native has been a consultant with the Zambia Center for Inter-Party Dialogue (ZCID); working with this Lusaka-based NGO, he’s dedicated to building an infrastructure to ensure free and fair elections, whether by meeting with politicians to sensitize them to the gender imbalance or training people on how to manage conflict in the electoral process. After two decades, many of ZCID’s legal reform proposals have been passed into law by parliament.

But getting women involved in the political process is only part of Moonde’s mission. He wants to get the younger generation on board, too. “Politics is predominantly for old folks in Zambia,” says Moonde, who has degrees in psychology and peace and conflict studies. “Unemployed youths are the implementers of violence, and they’re also the victims.” To engage them, ZCID focuses on social media outreach and youth-oriented community radio stations; it also helps young people develop skills that might one day help them find a rewarding career. “If you want change to come, empower people with the knowledge that they have the right to something,” says Moonde.

If all goes as planned during his peace fellowship, Moonde wants to acquire the knowledge to help transform ZCID into a statutory body: a permanent peace structure that provides an official platform for dialogue and mediation in Zambian politics. “I start hearing politicians talking and youths talking, exercising their rights to expression,” says Moonde. “It shows us that what we do has an impact on people. No one will help Zambians unless they do it themselves.”

For the rest of this story, go to the rotary.org website here.
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