Experts emphasize moral and innovative leadership to avert conflict and provide for essential needs.
Leading public officials, educators, media representatives, and faith leaders examined the unique social and political challenges presented by the global pandemic at a two-day East Africa Global Peace Leadership Conference (GPLC), “Transforming Societies for Sustainable Peace and Development,” on July 30, 2020.
A signature gathering of government and civil society leaders originally planned for Nairobi, the 2020 GPLC engaged participants globally through a virtual convening, exploring values-based responses to the challenges presented by the pandemic and affirming the singular relevance of moral and innovative leadership in education and peacebuilding in East Africa.
Greeting participants, Global Peace Foundation (GPF) International President James Flynn noted that in the 2010 Global Peace Convention in Nairobi, co-hosted by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, GPF Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin P. Moon introduced the importance of Moral and Innovative Leadership, which has been a theme of all GPF convenings since. “The need for Moral and Innovative Leadership,” he said, “remains as relevant as ever on the global stage as we learn to navigate the challenges and opportunities to explore creative solutions amidst the global pandemic.
“Our theme Transforming Societies for Sustainable Peace and Development starts by educating and empowering people to be creative, responsible, and productive citizen owners, towards the greater benefit of the whole. Leaders add value by proactively building peace at every level and then harnessing the best solutions to transform societies to be stable and prosperous. This is the basis of an African Renaissance first articulated over 70 years ago.”
More than 1,600 participants from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, USA, UK, and other countries joined the remote conference, underscoring the global urgency of strengthening social resilience and mitigating potential conflict due to the stresses arising from the pandemic.
Siddharth Chatterjee, United Nations Kenya Resident Coordinator, reminded participants that the pandemic coincides with the largest ever number of displaced people, with close to 75 million fleeing conflicts, climate change, and poverty. “COVID 19 has upended concepts of universal health coverage, upended concepts we had of countries that were the most advanced and robust, yet whose health systems have started to crumble,” he said. “So the wisdom of peace, the wisdom of collaboration, the wisdom of unity becomes even more crucial when we are confronted with this Sword of Damocles, which is the virus.”
Africa, has the youngest population in the world, Chatterjee said, and to take advantage of this “demographic dividend,” he urged greater focus on the “four E’s,”—education and skillsets, equality of gender, employment, and equity, where people feel they have a stake in their societies.
Hon. Muruli Mukasa, Uganda’s Minister for Public Service, cited his country’s ambitious national development plan, with steps to elevate those living in poverty to middle income by 2026, and a focus on infrastructure, good governance, national integration, pan Africanism, and security. “Moral values are paramount,” he added. “In Africa, we are generally guided by the Ubuntu philosophy,” [often translated as “I am because we are,” or “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”]
“In Ubuntu philosophy, the human being is at center, and whatever is done should not degrade the human being. To the extent that this is practiced and becomes second nature, education has a very important role to play. And it must prepare leaders to think, be creative, and acquire skills and values to go about the business of life in peace.”
The importance of moral values and shared human experience in the context of the global pandemic was addressed by several speakers during the plenary session. Rev. Samuel Kobia, Chairman of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission, said the pandemic has provided a chance to return to our essence, to turn the COVID challenge to peace opportunities, and explore actionable ideas of how to emerge stronger and more resilient.
Archbishop Ole Sapit of the Anglican Church of Kenya said that “alienation” and “entitlement” were at the root of many conflicts. “As leaders, are we leading toward harmony? In the way we distribute resources, creating awareness, and sharing important information, are we contributing toward conflict or peace?”
“We need to determine what is the moral position,” added Dr. Esther Muchemi, CEO of the Samchi Group in Kenya. “Why? More than 70 percent in Kenya and Africa are youth, and whatever we do, we must pay attention to the impact on young people. Morals and economic empowerment are key to mental health and to achieve peace in our country. As we create our wealth we must be guided by values and morals.”
A concern with the rise of hate speech and tribal conflict, even among educated youth, was raised by Ambassador Fred Ngoga, the Burundi Head of the Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Division of the Africa Union.
“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” he remarked. “Currently there are 35 conflicts in Africa. If anyone needed a reason to stop fighting this is it. We are all in this pandemic together, and we need to seize this moment, armed with values, to deliver the Africa we want and all long for.”
Representing Standard Group, CEO Orlando Lyomu outlined the role of media not only in disseminating information but also in supporting sustainable development through advocacy and serving as a watchdog for both government and corporate leadership.
“Sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations,” he said. “Today we are discussing matters and decisions that will affect future generations, and media have a key role in creating awareness, fostering proper development, and advocating for policies that lead to positive change.”
The two-day conference had dedicated sessions on Transforming Education During and Post Pandemic and Peacebuilding: Challenges and Opportunities During the Pandemic.
The conference was organized by Global Peace Foundation, the Kenya National Cohesion and Integration Commission, and Standard Media Group PLC.