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Peace Conference Presents Innovative Solutions to Implementing Values- Based Peacebuilding during the Pandemic

Virtual Global Peace Leadership Conference East Africa Convenes Peacebuilders to Share Developing Best Practices

The Virtual East Africa Global Peace Leadership Conference held on July 30-31, 2020 convened peace practitioners from East Africa and around the world to address the peacebuilding efforts in light of the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic.

Day 1 Plenary Peacebuilding: Building Social Cohesion
Through Shared Values

The plenary peacebuilding session, "Building Social Cohesion Through Shared Values" on Day 1 of the conference was moderated by Rev. Canice C. Enyiaka, PhD., Program Development Specialist, Interfaith/Community Outreach, Global Peace Foundation. The speakers included Ambassador Fred Ngoga: Head of Conflict Prevention & Early Warning Division Africa Union (Burundi), Dr. Willi Eselebor, Network of Foundations & Research Institutions for the Promotion of Culture of Peace in Africa-Nigeria, Mr. Laban Cheruiyot: Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Rev. Canon Rosemary Mbogo, Provincial Secretary of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Ms. Rana Taha, Peace and Development Advisor Kenya, UN Office, Dr. Pauline Long: Philanthropist and peace activist, London.

The session had six speakers from different parts of Africa, who addressed the topic from different socio-cultural perspectives with a focus on the time-honored value of human dignity as the starting point of building social cohesion. It was noted that the importance of social cohesion has been amplified by this pandemic in the need to create shared community responses to preserve the health and life of the people.

There was also a commentary on the impact of the pandemic on peacebuilding and conflict in vulnerable communities. A lively discussion was stimulated by these remarks as the session participants posed thoughtful questions to the presenters.

Day 2 Session 1: Peacebuilding in the Pandemic: Challenges
and Opportunities

There were three sessions in the peacebuilding track on Day 2 of the Conference. The session, "Peacebuilding in the Pandemic: Challenges and Opportunities" was moderated by Ms. Cat Lockman, Director of Organizational Development, Global Peace Foundation International. Speakers included Mr. Christopher Rider, Head of Supporting Leaders, Co-Existence, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Mr. Maurice Amollo, Chief of Party Mercy Corps, Nigeria, Mr. Sam Kona, Commissioner, National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Kenya, Ms. Alice Nderitu, Founder, Community Voices for Peace and Pluralism-Africa, and  Ms. Irene Fugara, Founder and Executive Director, Bright Jamil Initiative, Tanzania.

The global pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption and has fundamentally altered the way we conduct peacebuilding. A recent report based on consultations with 400 peacebuilders in 60 countries, highlights that the crisis provides both challenges and opportunities in advancing peace. Panelists discussed the impact of the pandemic on the violent conflicts and ongoing peace processes and shared the innovative approaches they are adapting to their work in the changing global dynamic. Maurice Amollo spoke on the changes that have taken place in terms of peacebuilding as a result of the ongoing pandemic. As many conflict prevention programs were suspended due to the pandemic, organizations have had to seek out new ways to mitigate these disruptions. As part of this pivot, Mercy Corps adopted a lot of “digital pathways to pull information together and to share it with our traditional actors and participants. We are working to ensure that our partners and local mediators continue to respond to conflict if and when they occur wherever they are.”

Sam Kona, observed, “As terrible as it is COVID-19 is an important opportunity to unite Kenya and indeed the whole world like never before. […] Even the way we Divine National Security threats will have to change going forward our global revenge to the pandemic should be to flatten the gap that exists in our society in order to unleash the unprecedented global balance and equality that we all desire.”

Christopher Rider spoke in particular on the key role that religious leaders play in mobilizing civil society to implement COVID19 containment measures and maintaining trust amongst diverse communities while pushing back on extremist narratives. According to Mr. Rider, religious leaders play a critical role in “government crisis management and wider decision-making at national, district, and local levels…to support training and education in cultural diversity for policymakers and essential service and security providers.”

Day 2 Session 2: Identity-Based Conflict and Diversity:
Uplifting Shared Values 

The session, "Identity-Based Conflict and Diversity: Uplifting Shared Values" was moderated by Gail Hambleton, Senior Program Specialist, Values-based Peacebuilding, Global Peace Foundation International. Speakers included Archbishop Daniel Matte: Archbishop of the SDA Church Co-Chairman of the Interreligious Council of UGANDA and East Africa, Rev. Fr. Joseph Mutie, Chairman, Interreligious Council, Kenya, Haj. Amina Kazaure, General Coordinator of Women’s Interfaith Council, Nigeria, Rev. John Joseph Hayab, Country Director, Global Peace Foundation-Nigeria (GPFN). Sheikh Hailu Abdullahi Maraya, Northern Coordinator, GPFN.

The three speakers who are working on peacebuilding through interreligious organizations such as Interreligious Councils, across Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya explained how their collaboration across religious divides mobilizes diverse faith leaders as a unique moral and social resource. They are successful mediators who resolve and transform conflict, advocate for inclusive policies and inculcate a culture of dialogue to engage diverse parties, addressing difficult issues as they emerge.

Sheik Maraya and Rev. Hayab presented the Global Peace Foundation’s ongoing work in Northern Kaduna, Nigeria, even amidst the pandemic, highlighting many practical practices for local communities to implement.  Community-driven peacebuilding, election violence prevention, and democracy strengthening projects have helped forge new connections between Christian and Muslim communities and provided rich evaluation data on impacts and positive results.

Day 2 Session 3: Building Youth Resilience to
Online Radicalization

The session on "Building Youth Resilience to Online Radicalization" was moderated by Dr. Nilufar Choudry, Senior Advisor, Partnerships and Development, Global Peace Foundation. Panelists included Mr. Zahed Amanullah, Resident Senior Fellow, Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), Ms. Martha Nghambi, Country Director, GPF-Tanzania, Dr. Dan Juma, Team Leader, Governance and Inclusive Growth, UNDP Kenya, Mr. Aziz Kafeero, Founder, Kafeero Foundation, Ms.Umulkheir Harun, The Kesho Alliance, Dr. Kisanja Hillary Musoke, Director, National Youth Skilling Program, and Private Secretary to the President of Uganda, and Ms. Ruth Ambogo, Executive Director, Center for Advocacy and Awareness on the Rights of the Youth, Africa (CARRY-Africa)

The increase in the online radicalization of youth is a serious and growing global threat. This has renewed relevance in the wake of the pandemic, and there is growing evidence that the extremists are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to radicalize and recruit youth online. While social media is being used by the extremists to spread radical content, it is also a very powerful tool to prevent conflict and extremism and promote greater understanding and tolerance. The session explored how social media could be leveraged to prevent youth radicalization and how to empower youth to counter the disruptive impact of extremists’ messaging and become powerful agents for peace. Panelists shared best practices and highlighted digital and youth-focused peacebuilding approaches that they are taking to empower youth, as well as harness the potential of social media for peace. 

Zahed Amanullah summarized ISD’s efforts to counter disinformation, hate speech and extremist propaganda and recruitment in the wake of the pandemic, and how they are increasing youth resilience through capacity-building, supporting youth through offline activities, micro-grants and connecting youth with key stakeholders. Dan Juma shared how UNDP Kenya is aligning their work with the SDG 2030 agenda in supporting youth to realize their potential, and how they are amplifying the voices of youth to be part of the solution through their Preventing Violent Extremism program.

Martha Nagmibi emphasized the importance of education, awareness, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills development to empower youth as powerful agents of peacebuilding and development. Aziz Kafeero talked about the innovative approaches the Kafeero Foundation is taking to build youth resilience. Umulkheir Harun highlighted how the Kesho Alliance empowering youth and women in Northeastern Kenya and training them on digital skills, and counternarratives to extremist messaging. Hillary Musoke underscored the importance of understanding the drivers of radicalization and talked about the various programs of the Government of Uganda under his watch to empower youth so that they are less susceptible to online radicalization. Ruth Ambogo talked about the various initiatives of Carry-Africa to empower youth including the legal aid program, social aid program, getting youth engaged in governance and political conversations, and economic emancipation.

Other panelists shared best practices and approaches to mitigate a rise in extremism including digital outreach, broadcast media, and a renewed focus on empowering traditionally marginalized populations such as youth and women.