Building Momentum for Peace: Give the world the best you have
by Eilish BOSCHERT and Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
9 March 2018
The Skainos Centre welcomed the Building Momentum for Peace forum, organised by the Global Peace Foundation and co-hosted by Co-operation Ireland, Centre for Democracy and Peacebuilding, and Beyond Skin.
Focusing on ‘lessons and international perspectives for practical peacebuilding’, the forum gathered international actors from Kenya, Nigeria, Zanzibar, the US, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.
International Vice-President of Education for the Global Peace Foundation, Dr Tony Devine, welcomed everyone to the Skainos Centre and reflected on contemporary Northern Ireland as it approaches the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Dr Devine noted that the image of Belfast now is a peaceful one: people living freely, doing things they desire. Regardless of this, wounds from the past remain raw and the country continues to struggle toward integration.
Providing opening remarks, President of the Global Peace Foundation, James Flynn, emphasised the importance of engagement and connectivity in peacebuilding work. The theme of the forum — building momentum — was particularly relevant, as morale dwindles decades after the signing of a peace accord. Events like these, he argued, are important in “creating synergy between experience and practical insight between countries”. Each country, no matter how far apart, shares challenges that are common to the human experience.
20-year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement
Following Flynn’s remarks, Chief Executive of Cooperation Ireland and former RUC officer, Peter Sheridan, provided a keynote address reflecting upon the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. In spite of the current political difficulty, he argued, Northern Ireland has a positive story to tell. Many have underestimated the length of time it takes to achieve a strong and lasting peace; yet in 20 years, Northern Ireland has made great strides toward peace through rival communities learning to live together. Sheridan emphasised that while the conflict may not be resolved in this generation, younger generations have a crucial role in the development of peace. It is our duty to invest time and energy into cultivating this next generation of peacebuilders, he concluded.
Peace in Northern Ireland: Challenges and opportunities
Following Sheridan’s reflective speech, a panel of guest speakers was invited to the stage to discuss challenges and opportunities for peace in Northern Ireland. Keeping on Sheridan’s note, moderator Tina McKenzie remarked that she saw a rise in a shared ‘Northern Irish’ identity and a fluidity of identity in younger generations. She invited the four panellists to speak to their experiences before opening the floor for discussion.
Reverend Dr Lesley Carroll began, stating that the euphoria surrounding the signing of the GFA created the sense that anything was possible — people were willing to make sacrifices for societal advancement. However, 20 years in its wake, building better relationships has fallen by the wayside, as the government has taken money out of good relations initiatives rather than invest in them.
In a similar vein, Father Gary Donegan remarked that peace had become the people’s problem, as conciliatory efforts have been botched at an institutional level. Addressing institutional churches directly, he shamed the ‘corporate’ responses and inaction of the church in the face of tremendous violence, claiming that their protection of the status quo forced individuals to stand out and bear the brunt of creating and maintaining peace in Northern Ireland.
Former MLA, Sammy Douglas, remarked that while there is progress to be made, there has been significant advancement, as well. Northern Ireland is becoming a safer place for everyone. The increase in tourism is a testament to the country’s growth and development in just 20 years. And on a community level, the majority of people lead normal, peaceful lives without threat or fear — a feat that many never thought possible in their lifetimes.
Andree Murphy concluded the panel by stating that the GFA forged something different and hopeful, but in the years since, it’s become easy to identify the gaps. Issues of legacy continue to bar true reconciliation. Memory is difficult to address, as Northern Ireland has not adopted international standards of reparation for victims and survivors; furthermore, there are visible gender gaps within these outstanding issues, as most peacebuilding efforts are not structured to ensure that women’s experience of conflict is addressed. According to Murphy, grassroots initiatives have a duty to lobby and make the institutional gaps visible.
After the panel, CEO of ArtsEkta, Nisha Tandon, gave a keynote address, “International Peacebuilding”. Tandon commended the progress that had been made in regards to sectarianism in Northern Ireland, but revealed that in its wake, Northern Ireland had become the race-hate capital of the EU. In 2017, a new racial equality strategy was implemented with little funding; even with this shortcoming, organisations like ArtsEkta do their best to make space for ethnic minority communities in Belfast. According to Tandon, true community can only occur when there are partnerships built on respect — unfortunately she sees respect as clearly missing in this society, preventing leadership and a shared vision. Focusing on the arts, Tandon highlighted how art can be used as a peacebuilding tool as it inspires people in deprived interface areas, bringing commonality to rival identities as well as new communities and ethnic minorities.
The former President of Zanzibar, H.E. Dr Amani Abeid Karume, provided some remarks regarding the ethics of leadership in conflict areas after the forum broke for lunch. According to Dr Karume, sustainable peace is dependent upon ethical leadership. Corruption and greed compromise societal advancement through its obstruction of peacebuilding. While leaders often struggle to enforce moral norms in complex political landscapes, they have an obligation to show integrity, compassion, and honesty. It is imperative that constituents understand that their culture, ideals, and identities are respected and acknowledged by their leaders.
Global peace: Encouraging dialogue and driving change
Session 2 of the forum included a second panel of guest speakers discussing dialogue and change. Moderated by Conor Houston, he began by emphasising the importance of engaging constructively with those with whom we passionately disagree. Through this, we are able to create new models of respect and connected stories.
First to speak on the panel was Linda Ervine, Director of Turas — a cross-community Irish language project. As one of the most contentious issues of the year, it’s clear that many feel threatened by the Irish language. Yet Ervine argued that Irish is and should be shared, both in history and heritage, between majority communities in Northern Ireland. As a Protestant woman learning Irish and disseminating the language to other Protestants, she has seen the capacity of the language to be more integrative than divisive — aiding in the healing and reconciliation of formerly contested identity groups.
Quintin Oliver (Stratagem International) also addressed this idea of public participation in peacebuilding — involving everyday people, not just elites. Currently, Northern Ireland is gridlocked by the GFA: suspended by protections put in place to prevent collapse. Communities, while relatively peaceful, have remained homogeneous, maintaining an isolation that creates and intensifies fractures. While Northern Ireland’s agreement has plateaued, it’s imperative to recreate the collaborative momentum of 1998 in today’s society on the ground.
Hon. Jerusha Mongina Momanyi (Member of the National Assembly, Women’s Representative, Nyamira County, Kenya) continued on the theme of building and sustaining momentum for peace. According to her, conflict is fundamentally caused by misunderstanding or abject refusal to understand one another. It is essential that people come together with a common goal of building a sustainable society. Through this, trust and understanding can develop between factions.
Finally, David Holloway (Community Dialogue) spoke of his frustration with constituents being left out of peacebuilding, as their own futures are often negotiated behind closed doors. In Holloway’s opinion, “the future is too important to be left to politicians”. First, we must create agreement between ordinary citizens, and then promote a dialogue between the people and their politicians. Each contentious issue raised in Stormont seems to be obscuring the underlying problem: dysfunctional relationships. Entire communities seem to have lost their capacity for empathy because they are systematically isolated from one another; however, dialogue can nourish society by rebuilding those fractured relationships.
Global snapshot: Kaduna, Nigeria
The next session was an inspiring vision of the peacebuilding process in Kaduna State in Nigeria, where Global Peace Foundation has worked since 2013 (and where since riots in 2000, the city remains highly segregated). The panel discussion was “Global Snapshot: Kaduna State, Nigeria”.
The first discussant was John Oko (Director, Global Peace Foundation in Nigeria), who highlighted that the main conflict in Nigeria is among communities, which is why they are the key to resolve the conflict.
Oko believes that Nigerian people still remember how good the world is, in spite of the conflict. There is just one way forward: build relationships across the divide and help people build bridges across borders and barriers.
Furthermore, Oko acknowledged the role that media has in the peacebuilding process: “Bad news sells. Bad news is always going to be a headline.” This is why Oko stressed the importance of telling society what is happening as a moral duty, including the good news.
Sheikh Halliru Abdullahi Maraya, a member of the Nigerian Muslim clergy, stressed that since the establishment of Global Peace Foundation he realised the importance of faith and being proactive. Christian and Muslim religions encourage the spirit of forgiveness, but even beyond that, it is important to live in accordance with human rights, he said.
Marayna emphasised that in every area that Global Peace Foundation has done peacebuilding work no more crises have erupted.
In addition, Reverend John Joseph Hayab pointed out that reprisal attacks are one of the biggest challenges that should be fixed. He described the Nigerian crisis as a “circle of attacks” — a fight between two peoples, a “reprisals loop” that must be stopped. For Hayab, this is the real challenge.
Replying to one of the questions raised in the audience, Reverend Hayab revealed how important trust is in the peacebuilding process. Trust, as he explained, is based on maintaining a positive reputation: “One of the reasons why people trust us is because we practise what we say. It is about touching people’s lives.”
Rev. John Joseph Hayab and Sheikh Halliru Abdullahi Maraya and their friendship is a case study in building bridges between Christian and Muslim communities.
Amazing the Space
The last presentation of the day came from Ruth Montgomery, a youth officer at Co-operation Ireland. Montgomery explained Co-operation Ireland’s programme, Amazing the Space, which “provides a platform for young people to share their ambitions for peace on a global stage”. Amazing the Space works to inspire young people to become a peace ambassador in their community.
The partnership between Co-operation Ireland and Global Peace Foundation has resulted in a network of relationships between young people across the globe.
Amazing the Space’s next youth-led event will be held on the 23rd of March at the Eikon Exhibition Centre. The event will bring together over 3,000 young people from different community backgrounds.
Building Momentum for Peace finished up with the encouraging words of “Paradoxical Commandments”, written by Kent M. Keith as a young student:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the
smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best that you have and you will get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.