Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Winter" welcomed with open arms

A Ugandan friend has been joking that winter has arrived here. It is a few degrees cooler, but still in the upper 70's every day. It's cloudy much of the time, and has rained quite a bit during the last few weeks. Still, it's a nice break from the sunny, hot days of January and February.

Ugandans lay foundation for peace

From the Parkville Luminary

KAMPALA, UGANDA—At the birth of my baby last week, I swelled with pride as I swatted the newborn on the tush and waited for that first, healthy cry.

We named the baby the African Peace and Reconciliation Society (APRES). The healthy cry took the form of passionate discussions that took place at the meeting where APRES came into this world. (Photo--Drafting goals, guidelines at the Peace Club Summit)

I’m not sure if you can really call me the father, since all I had was an idea to call together Ugandans to support and promote peace. APEC’s real fathers and mothers are those everyday citizens who decided to organize themselves into Peace Clubs. As part of our 10-month, USAID/US State Department sponsored Peace and Electoral Journalism project in Uganda, we convened community leaders in 20 locales and encouraged them to come together to support and encourage journalists to practice responsible reporting that promotes peace and reconciliation. In 14 towns, the Peace Clubs took root, and are working to make their communities more harmonious places.

In Kampala, representatives of seven Peace Clubs from across Uganda recently met at what we called a Peace Summit. Our goal at this summit was to create a national Peace Club organization, an umbrella group that would unite the 14 operating Peace Clubs.

As the summit unfolded, Peace Club representatives gave encouraging reports that indicated how their efforts helped to prevent violence during the just-completed elections. “No politician used radio for excessive incitement (of violence),” reported a representative from Soroti in the east. The rep from Kabale in southwestern Uganda said his Peace Club was “instrumental” in preventing election violence by educating voters and politicians and holding media accountable. Reps from Gulu and Jinja similarly trumpeted the efficacy of their efforts at promoting peace and encouraging reconciliation.

It’s enough to make a father, make that uncle, proud.

After the initial reports, the real business of the summit began, starting with naming the new organization and giving it a mission, a structure, and goals. APEC’s goals are indeed laudable, and include fostering traditional shared peaceful values; advocating for and implementing peace education programs; developing curricular materials to be used in civic education efforts about peace; equipping local communities with conflict resolution skills; and promoting good governance and accountability, especially when it comes to issues of peace. To add to this ambitious agenda, the summit participants committed APEC to expanding beyond Uganda’s borders into Kenya and perhaps South Sudan, hence the word “African” in the organization’s name rather than “Ugandan”.

The summit concluded by creating a proposed structure for APEC as well as discussing how to make the organization financially self-sustaining. This will be a tall challenge, but I’m confident in their ability to find at least some funds to carry on their activities.

As the summit wound down, APEC Moderator Moses Mugabi picked up on my metaphor, telling the gathering that APEC is “our baby” and that it’s up to the group’s membership to nurture the infant.

Inspiring those present, Mugabi concluded by saying, “We must lead from the front, and be the very examples of what it takes to be a volunteer.” Based on what I’ve seen from Mugabi and his peers, they will indeed by exemplary volunteers and peace advocates.

When we started the Peace Journalism project in Uganda last June, the Peace Clubs idea seemed to me an afterthought—a tertiary effort that looked good on paper. I never really thought anything would come out of it. I have never been so wrong, or so happy to admit my miscalculation. The only thing that peace lovers here in Uganda needed was an idea. Judging by their energy and commitment, one can’t help but be optimistic about the ongoing prospects for peace here in the great lakes region of Africa.

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