Thursday, May 24, 2012

             Eastern Ugandans unite to battle violent extremism

Park Univ. Professor Ken Christpher teaches "Terrorism 101".
The regional government leader, a big, well dressed man, practically leapt out of his seat, and turned to face the reporter. Pounding the air with his fist, the animated leader addressed a criticism leveled by the reporter. As the leader spoke, several others raised their hands to be recognized while others began to loudly make their point without being called upon.

This happened during the first few hours of the first day of our three day peace media and counterterrorism seminar here in Mbale in Eastern Uganda, near the Kenya border. The seminar is part of a peace media and counterterrorism project sponsored by the U.S. Embassy-Kampala.

My colleagues (Park University professors Ken Christopher and John Hamilton) and I managed to restore order in that instance and several other times when chaos threatened to overtake the room. What we discovered as things settled down was that while the 20 local and regional government leaders, police, army, and media representatives assembled certainly have their differences, they definitely share one parcel of common ground: the desire to combat terrorism.

Professor John Hamilton, collaborating on a PSA.
Interestingly, it was the term terrorism itself that lit the fuse that launched the government leader into his forceful speech. In Uganda, protesters have been arrested (some this week, in fact) and charged with terrorism. The argument between the government leader and the journalist was whether these anti-government protesters are indeed terrorists.

Seeing the threat of the seminar degenerating into a political brawl, an astute Professor Hamilton decided to re-frame the discussion. Since terrorism is such a loaded term here in Uganda, Hamilton wisely dictated the assemblage that we would, henceforth, use the term violent extremism, a term that carries no extraneous baggage. It worked like a charm, since all those gathered agreed that violence was something to be avoided.

Seminar participants, hard at work.
 By the end of the seminar, the participants may not have become best friends, but they did learn to work together in teams consisting of government representatives and one or two journalists. First, each team produced radio public service announcements that urge the public to remain vigilant against violent extremism. These PSA’s will air on local radio stations. Secondly, the participants produced a plan, a blueprint, for future cooperation among government agencies and the media that commit both sides to cooperating to combat violent extremism.

It was encouraging to see these Ugandans set aside their political and professional differences and unite to keep the public safe here in Eastern Uganda.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! Congratulations on a great start to the workshop! Such meaningful work!