Tag Archives: peace

What Really Happened in the Congo?

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, author Stephen Weissman takes us inside the political world of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1960s. Weissman explores one of the most contentious issues of Congolese independence: how big of a role did the CIA play in the death of independence leader Patrice Lumumba? See an excerpt of the article here and follow the link above to read the article in its entirety:

We now know that even though the threat of communism in Congo was quite weak at the time of Congo’s independence, the CIA engaged in pervasive political meddling and paramilitary action between 1960 and 1968 to ensure that the country retained a pro-Western government and to help its pathetic military on the battlefield. So extensive were these efforts that at the time, they ranked as the largest covert operation in the agency’s history, costing an estimated $90–$150 million in current dollars, not counting the aircraft, weapons, and transportation and maintenance services provided by the Defense Department. The CIA had a hand in every one of Congo’s major political turning points during the period and maintained a financial and political relationship with every head of its government.


Grassroots Mediation: Cattle Rustling in Northwestern Kenya

turkana cowherderThis morning I read a fascinating article published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) on the continuing problem of cattle rustling endemic of the nomadic pastoralist tribes in rural northwestern Kenya. Violent conflicts over water and grazing rights between the Pokot and Turkana peoples have resulted in countless raids between West Pokot and Turkana counties. For example, in February of this year, one raid in Turkana South resulted in a village being pillaged and destroyed. A number of villagers were killed—including three women and two children—and over 1,200 cattle pilfered.

This violence has continued unabated for years. In the past, the Kenyan government’s response to this ethnic violence focused mainly on disarmament and taking the offenders to court, but these methods have not stopped the attacks.

However, in response to these more recent attacks, the Kenyan government has partnered with NGOs and the local communities to establish local tribunals where village elders and tribal leaders can mediate this ongoing ethnic dispute. Through the mediation process, led by representatives of the Council of Elders, the Pokot and Turkana people have developed a community-based solution that seems to already enjoy initial successes.

According to IWPR, the tribal leaders force the culprits to confront their victims, compensate them for the killings, and give back stolen livestock. The tribal leaders mete out punishments to the offenders and set the level of compensation they must pay to the families of victims. Furthermore, civic awareness programs are being conducted in the two communities aimed at encouraging a lasting peace.

John Muok, the Chairman of the Pokot Council of Elders, told IWPR:

We needed such a local system, because over the years it has been difficult to implement other strategies aimed at dealing with cattle rustling. Both the government and non-governmental organizations have tried disarmament or introducing alternative means of livelihood for our people, but all that has not worked.

Benjamin Ebenyo, Muok’s Turkana counterpart continued:

Once the communities own the process, then it’s easy to implement, and this mechanism is succeeding because we have so far handled more than 100 cases on both the Pokot and Turkana side with positive results.

news_163755_0However, as IWPR is quick to argue, mediation alone is not a solution. Human rights advocates like Ken Wafula believe that these localized mediation processes must work in tandem with the Kenyan governments overall disarmament scheme. The proliferation and use of firearms in these attacks has resulted in countless needless deaths as gangs of thugs enter villages and spray bullets in all directions. Even elders are killed in the attacks. Therefore, it seems like the optimal solution is to link government sanctioned disarmament programs with the new local mediation initiative. Time is needed to see how these two approaches work together to bring a positive end to cattle rustling.

People Were Not Made to Live in Cages

ROHINGYA-MT-7-622x414The Rohingya are a small Muslim minority forced to live in modern day concentration camps in Myanmar (Burma) along the Thai-Burmese border. Locked within the camps, the Rohingya are deprived of jobs, schools, and basic access to food, water, proper sanitation, and healthcare. This reporter found a young pregnant woman laboring for over 20 hours with a breached baby. There were no hospitals and no doctors to aid her. Driving her across the camp to a small clinic, the only nurse in residence said she could do nothing to help. When asked the nurse said plainly, “Yes, she will die.”

It’s like we are being in jail. Like birds in the cage. Like in the ghetto.

How did this happen? The current ethnic violence plaguging the country can be traced back to the 2012 Rakhine State Riots in northern Rakhine State. Tihs was a series of ethnically charged conflicts between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims. Since June of 2012 there have been more than 200 deaths and at least 100,000 people ahve been displaced.

One of the biggest problems is that the Myanmar government has done nothing to stop the violence perpetrated by the Rakhine Buddhist monks who spread hate and fear of the Rohingya. In fact, a number of government officials actively support the violence and internment of the Rohingya. One official explained:

To me, the situation isn’t so bad. Don’t worry…. The first thing I want to say is that when you are here in [our] state, don’t use the word ‘Rohingya.’ There’s no such thing as the Rohingya ethnicity in our country.

Wirathu-Time-225x300As NYT reporter Nicholas Kristof argues, “How can there be progress for the Rohingya when the officials deny their very existance?” One of the worst perpetrators of hate speech is the Buddhist monk Wirathu. Speaking with Nicholas Kristof, he explained:

Muslims are like African catfish. They breed rapidly. They have violent behavior. And they eat their own kind, and other fish.

You can see how far his ideology has spread throughout the Buddhist monastic order. The abbot of a remote rural temple told Kristof, “When there are a lot of Muslims, they start waging jihad. It happens everywhere.” When asked about his responsibility as a religion leader to stem this violence, the abbot said, “Buddhism is not a violent religion. But if someone attacks us, we can’t just lie down and take it.”

Until prominent government and religious leaders in Myanmar recognize the Rohingya as a people and stop spreading violence and discord, the desperate situation for this country’s nearly one million Muslims who are living in the squalid camps will remain a major concern for peace and stability.


If I could have Dinner…

leymahnobelIf I could have dinner with any living public figure, I would want to dine with Leymah Gbowee. Recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist. She led the Liberian women’s peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War.

leymahTrained as a trauma healing counselor, Leymah established the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) in Liberia, which focused specifically on the power and roles of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding. In spring 2002, Leymah awoke from a dream where God told her in a clear voice: “Gather the women together and pray for peace!” By summer 2002, Leymah had organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement, which called on Christian and Muslim women to come together in the fish markets of Monrovia and pray for peace.

The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement staged a number of non-violent sit-ins and demonstrations, including threats of a curse, even a sex strike, in defiance of the orders of then-president Charles Taylor.

In a very risky move, the women began staging their protests on a soccer field that was beside the road on which Charles Taylor traveled twice a day. Wearing all white, the women sang, danced, and chanted, calling for peace as his motorcade drove by. The women were eventually granted a hearing in front of Taylor on April 23, 2003. More than 2,000 women joined Leymah at the hearing. Turning to face Taylor, Leymah pronounced:

We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”

peacenowIn June 2003, Leymah led a group of women to Ghana where the peace talks were taking place in order to put pressure on the warring factions to sign a peace agreement. These brave women eventually took over the building where the peace talks were taking place, linking arms they circled the building, blocking the exits, and refused to let any of the men out. When the men tried to leave, Leymah threatened to take off all her clothes, which in many West African countries is a curse. The Second Liberian Civil War officially ended weeks later.

After the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on August 18, 2003, Leymah and the women’s movement led the 2005 election campaign of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who became the first female head of state in Africa.

Check out this amazing documentary on the experiences of Leymah and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. Or check out her inspiring TEDTalk here. You can also read her book.

How cool would it be to have dinner with this inspiring woman and peace activist?!