By: Matt Moran
Delivering the fourth Lt Gen Dermot Earley Memorial Lecture in Maynooth University, Irish missionary, Fr Patrick Devine SMA, said that in African conflict environments where people are killed, maimed and displaced persistently, social and religious values such as peace, truth, justice and mercy cannot take deep root, nor can people live normal lives or experience true peace.
"Communities cannot experience sustained development because periodically schools, hospitals, industrial and formation institutions become inoperable or totally destroyed. We will be forever rebuilding and rehabilitating institutions if we do not address the root causes of conflict" he told a large audience assembled by the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Resolution, in association with the Irish Defence Forces of which the late Dermot Earley was Chief of Staff.
Fr Devine holds a PhD in Political Science and Public Administration, and an MA in Peace Studies and International Relations. He is the founder and International Chairman of the Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation based in Kenya, and now registered in the USA, the Republic and Northern Ireland with emerging linked organisations in other African countries. It was created in the wake of persistent widespread violence and dislocation across northern Kenya, and in the aftermath of the disputed Kenyan elections of 2008. It is supported by partner organisations and a network of visionary donors, primarily in the United States, the UK and Ireland where it has support groups.
Describing the tasks that Shalom carry out, Fr Devine explained how: "We train and empower local community leaders in conflict transformation because we want local leaders and communities to be able to analyze and transform conflict in their own areas, without persistently relying on external intervention, that is, to be the architects of their own interdependent future. We transfer analytical skills and peace-building techniques leading to problem-solving workshops.
He continued: "We conduct empirical research, to the highest academic rigour, into the underlying causes of a conflict because we are adamant to fully understand the causes and the driver dynamics of the conflict which are too often ignored when 'quick-fixes' are applied to problems. This informs local conflict transformation interventions and policy direction for advocacy and implementation.
"We work to influence government policies at local, national and regional levels because government is primarily responsible for promoting peace and social progress but also bearing in mind that government structures, institutions and policy can also be a significant contributing factor causing conflict, for example, between pastoralist communities.
"We strengthen religious and civic organizations with conflict transformation capacities and system perspectives to enable them to address conflict and promote peace because these organizations (religions institutions, missionaries, NGOs) are frequently best placed to provide conflict early warning when tension and crisis are brewing, and also be present to support the ongoing transformation and resolution.
"We develop and construct inter-ethnic institutions, especially schools, and design and promote peace education syllabus into educational institutes at all levels. This includes the provision of solar energy for consistent power supply, computers, desks, and books, especially in areas of entrenched violent conflict. We want to ensure that children are given a better future, that they learn to live with others who are different to themselves, while being enriched by the diversity of cultural heritage, thus, working to reduce conflict in the long-term.
"The peace and development nexus is crucial, not only for conflict transformation and peace building, but also for embracing cultural heritage and providing the platform for creative artistic expression in the future. Theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind is our motto. The saying 'if we continue to do what we have always done, we should not be surprised if we get what we always got' rings very true where peace-building and sustainable development are concerned.
"To transform a conflict there are four areas that must be addressed; the personal level at the psychological, spiritual and emotional; the relational level at the behavioural, stereotyping and communication; the structural level addressing the provision or rehabilitation of institutions critical to helping people meet their basic human needs and actualize their potential; and the cultural level which means ridding a culture of anything that legitimises unjustifiable violence in respect to human rights and the dignity of life.
"For reconciliation to evolve the four components of peace, truth, justice and mercy have to be addressed in a holistic, integrated and mutually supporting manner. Missionaries adopt a holistic approach in development and humanitarian interventions".
"Addressing issues of the environment and conflict there is need for objective perspective in three dimensions; firstly, how fast expanding populations are increasing demands on resources; secondly, how increasing environmental climate change, desertification and degradation is causing an acute supply problem for the demand issues; and thirdly, the alarming disparity and discrepancy in the inequity of the distribution of the resources of this planet. These three dimensions have to be addressed inter-connectedly as they are the main driving forces for understanding how the environment in impacting on conflict, poverty and underdevelopment. In many parts of Africa these dimensions play a significant role in generating a social pressure-cooker that erupts into conflict.
"Shalom has been invited by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to discuss possible strategic contributions it can make in helping with the creation of Africa's Great Green Wall
The wall - a 260,000 square kilometre line of indigenous trees and vegetation - aims to halt the desertification of the Sahel (the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south), and to stem the increasing migration of displaced people throughout Africa and Europe caused by climate change, as well as aiming to create green jobs and increase food security. The underlying causes need to be addressed urgently and professionally, not just satisfied with addressing the symptom. Without such initiatives the conflict quotient will rise.
"The Great Green Wall is an African initiative that deserves the support of the international community. When completed it will be an environmental 'Wonder of the World' spanning 11 countries from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, and will benefit tens of millions of people."
Concerning religion and conflict, Fr. Devine maintains that the message of religion is not an underlying cause of conflict, but religion can become a significant factor generating conflict when it becomes primarily energised by increasing institutional membership rather than qualitative spiritual transformation; in other words, when the institution becomes more important than the message.
Describing the accomplishments of Shalom to date, Fr. Devine revealed that over 10,000 key community opinion shapers have been trained professionally in conflict transformation skills and peace-building skills in northern Kenya traversing the borders of Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and among the Somalian community. Over 340 workshops have been held among 16 tribes in conflict zones.
Over 300 schools projects, many inter-ethnic and inter-religious, have been completed. Peace syllabus introduced along with desks, books and equipment, and 500 units of solar energy installed providing electricity for 150,000 students.
"In the past, we have provided training for police officers on the prevention of political violence during turbulent elections. Bearing in mind that 1,256 people were killed in 2008, approximately 60,000 maimed, and 500,000 displaced the level of violence was diminished during recent presidential election but even the loss of one life is too much" he concluded.
According to a recent report published by BOND, two billion people live in countries where development is undermined by fragility, conflict, and violence. By 2030, it is projected that 46% of people living in extreme poverty will be those living in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, up from 17% today. More and more people affected by conflict and crises urgently require food, water, shelter and other assistance to survive. New and ongoing conflicts force ever greater numbers of people from their homes. The need for conflict resolution, reconciliation, and positive peace-building is increasing.
Fergal Keane, BBC African Editor, writing recently about Shalom in the Irish Independent said: "Kenya needs them in its slums and beleaguered western villages where tension is rising by the day. What they do here matters to all of Africa..." Shalom benefits from practical collaboration with key organisations with which it has Memorandums of Understanding. These are the eight governments of Eastern Africa that comprise the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention at Maynooth University, and the Institute for Conflict Transformation at Queen's University Belfast. Currently, plans are being advanced for an MoU with the University of Texas in Austin.
Readers wishing to support or to get involved in Shalom support groups in the UK can contact Andy Rogers in London at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01- 7785920810, or Harry Lloyd in Manchester at: email@example.com
Matt Moran is author of book - The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On - which describes how the work of Irish missionaries is being continued by their local and indigenous colleagues, and by faith-inspired groups such as Shalom. It is available from: www.amazon.co.uk/Legacy-Irish-Missionaries-Lives-2016/dp/1897685556 and www.amazon.co.uk/Legacy-Irish-Missionaries-Lives-2016/dp/1897685556) or from www.onstream.ie.