’If you want to go far, go with others’, so goes a traditional African saying which captures the spirit of the fourth and final International Training Programmes Alumni Network meeting hosted in Nairobi at the end of March. The Foundation, Uppsala University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Research and the Life and Peace Institute brought together 33 participants from 17 countries in Africa for two days.
They shared ideas and reflected on conflict management, mediation and sustaining peace by following a relatively free agenda with a blend of small group discussion and plenary sessions. One participant summed up the atmosphere saying: ‘I stand together with people who have been affected by war. Freedom matters and peace matters — let’s strengthen them’.
Open space stimulates collective conversations
The conversations during the meeting centred on ethics in mediation and dialogue, the general exposure to nuances in conflict and how it reflects in different contexts. Other issues focused on bringing youth to peacebuilding and strengthening future trainings with more content on variable conflict contexts and case studies, as well as the role of religion and religious leaders in conflict management.
On day two, organisers applied an open space methodology that allowed alumni to set the agenda for the day’s discussions. Participants proposed topics that resulted in 12 different sessions that ran throughout the day. The notes from the discussions were compiled in a book of proceedings and shared with all participants.
During the plenary and small group discussions, issues such as how to strengthen country level inclusive and sustainable peace and the need to build regional perspectives were also raised. Vibrant idea sharing brought up whether the alumni were able to ‘to measure that what you are doing doesn’t do more harm?’
Collectively the group considered some of the best practices of organisations like the Life and Peace Institute with the production of its bulletins, taking into consideration ‘when an organisation is good, you keep them to work with you in your core business.’ Another key issue was organisational values and how ‘organisations that have been able to do something good about peace [they] have survived because of values.’
Vital sharing and critical points
The role of traditional leaders in sustaining peace; institutional justice and injustice; gender inequality; traditional versus modern societal practices as well as reconciliation, restitution and restorative justice were also identified as critical issues. Whilst there were these vital sharing moments, there were also critical points to consider, such as how communities cope with sexual violence and cultural practices such as forced marriage through rape?
Voices questioned the traditional barriers women and youth face in participating in peace mediation. Once again, societal paradoxes were brought forward in the context of governments that want to implement changes, but they don’t have the capacity, the resources, while they disregard traditional systems that could provide this capacity.
Some argued for the point of strengthening traditional systems. There was also a realisation that the rooted beliefs and values that many people have and particularly religion has a big impact on decision-making. Many traditional institutions have introduced practices that are meant to resolve conflicts and they definitively have the capacity to do so.
Knowledge, passion and responsibility
In evaluating their few days together, the participants said; ‘We should engage more to ensure sustainable peace;’ ‘I go back with knowledge.’ Others said; ‘conflicts have changed in the context and the discussions surrounded this and it was enriching to be able to share knowledge on this’. ‘Open space is driven by passion and responsibility, and this is what I saw today and these are also the keys for peacebuilding as well.’
The interactive sessions were sandwiched with a presentation by the Life and Peace Institute and a lecture by Professor Peter Wallensteen titled ‘Perspectives on Russia’s invasion’.
‘The diversity of the participants brought home the importance of the alumni network, because if we put our heads together, we can make an impact’.