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Placing peace at the center

Placing peace at the center

Since its formation, Life & Peace Institute (LPI) has carried out programs for conflict transformation in a variety of countries, conducted research, and produced numerous publications on nonviolent conflict transformation and the role of religion in conflict and peace building. The main focus of the NGO’s work has been on Africa, with the Horn of Africa Program being established and well-known in the 1990s. At the helm of the Horn of Africa Program is Hannah Tsadik who was recently recongnized for her important contributions in the Horn region, writes Samuel Getachew.

With the soothing music of Girma Yifrashewa playing from a laptop on the IKEA-looking table overlooking an unfinished construction and a busy traffic of people, Hannah Tsadik seems to be a woman who has many things going on at the same time. This was the day after Hannah, the Regional Resident Representative of Life & Peace Institute, was awarded the 2017 Swedish Development Prize by the Swedish Development Forum.

According to their website, the Swedish Development Forum (FUF) is a non-governmental organization founded in 1972 and is politically and religiously independent.  The NGOs activities are mainly based on membership fees and information grants from Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and Forum Syd.

“FUF’s objective is to provide information and raise awareness on global development issues, to support mutual understanding and cooperation. By offering an independent forum for discussion and exchange of ideas between people with different experiences and opinions, FUF hopes to contribute to enhanced knowledge about global development and dedication to a sustainable world,” the website reads.

Placing peace at the center
Student brings dialogue experience at university back home during vacation

For this peace building practitioner, who is used to staying in the background, the rare recognition came as an utter surprise. She did not even know the award existed when it was communicated to her that she had won and the flow of congratulations started coming her way, especially from the many young people she has mentored over the last decade.

In announcing Hannah as the recipient, it was revealed that she was being recognized for her “strategic leadership” and for “having delivered an innovative and successful regional peace program in the Horn of Africa”.

The Life & Peace Institute (LPI) has been supporting peace efforts in the Horn of Africa over the past three decades, in a region that has known more conflicts rather than peace. As such, the award is a reminder why she ventured to her parents’ native country after being born, raised and educated abroad – to make her contribution to peace building efforts in Ethiopia and beyond. “It is indeed humbling to get this award now, when peace seems to be so elusive all over the world, yet it is so worthwhile to keep striving for it and persisting even when things seems bleak,” she told The Reporter. “So, I am most grateful.”

Addis Ababa, a city that is known as the diplomatic capital of Africa, is also known for its many non-governmental organizations and actors. It has become hard to differentiate the extraordinary efforts with the ordinary, the Band-Aid solutions or those who just sit by idle. However, Hannah feels the work of LPI is quite unique and needed more than ever.

“One focus of our work is to engage young people in universities across the Horn and seek to create safe spaces for them to meet and dialogue across various dividing lines,” she said.  

LPI was founded in 1985 as a reaction to constructively address the most significant challenges of that time such as apartheid in South Africa and the nuclear threat, among other dynamics of the Cold War era. The Institute was established to promote non-violence through a combination of research and support to local, national and regional peace actions globally, when requested by the stakeholders on the ground.

Over time, the work of LPI has been focused more specifically on the Horn of Africa as well as the Great Lakes regions. In the Horn, LPI works in Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The Institute has its regional office in Addis Ababa, where it also works closely with the African Union Commission as well as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and where it seeks to bring local voices and perspectives of those who are affected by conflicts into the high-level policy discussions here in Addis.

LPI is becoming increasingly known for its engagement with young people as agents of change. Take for instance the experiences of the young people of Kibera, Nairobi who wanted to engage with a popular artiste, in the shadow of a song that she released that they found offensive. In the shadow of a divisive Kenyan presidential election, the young people felt popular culture can be used as a hub for good and not be a destructive vehicle to further divide an already divided population.

Through a mechanism that has been used by LPI elsewhere, a facilitated discussion happened, that allowed the artiste to understand her impact and change the lyrics of the songs. “As a singer and member of a street theatre, she has now transferred messages of peace to her large audience”, the Institute announced. “Through their action, the group of youth in Nairobi identified a problem and used their peace building skills for positive results in their community.”

That is one experience yet there are more.

In Sudan, LPI helped a university student who witnessed violence in his village to create a dialogue among neighbors, not to only reduce violence but also find a lasting conversation with locals to co-exist as neighbors and citizens. It facilitated a rich discussion with young men who felt violence was a means to solve issues in the community.

Hannah shares that one of LPI’s mottos are “peace begins with people” and as such, most of the work of LPI is to support bottom-up, grassroots peace processes and then seek to link them to more formal processes like the experiences of Kenya, Sudan or elsewhere.

Many of the initiatives supported by LPI have been quite transformational, such as its longstanding support to intra and inter-clan dialogue in Somalia or dialogue programs with young people across a range of settings, according to Hannah, although of course, seeing long-term changes on the ground takes a long time, sometimes even generations. Under Hannah’s leadership, nearly 77,000 young people have engaged in youth-focused dialogue work in Ethiopia.

This work is one of the main reasons that Hannah has been awarded the Prize. However, Hannah is adamant that she is part of a team that made this possible, including LPI staff members and local partners. “It’s not just my award, it’s the effort of many individuals and institutions who have worked alongside me”, she said. “It really is a team effort”.

When the award was announced, she was fast to tweet her reaction - “I’m incredibly honored to be the 2017 Swedish Development Forum Prize recipient. Thank u (sic) for believing in our work”.