What can Uganda teach us about peace?

Kevin Jenkins
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For five years since the death of Steve Williams, a World Vision staff member passionate about peace-making, we have honoured him by presenting a prize to someone outside our organization who has furthered the kind of causes he championed.

This year’s prize has been awarded to the Catholic Archbishop of Gulu, John Baptist Odama. He receives it as a representative of hundreds of individuals, religious and secular, who have contributed to bringing peace to northern Uganda. For a generation, the region suffered depredations at the hands of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Communities were ruined and children, in particular, were murdered, brutalized and abducted.

Odama founded the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative as part of a regional effort to bring redress for wrongs. The group tried to win rebels back from the bush and into society. They sought forgiveness for perpetrators of crimes who had themselves suffered terribly. The initiative’s results illustrate many lessons for global peace-building.

Success means starting at the bottom, in the communities. It is vital to have leaders like Odama who model restraint and humility, but the real work of reconciliation takes place where the pain is strongest. Grassroots work to promote peace is arduous and rarely as telegenic as talks among political leaders, but without the former, the latter gain no traction.

Real success requires a long-term process and can be subject to setbacks – just ask the people of Northern Ireland. There have been five years of peace in northern Uganda, and the continued effort of thousands of volunteers makes it as strong as ever. It’s no good bringing leaders together for the sake of it – addressing the root causes of conflict is essential, and that requires patience.

Success means fighting fire not with more fire, but with water. So long as we intervene in conflicts with huge military budgets and tiny investments in diplomacy and peace-building, we are doomed to repeat the same cycles. World Vision, like many of our partners, is supporting the intergovernmental New Deal for Engagement in Fragile Contexts for this very reason. We want to see greater investment in the things we know work, rather than the things which make the most dramatic sound bites on the TV news.

Author: Kevin Jenkins, Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Faith, has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of World Vision International since 2009. World Vision is a Christian, child-focused relief, development and advocacy organization working in 100 countries around the world.

Image: Alloyo Mercy, 5, stands with a basin on her head in Uganda. REUTERS/Euan Denholm

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