On 16 May, the Bonavero Institute at Oxford University became a space for sharing stories of peace, in the first ever Oxford Peace Talks held in honor of Kofi Annan, the 7th Secretary-General of the United Nations and founder of the Kofi Annan Foundation. Organized under the theme “Africa Leading for Peace,” young Africans shared their personal stories and experiences, to highlight their efforts to promote peace in Africa. The Oxford Peace Talks also helped shift the needle on the narrative of Africa being a continent in need to a continent of global relevance with best practices and models of peace.
The event started with Kofi Annan’s empowering message recorded in the Geneva Peace Talks 2017. In his own words, “Young people can make a difference. You have the capacity to lead […] One is never too young to lead, and we are never too old to learn.” Following his emphasis on the role and participation of youth, the inaugural Director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, Kate O’Regan, kicked off the event. Quoting Kofi Annan, she emphasized the power of sharing stories. In her own words, she said “in seeking to protect and promote human rights in our world, the most important thing you can do is to tell one another stories.”
Our first speaker was Anupah Makoond, a peacebuilder from Mauritius and Co-chair of the 2019 Oxford Africa Conference. She was supposed to be an engineer, but peacebuilding came to her after meeting Martti Ahtisaari, Johan Galtung and Kofi Annan- three peace mediators. Starting with her experience of how peacebuilding came to her, she asked the audience to contemplate what peace means and how peace can be achieved.
She shared, “When I was 18, I had an amazing experience of encountering Martti Ahtisaari, Johan Galtung and Kofi Annan. Three men who spent their lives in conflict zones, and have so much optimism, energy and joy. This is the meaning of life.” Finalizing her talk, she emphasized the importance of creating space for people’s voices to be heard.
We then heard from Qhayiya Mudau, a physiotherapist and Rhodes Scholar focusing on how to improve access to health rehabilitation services in rural South Africa. Her stories shed some light on how rebuilding the lives of individuals leads to rebuilding peace. She said “Access to physiotherapy services, I believe, has such a crucial role in building and rebuilding the lives of individuals after disease or disaster. However, many people face a multitude of barriers when accessing rehabilitation services because of a variety of barriers. What happens now? Rehabilitation services are about rebuilding.”
A former gang member and now a peace ambassador in Uganda, Sadat Zagah Zziwa, shared his journey of becoming a peace ambassador. As a former gang member, he encountered death and catastrophic situations, however, he shared his story of how he realized the meaning of hope.
He shared his passion of the Ngabo Youth Friendly Service Centre as an alternative space for people living in marginalized areas. Finalizing his talk, he hopes the same agenda can be implemented across the world, giving us inspiration for peace.
Following the musical performance of Ngoni Mugwisi, our next speakers delivered several approaches to promote peace in Africa. Dr. Sellah King’oro took center stage next. As an Assistant Director of the Research, Policy and Planning Department of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), she shared her ideas of how Africa is leading for peace based on homegrown solutions. In her own words, “How can Africa lead for peace? Things have changed; Africa is adopting homegrown solutions to address conflicts.”
Award winning South African actor, Daniel Mpilo Richards, spoke next and shared with us his journey of becoming a peacebuilder as a creative director for the Ruben Richards Foundation. Kicking off his stories with his experience in Cape Town, meeting a gang leader and capturing the emotion of hope, he emphasized that we all have the capacity for change. He stated, “No matter who you are, what you have done, we all have the capacity for change.”
We then heard from Fatima Al Ansar, the youngest diplomat in Mali and an activist for girls’ education and women’s rights. She inspired us with her passion and vision for a world where men and women live an equal life, a world where we all enjoy a peaceful life in harmony and the world where one’s gender or religious difference does not matter. Fatima reminded us that “empowering girls is the key for the development of our nation.”
Our last speaker of the night was Hajer Sharief. She is a founder of Libyan organization “Together We Build It,” and Young Leader from Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together Initiative. Calling herself a a full-time war survivor, she expressed the need to focus on the ordinary citizens who live in conflict zones. She reminded everyone that “People are not born violent; people are born into violence. People in the war zone have a voice and have an opinion to deliver.”
Vice President of Interpeace, Simon Gimson, closed the night with the following inspirational reminder: “Conflict is a natural experience and so is peacebuilding. Profound individual experiences and contributions they are making towards peacebuilding are sedimentary layers of wisdom, wisdom about peacebuilding.”
The full event and the individual talks are available at www.peacetalks.net
Pictures of the event and photobooth are available at the Peace Talks Facebook Page.