Peace-building group founded by Irish missionary aims to bring justice for the marginalized
The United Nations Department of Global Communications has approved an East African-based NGO — the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR) — to be associated with the department.
Shalom-SCCRR was founded in Kenya in 2009 by Irish missionary Father Patrick Devine SMA, who continues as its international chairman. Its country director in Kenya is another Irish missionary, Father Oliver Noonan SMA.
The UN Department of Global Communications works with diverse civil society organizations ranging from small groups to subsidiaries of large networks and academic institutions around the world. The organizations associated with the department gain access to UN headquarters in New York to attend meetings, events and informational sessions, and to network with other organizations and UN entities.
This recognition of Shalom by the UN is an opportunity for it to work with the 1,500 associated NGOs in furthering the goals and objectives of creating a better and more peaceful world together. These NGOs also play an important role using their own communications platforms with their members and beneficiaries to highlight commitments made by governments and world leaders, such as the agreement by world leaders to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Shalom’s application for accreditation was strongly supported by the United Nations Centre for Information (UNIC) in Kenya, Uganda and the Seychelles.
In its letter of recommendation, UNIC director Nasser Ega-Musa stated: “Shalom benefits from the cooperation of the governments of Eastern Africa that comprise the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development. Shalom also partners with international and regional colleges and universities on peace-building courses, as well as religious associations and councils in Africa. We, therefore, have no hesitation in recommending them for the United Nations Department of Public Information accreditation with the confidence that they will be a great asset and will add value to the work of the United Nations.”
The application was also supported by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in eight countries with a population of around 300 million people in Eastern Africa and by Tangaza University College in Nairobi.
“Shalom distinguishes itself by its unique way of working, incorporating theory through research and practice through training on skills in conflict resolution and transformation. The organization has a growing reputation for its peace-building work, professionalism, high research ability, and conflict sensitivity. Its well-structured training modules on analytical skills and knowledge of peace-building is a major contributor to our work,” IGAD said in its endorsement.
“Shalom respects local cultures and works closely with adversarial communities at the grassroots to mitigate conflict, turning negative peace to positive peace, hence building sustainable peace. Beneficiaries of its research and training are highly proficient in applying the skills in resolving conflict in the Horn of Africa. Shalom is unquestionably an exceptional organization to partner with. Shalom’s experience in the region suggests that the UN and it would greatly benefit from this association.”.
Last month at a strategic planning meeting held in Nairobi for conflict transformation and peace-building practitioners in Eastern Africa, the international chairman of Shalom, Rev. Patrick Devine, stated that “conflict has a memory that is robust, resilient and anchored in culture.”
He added: “While peace depends on truth and the realization of social justice, there can be no reconciliation without the application of mercy also. Reconciliation requires truth, social justice and mercy being applied inseparably. The distinction between negative peace and positive peace is of critical importance. Specifically, positive peace is epitomized by reconciliation, whereas negative peace is merely the absence of manifest violence without reconciliation being realized”.
The peace-building work of Shalom provides valuable experience and learning for the UN, which launched its Sustainable Peace Initiative (SPI) in 2018. That initiative places preventive action and post-conflict peace-building on a par with peace-making and peace-keeping.
The report by the secretary-general to the high-level meeting on sustaining peace in April 2018 laid the groundwork for an important policy breakthrough, empowering civilians with new tools, better management practices and hopefully new financial resources to contribute to a more integrated and coherent framework for global conflict management that delivers positive peace.
Important features of the SPI are:
— It elevates the role of civil society and regional organizations in sustaining peace.
— It stresses that the UN development system and development practitioners in general are central to conflict prevention and sustaining peace.
— It buttresses the case for “more predictable and sustained financing” for civilian-led peace-building through a proposed Funding Compact with Member States, against the backdrop of declining development assistance to conflict-affected countries as a share of global aid.
There is growing recognition that development actors need to provide more support to national and regional prevention agendas through targeted, flexible, and sustained engagement. Prevention agendas, in turn, should be integrated into development policies and efforts, because prevention is cost-effective, saves lives, and safeguards development gains. A joint study in 2018 by the UN and the World Bank, "Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict," originated from the conviction on the part of both institutions that the attention of the international community needs to be urgently refocused on the prevention of conflict.
That is precisely the work that Shalom has been doing since its foundation in 2009. It was also the basis of its detailed submission to the public consultation on Ireland’s overseas aid policy in August 2018. Shalom advanced the view that Ireland’s aid policy should prioritize conflict transformation and peace-building that involves the participation of civil society organizations with the appropriate competence and capacity, and that this should be reflected in a meaningful manner it its new strategy. Unfortunately, Ireland’s foreign policy, which its development aid programme underpins, remains more focused on “peace-keeping” which is a military approach.
However, Irish Minister of State for International Development Joe McHugh, in an interview after an EU Development Council Meeting held in Brussels in May 2017 to address the humanitarian situation in Africa, Yemen and Syria, and the future of EU-ACP relations and the implementation of the 2030 agenda on sustainable development, quoted Shalom as a good example in peace-building.
“I pointed to the great work that is being done in northern Kenya by a group called Shalom — interethnic conflict reconciliation — where for the first time in a particular region, even with drought and massive challenges, peace is holding. So we have to look at the solutions. My message today from Ireland to Europe was: if there are examples that are working we should look at them, and we should support them,” McHugh said.
Referring to the important peace and development nexus, McHugh added: “We are focused at how we can look at and examine the root causes of conflict … looking at peace and reconciliation … to looking at how we can bring peace which will obviously lead to sustainable development. We can’t have sustainable development without peace.”
Shalom recognizes that conflict is the single largest driver of humanitarian crises today. According to the UN, over 85 percent of humanitarian funding is directed to addressing needs in conflict-affected situations, whilst the World Bank estimates that by 2030 more than 60 percent of the extreme poor will be living in fragile and conflict-affected states. Conflict transformation, peace-building and integral human development — the thrust of Shalom’s work — are a means of bringing about justice for the marginalized who are the victims of human rights abuse intrinsic to the operation of structural violence.
Where justice prevails, human rights are by and large not violated. They are adhered to or enforced or are part of the order of things. The realization of human rights is the underlying and operational motivation, driver and end goal of Shalom’s work. Transforming interethnic conflict and religious ideological extremism have been major components of its interventions.
Shalom has signed memorandums of understanding with the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention at the University of Maynooth and with the Senator George Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queens University Belfast. These memorandums allow for the sharing of research on theory and practice in the complex area of peace-building.
Shalom, staffed by professionally qualified staff, is a non-political, interreligious, and interethnic organization registered under Kenyan law and has support branches in the USA, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland/UK. In 2018, Misean Cara, which operates as an agency of Irish Aid in the distribution of funding for missionary development work in the global south, carried out an evaluation of Shalom’s strategy and methodologies in conflict transformation and peace-building.
The independent consultant’s report stated: “Shalom’s contextually driven, rigorous but adaptable and forward-looking methodology represents a model approach towards peace-building in highly complex situations.
“The approach, with its emphasis on community leadership, stakeholder participation, high technical competency, logic models, results frameworks, stories of change and advocacy linkages, also reflects current best practice within both the peace-building and development sectors.”
That description demonstrates the rationale for the positive relationships which Shalom-SCCRR enjoys with a broad range of donors, partners and institutions across three continents, including the offices of the UN and the World Bank in Kenya, and now the UN Department of Global Communications in New York.
It is another example of the entrepreneurial spirit and the pioneering work of Irish missionaries in the global south where they have been outstanding ambassadors for Ireland. Father Patrick Devine’s caring and peace-building work was recognized in 2013 when he received the International Caring Award from The Caring Institute in Washington, joining other recipients of the award who include the Dalai Lama, former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa and Senator George Mitchell.
Matt Moran is a writer based in Ireland. Author of “The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On” published by www.onstream.ie, his forthcoming book is “The Theology of Integral Human Development”. He is a past chairman of Misean Cara.
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