Monday, April 5, 2021
In October 2019, I visited Dharamsala, a small town in northwestern India where the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans have made their home. I consider myself blessed not only to have eaten momos, grilled vegetables, bananas and bread with the Dalai Lama, but also for having shared those moments with 22 other youth leaders who came from countries like Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia, among others. I met the Dalai Lama and other youth peacebuilders as part of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Generation Change Fellows Program. Everything I heard from them and the Dalai Lama touched me in a profound way.
A community here in Niger’s capital city is answering a security problem common across the Sahel. Nigeriens suffer violence by extremist organizations, drug smugglers, human traffickers—and the hazards of COVID. Yet Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has few financial resources to respond to this insecurity. So at little cost, a community here in Niamey has found ways to improve its own security in partnership with the local government. This has been critical to help the community improve safety despite COVID, floods and, most recently, the tensions of a national election.
Vida Hanna, a director for public relations at Catholic University in Erbil, recalled the first week of her first-grade year when a classmate called her a kafir, or an infidel, upon learning that she was Christian. “He told me I would burn in hell,” said Hanna, a former member of USIP’s Iraq team, still shaken by the experience 22 years ago. Hanna’s experience is a microcosm of the ignorance and negative thinking that exist among segments of Iraqi society, which can exacerbate intercommunal tensions.
Many colleagues and acquaintances of the late Secretary of State George P. Shultz will remember his tendency to equate diplomacy with gardening. To Shultz, the diplomat should devote unwavering attention to his “plants”—that is, the day-to-day work of diplomacy, which requires long-term planning, the steady and diligent tending of relatively unchanging interests, and the cultivation and maintenance of alliances.
The 135 million people of Africa’s Sahel region work with thin resources as they labor to stabilize their countries against layers of crises—extremist violence, the COVID pandemic and natural disasters. But in one of the world’s poorest regions and countries, a community in Niger’s capital city has united to produce what can seem like a small miracle of self-reliance. With the simple tools of community meetings, cellphones and voluntarism, a network of residents worked with police services and officials to help contain COVID, prevent violence, reduce crime—and even save residents from a disastrous flood.
Burma has faced various ethnic conflicts since shortly after its independence in 1948. In that time, five different peace efforts have failed, leaving Burma in what constitutes the world’s longest running civil war. However, since the country’s November 8 elections, there has been a flurry of meetings between ethnic-armed organizations and the military, known as the Tatmadaw. These unexpected talks are the first signs of progress toward a resolution of the seemingly intractable war—that is, if the sides can learn from the past and create a fresh, inclusive renewal of the peace process that draws on the country’s diverse voices advocating for peace.
Ten months since the coronavirus first emerged, communities around the world still face stay-at-home orders, school closures, and travel restrictions. These policies have led to increased sexual and gender-based violence. While the U.N. secretary-general and heads of state have paid unprecedented attention to this issue, translating political rhetoric into action has proven more difficult. As the pandemic drags on, governments, security actors, and civil society need to rethink how to protect women and girls during lockdowns. While the situation is dire, an opportunity does exist. In Nigeria, where massive protests against police brutality broke out in October, civil society and police are adapting their efforts to address both gender-based violence and the pandemic.
During Sudan’s 2019 revolution—as people mobilized across the country with tactics including sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and strikes—artists helped capture the country’s discontent and solidify protesters’ resolve. In particular, artists became an integral part of the months-long sit-in at the military headquarters in Khartoum, which was known as the heart of the revolution until it was violently dispersed by paramilitary forces on June 3, 2019. This immense expression of creativity was both a result of loosening restrictions on freedom of expression and, at the same time, a catalyst for further change.
In 1967, America was racing the Soviet Union into space, debating war in Vietnam and dancing to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” John Lancaster graduated that spring from the University of Notre Dame. Having studied on a Navy ROTC scholarship, he took a commission in the Marine Corps. After several more months of training, Second Lieutenant Lancaster landed at Da Nang airport amid the Vietnam War’s bloodiest battle: the 1968 Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.
Historic peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government began in early September, opening a window for peace after four decades of conflict. Afghans, overwhelmingly weary of war and craving an end to violence, are watching closely. This urge for peace is the most important force motivating the talks, and Afghanistan’s burgeoning community of artists articulate it especially powerfully.