Fr. Devine, (Ph.D, in Political Science and Public Administration, and MA in Peace Studies and International Relations, respectively) is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation – based in Kenya. A native of Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, he is assisted by a highly qualified team of conflict transformation and development practitioners, predominantly from Africa (all with a minimum of MA). He was recipient of the Caring Award from the Caring Institute in the USA in 2013. Previous awardees include the Dalai Lama, former US President Jimmy Carter, Mother Teresa and Senator George Mitchell.
In his address, Fr Devine will discuss his experience of working with communities in Eastern Africa to promote peace, justice, security, reconciliation, and conflict transformation. In particular, he will focus on Shalom’s approach to its work with tribal and community leaders on education, empowerment and transcending ethnic and religious boundaries to get to the root causes of conflict. Shalom has had considerable success in replacing conflict and violence with peace and co-operation in renowned conflict areas catalyzed by negative ethnicity, long-standing animosities, cultural differences, resource competition, and institutional deficiencies. It is comprised of an international team of conflict resolution experts from various religious backgrounds and disciplines.
It focuses on the root cause of violence in the tribal lands of eastern Africa. It was established in 2009 in the wake of persistent widespread violence and dislocation across northern Kenya, and in the aftermath of the disputed Kenyan elections of 2008. Its major impact on peace initiatives has been recognised by both state and church bodies with which it has established collaborative working relationships. Its work is strictly non-sectarian and is closely aligned with civil society organisations. It is supported by partner organisations and a network of visionary donors, primarily in the United States, the UK and Ireland where it has support groups.
Shalom benefits from practical collaboration with key organisations with which it has Memorandums of Understanding. These are the eight governments of eastern Africa that comprise the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention at Maynooth University, and the Senator George Mitchell Institute for Conflict Transformation at Queen’s University Belfast. Following a lecture Fr. Devine delivered at the University of Texas in Austin last month, preparations are now being made for a memorandum of understanding between that university and Shalom.
During his visit to Kenya last November, the then Irish Minister of State for Overseas Aid, Joe McHugh TD (and now Government Chief Whip) spent a day in Tuum in Samburu county – a remote part of northern Kenya – where he saw at first hand how the Samburu and Turkana pastoralist communities are trying, with support from Shalom, to address their long-standing ethnic differences to live in peaceful co-existence. During the EU Development Council Meeting in Brussels last May, Minister McHugh used that experience to describe Shalom as a successful model of peace-building and conflict resolution that should be supported.
Writing in the Irish Independent this week, Fergal Keane, the BBC Africa Editor described the vibrant civil society that now plays a key role in democracy in Kenya, and focused on the work of Shalom as an example. “There is another big difference between the old days and the present” he said. “In the Cold War era, when I first reported from Africa, there was nothing like the vibrant civil society that exists now. For all the determination of the new ‘big men’ to monopolise power, I don’t believe the tens of thousands of human rights campaigners, of many organisations, will allow them to succeed. But prepare for a very long struggle. Forget about framing this continent – as did one magazine – as a narrative of either The Hopeless Continent or Africa Rising. Neither reflects the complex reality.
“Let me give you a Kenyan example that gladdens my heart. It has a strong Irish connection too. On the eve of the election I went to the Nairobi offices of the group Shalom, where two Irish priests, Fr Patrick Devine from Roscommon, and Fr Oliver Noonan of Cork City, work with a team of conflict preventers from across the country’s tribal patchwork. Every day they are busy in the flashpoint areas. Their phones ring constantly.
“It’s only by being consistent and having highly trained people, and by developing relationships on the ground, that you can get results,” said Fr Devine. He told me proudly that everyone on the team was qualified to MA level in peace studies. They were focused, calm, objective. No tribalist politician was going to sway them. Kenya needs them in its slums and beleaguered western villages where tension is rising by the day. What they do here matters to all of Africa.”
Fr Devine is a regular speaker at high level forums on peace-building. Last year, he addressed students and faculty at Harvard Law School on conflict resolution and Shalom’s model for bringing peace to East Africa – an event co-sponsored by Harvard Negotiators and the Programme on Negotiation at the school. Some other significant contributions were when he gave a key note address to a gathering of diplomats, peace practitioners, and security specialist at the Irish Embassy in Washington, as well as important lectures/presentations at Queen’s University, Belfast, N.I., University of Houston, USA, and at an International Conference in Zanzibar on the ‘Protection Africa’s Cultural Heritage’.
Mary Koech, MA