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October 15, 2012

Birthday Greetings from One You Have Inspired

Repected Sir,
Congratulations at your birthday this month! I was very happy to have met you in Deventer, one month ago where it was at three occasions that we were able to shake hands. So nice.The last time was at the Albert Schweizer Monument, where you gave an inspiring talk, it touched the hearts and minds of the people. Thank you for that!
It was a moment in time I will not forget. Hope you have been able to read the letter..

October 14, 2012

EU Nobel Prize: A call for a greater structural peace

I welcome and congratulate the European Union for winning the 2012 Nobel Peace prize. However, as a historian, I cannot say that this award is timely albeit it is a great gesture for the need for the world to strive for a greater peace: a structural peace. There are two ways of looking at this recognition. One is seeing it as having come sixty-seven years too soon. The other, is celebrating the end, in the continent, of an era of mechanized or industrial warfare that had its early beginnings in the indirect fire revolution with the use of the artillery during the Napoleonic wars. It is possible that in making this decision, the Nobel (Peace) prize Commission was saluting an unprecedented European peace record. That is, over fifty years of peace undisturbed by industrial armament and military rivalry, which has been replaced by intense focus on trade, varied areas of cooperation and the building of a European identity.

Nevertheless, there are two things worth noting. As stated above, the world must join the Nobel Commission in the celebration of the European economy that has in the last six decades transformed itself from a fighting machine in itself fatalities of which reached, in the last century, industrial proportions. Peace, however, isn’t the absence of physical combat and mechanical violence. Which ushers in the second point: there’s need to cast a broader vision for the 21st century, which takes into full account the total lessons of European and global history. I wish to suggest that the full measure of European, and therefore, world peace lies in the resolution, or at least, approximate palliation of centuries of politico-economic contradictions ushered through European agency throughout the world. In a nutshell, congratulations EU but there’s a lot more homework for you in the offing.

greek-riotsIn other words, the background of social unrest and riots inspired by hard economic times in Europe, for example in Greece and Spain, against which the announcement of the prize comes, needs to be taken into consideration. Far from riots inspired by economic austerity measures in Europe, there seems to be, in recent times, a groundswell of street protest and unrest by youthful crowds triggered by unlikely causes. A good case in point was the Tottenham riots in north London in 2011 that spread to other boroughs of the city, which is arguably one of the world’s leading financial capitals. The anger, frustration and violence characterized by pillage, looting and arson cannot be explained solely as a protest against the unfortunate murder of a young black man. This unrest bore a striking resemblance with the 2010 suburban-minority Parisian riots by disillusioned marginalized and unemployed youngsters most of them second-plus generation of immigrants. This riot was shadowed by the university students fee-fires that rocked Britain at the end of the same year. It is telling that angry student protestors in London were rather callously irreverent in their attack of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, since their main grievance was the rising cost of university education that had just tripled. Students were protesting education becoming a luxury that couldn’t be afforded by poor students. This round of protests was prefigured by the Paris October 2005 riots of poor ghettoized youth. Such discontent with social and economic inequalities and rising levels of “glocal” poverty was also reflected in the Occupy movement towards the end of 2011 across the Atlantic. This trend has roots in Seattle 1999 and the 31st G8 summit protest in 2005, which have less to do with anti-globalization than they do the urge for greater focus on world poverty and the need to bridge the gap between the world’s rich and the poor, social groups as well as countries.

OCCUPY THE WORLD Matisyahu-One Day

As such, the bestowal of this prize to the EU should be seen as a call to address a different kind of war far from the trench and mechanized conflicts of the last century. It should serve as a wake-up call to turn attention to what could be humanity’s greatest task of the century. That is, a shift of focus from regional integration to redoubled efforts of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic integration. Indeed, the prosperity and comfort availed by technological advancement that Europe, more than any other continent, championed through industrial modernization and progress was not attained in isolation but, rather, through global interaction. The challenge for Europe and other industrialized nations of the world is to reverse the trend towards retreating into economic fortresses characterized by internal inequality to embrace the less fortunate especially the young within them and around the world. This is a surer path to global stability that rests on pillars of peace that are structural in nature.


October 13, 2012

Art as a Social Force for Change – a Folklorist for Peace Relates the Stories of Life

What were you doing this summer? It was by complete chance that I ended up living in Washington, DC, and met Mike Synder. Mike, it just so happened, is a past American Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow who studied in my home of Scotland a few years back. When he returned to the US, Mike started his own filmmaking company to highlight environmental issues within Appalachian communities. He is a talented, passionate filmmaker dedicated to his art and to making the world a better place. Mike and I found a connection in our passion for the arts, so it seemed natural to combine a folklorist’s interest in the stories of life with film. Together we produced a slam poetry film that explores art as a social force for change.

“No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine” features a slam poem I wrote a few years ago while working with people affected by conflict in Colombia. While in Colombia, I met people living in refugee camps, internally displaced by a conflict that has plagued the country for years. According to the UN refugee agency, Colombia has around three million internally displaced persons (IDPs)—the second highest number in the world after Sudan.

There is No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine – Kiran Sirah

On my return to Scotland, many people, I among them, attended music festivals regularly such as Glastonbury. At one of these music festivals, set in a lush green field covered by a sea of multicolored tents, I saw people sipping fair trade tea and coffee. They talked about the greatness of our nation with a population so supportive of the “fair trade” concept as a way to help producers around the world—they chatted about fair trade even as many did lines of cocaine. People seemed oblivious to the fact they were fueling a war thousands of miles away.

Although I had not thought of the connections before, after being in Colombia and making so many friends there, I was inspired to write the poem “No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine.” The theme of the poem is the idea that each line of cocaine connects to stories of destruction in another part of the world. Despite worldwide perceptions of Colombia as a country of violence, I found it to be a place of beauty and determination with a passion for life. Colombia is a country where, regardless of their living situations, people take you into their hearts. Nowhere in the world have I been and felt more accepted and welcomed than in Colombia.

This poem is a response to the unfair ways Colombians have been blamed for the trade in cocaine. My poem emphasizes the idea that we embrace fair trade while remaining ignorant about how some of our other choices negatively impact social justice. Today, the primary demand for cocaine continues to come from the UK and the US. Through this film, we hope to raise awareness about how western cocaine consumption continues to fuel conflicts, destroy families, and ruin lives.

What I discovered this summer is that when we look for and listen more closely to the stories of life, we find artistic connections, new friendships, and inspiration for powerful artistic ventures that can make the world a better place for all.


October 9, 2012

Using Stories to Build Peace: An Experience of a Lifetime

One of the most fascinating and relevant sessions during our fellowship at the Rotary Peace Centre at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok in 2011 was on Storytelling for Peacebuilding, facilitated by Dr. Kacie Wallace. For a long time, I longed for an opportunity to try out some of the skills.

This opportunity finally came last month, when I was fortunate enough to be invited to the 4th Annual UNISA Children’s Reading Conference September 11-12, 2012, and the storytelling part that ran up to September 14th. There were three of us international storytellers, myself from Zimbabwe, and two others from Norway and the Philippines, respectively.

Because of my familiarity with South African history, I chose for all my stories the common theme of peace-building. Thus my stories were about how as a human race we can live together in peace; how we can tolerate our differences, respect each other and how we can be at peace with our environment. In Pretoria we told our stories to a wonderful and most appreciative audience at Oost End Primary School. After that we traveled to the North West Province. There, we had an out-of-this-world-experience at the Royal Bafokeng Institute. Before we led our workshops there, we had visited a number of historical places, including Nelson Mandela’s old SOWETO home, the Regina Mundi Church, Hector Pieterson Memorial site and Museum, among others.

At the Royal Bafokeng Institute, we each got an opportunity to facilitate a 3 hour workshop on a topic of our choice, in addition to telling stories. Of course, this had been prearranged and my topic was how we can use stories to build peace. This was based on the premise that people make sense of reality, and construct reality, out of stories. Besides, if you look closely, most conflicts occur because people want only their stories to be listened to, and hardly want to listen to others or put themselves in their shoes.

Conflicts are also born out of the bad stories that we hear about us, about others, and about our future. From the workshop it became clear that while we could not change our stories, we needed to face the truth about them in order to understand who we are, because only then can we know our strengths and weaknesses and be able to listen to others with empathy.

We dwelt much on the River of Life and other practical activities that entrench tolerance, respect and human rights. I do not think that these activities in my group, which were attended by more than 50 adults from the Rustenburg Community, could have come at a better time because, as we went about them, a few kilometers away the Marikana miner strikes were occurring, where apparently more than 30 people had needlessly lost their lives in riots the previous week.

Nevertheless, I was filled with hope in the common story that the racially mixed student body at the Royal Bafokeng was trying to weave together, and that their cheer and evident industry and harmony would spread and live in every nook and cranny of their beautiful Rainbow nation, that is, if nobody shatters their story.

storytelling for peacemaking groupPart of the group that participated in the Storytelling for Peacebuilding Workshop at the Royal Bafokeng Institute.

Edward Chinhanhu wishes to thank Professor Thomas van der Walt and Professor Bosire Onyancha of UNISA, Ms Denise Kunstler of the Language and Literacy Team at the Royal Bafokeng Institute, and their teams for arranging all tours and activities.

October 9, 2012

First International Day of the Girl

Anyone can make a huge difference in the lives of girls around the world by celebrating the First Annual International Day of the Girl on Thursday, October 11, 2012.

international_day_of_the_girlThe United Nations officially recognized the International Day of the Girl 10 months ago, and since then organizations from around the world have planned events to celebrate. I serve as a Teen Advisor for one such organization, Girl Up, which is a United Nations Foundation campaign that raises funds and awareness for girls in developing countries. Girl Up hopes to mobilize its more than 250,000 constituents to raise awareness for the issues girls face worldwide and to fundraise for United Nations programs that benefit girls.

There are several easy things that you can do today to join the movement to support girls and women around the globe.

Spread the wordPost on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media about the International Day of the Girl. Be sure to post links to articles that talk about events happening to celebrate the day and share this video about the International Day of the Girl produced by 10×10, one of Girl Up’s partners.

Here are some sample social media posts to help you get started:

  • There are 600 million girls in developing countries – with our help, they can change the world. #dayofthegirl
  • Girls everywhere deserve the same opportunities that many of us enjoy in developed countries. Agree? Join the @Girlup movement here: girlup.org
  • We unite so girls can reach their full potential through education. Read about the challenges girls face and what we can do to help: http://www.ungei.org/

Donate. A small amount of money can change someone’s life forever. While solutions to global problems might seem incredibly expensive, a small amount of money can
change someone’s life forever. Consider donating to Girl Up or another worthy organization to help a girl reach her full potential.

 Lend your voice – Write, email, or call your Representative to voice your support for the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2012 (H.R. 6087). The bill is currently in committee, so it is really important that the legislators realize that preventing child marriage is a high priority to their constituents.

Let your elected representatives know that you care about legislation that impacts girls and women around the world.

girl-up-intl-day-of-the-girlWhile solving global problems might seem overwhelming, little actions can make a big difference! Social media gives all of us the chance to share our thoughts around the globe, and $5 donations and quick letters to your representatives are vitally important to the success of our campaign to improve the lives of girls and women around the world.

In order to truly make a lasting change, we can’t leave half of the population behind. Investing in girls and women is the key to making the world happier, healthier, and better for all.


October 9, 2012

Happy Birthday to Dr. Tutu!

He is such a beacon of inspiration to a lot of us. Today’s youth, especially those in my continent of Africa, have only one option and that is to stand up and take the work of these elders to the next level. That will be in honor and with respect to their commitment, passion and efforts. I hope we will not disappoint Dr. Tutu.

He has my best wishes on this very special day

Muyatwa SITALI