Putting the spotlight on peace

Nigeria has been in the spotlight recently, in case you hadn’t noticed.

From Boko Haram’s abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok (the majority of whom are from the Church of the Brethren denomination), to bombings in cities such as Kano, Abuja, and Jos, Nigeria has dominated news headlines and even spawned a twitter campaign. For the moment, the world is transfixed.

Though the media frenzy is new, the issues confronting the country certainly aren’t. Atrocities committed by the shadowy extremist group, outbreaks of ethno-religious violence, crumbling infrastructure, political corruption, high unemployment rates, and so on, have been ongoing sources of insecurity for Nigeria’s people.

Given the recent escalation of violence, it makes sense for the world to sit up, take notice, and be concerned. Yet just beyond the glare of the media spotlight, Nigerians are working hard to mitigate the violence and bring sustainable peace to their communities in innovative ways, every day.

Why aren’t these stories newsworthy?

Although recently Jos has been the site of two horrific bombings, it is also the place where pioneering peacebuilding efforts are bearing fruit. Having traveled there with a group of colleagues four weeks ago to learn more about the violence prevention work MCC supports, I got to see this first-hand.

Long considered the melting pot of Nigeria’s many ethnic groups, Jos—the capital of Plateau State and location of MCC’s office—has been prone to deadly religious and ethnic conflicts (in 2001, 2004, 2008, and 2010). Rooted in complex tensions around access to economic resources and political power, these crises have polarized Jos in a multiplicity of ways, affecting where people live (often now in strictly Muslim or strictly Christian areas) and what prejudices take root.

Nigeria Changing Hearts 2014  spring 2 (smaller)

Boniface Anthony (EPRT Coordinator) speaks to members in Barkin Ladi LGA. Photo courtesy of MCC Global Family.

Enter the Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT), one of MCC’s largest partners. Birthed in 2005, EPRT is an inter-faith, grassroots network engaged in emergency response and peacebuilding across the state. No small task! Guided by advisory and management committees, EPRT’s work is carried out by 15-member volunteer teams—each consisting of Muslims and Christians, women and men—that are set up in all 17 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Plateau State.

Thanks to EPRT, there is a spiderweb of 270 skilled peacebuilders—often visible by their bright blue shirts and red hats!—stretched across the entire Plateau. Trained in emergency response, conflict prevention, mediation, and civic education, these volunteers proactively detect and diffuse early warning signs of tension, violence, or natural disaster.

When troubles are brewing, local networks kick into high gear as members communicate with one another to uncover the reality of a given situation (sometimes buried beneath layers of rumour and hearsay). Members continually send “intel” up to the central EPRT Coordinator (the tireless Boniface Anthony!), who gathers information via texts or phone calls (literally at all times of day and night) to help build a picture of the conflict situation and help assess potential responses. In this work, EPRT collaborates with traditional and religious leaders, youth networks, local government authorities, police, and the military.

Often EPRT members themselves are best positioned to intervene, jumping into highly-charged situations to help mediate conflicts between neighbours, dispel rumours (which can spread like wildfire!), and pour water on potential flames.

Our team was lucky enough to meet many local EPRT volunteers in places like Riyom and Barkin Ladi. Their stories gave us a glimpse into the realities of their work.

L to R: Hauwa Yusuf,  Sixtus Chong, and Lydia Rex, EPRT members in Riyom.

L to R: Hauwa Yusuf, Sixtus Chong, and Lydia Rex, EPRT members in Riyom.

As people like Hauwa Yusuf and Sixtus Chong told us, when they see a decrease in people going to the central market, or an increase in the number of groups huddling together on street corners, they know conflict might be afoot. But it can be difficult to monitor situations and respond to these warning signals, as sometimes the “simple” act of getting around is, well, not so simple, due to security challenges.

Their stories reminded us that the work of early warning is tough slugging. As many EPRT members lamented, “you can’t have early warning without early response.” Local team members have to do a lot of ongoing advocacy work (i.e. relationship-building!) in order to rally the right first-responders in any given crisis.

To describe EPRT as a fascinating violence-prevention system—based on sophisticated information gathering, data analysis, skills training, policies, and procedures—is true. And yet it doesn’t do justice to the work. This complex “system” is, at its core, an interfaith network of people like Hauwa and Sixtus who are committed to fostering peace. This work requires not only technical training, but personal wisdom, solid judgment, and the ability to build relationships of trust in environments where trust is fragile at best.

Over the years, EPRT members have become vital actors for preventing crises and contributing to a culture of peace.

When elections in 2011 were widely anticipated to spiral into violence, EPRT members monitored polling stations across the state, successfully encouraging people to vote with confidence. When the bombs went off last week in Jos, EPRT members were there, responding to the emergency and closely monitoring potential signs of retaliatory violence.

Stories underscoring Nigeria’s struggles are important. But so are the stories of peace. Perhaps we should all challenge our media to put the spotlight on peace.

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Senior Policy Analyst


“Open for justice” and not only “open for business”

Guest writer for this reflection is Ian Thomson, Resources and Rights Partnerships Coordinator, for KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. Mennonite Central Committee is a member of KAIROS.

Today, on May 14, supporters of the “Open for Justice” campaign will be rallying on Parliament Hill to call for the creation of an Ombudman to investigate complaints related to the international operations of Canadian extractive sector companies. Over 80,000 Canadians have signed postcards or written to their MPs to support the campaign. During the rally, MPs will receive these messages from their constituents, which have been gathered through the grassroots networks of KAIROS Canada, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the United Steelworkers, Inter Pares and Amnesty International Canada.

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDCanada is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s mining and exploration companies. Canada is uniquely positioned to raise industry practices in the mining sector. At KAIROS, we are repeatedly reminded by our partners in the global South that Canadian mining companies are operating in over 100 countries and face little or no requirements under Canadian law to respect human rights or the environment in their international operations.

The timing for this campaign couldn’t be better. Corporate accountability is gaining momentum in Canada, despite the federal government’s reluctance to show leadership. Last year, an Ontario court ruled that three civil lawsuits concerning alleged human rights abuses at a Canadian mine in Guatemala will proceed to trial. Last October the government’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor resigned prematurely, and the position remains vacant to this day. In both instances, the status quo is no longer an option. Companies are learning that Canadian courts are willing to exercise jurisdiction in cases where companies are complicit in serious harms abroad. And the ongoing controversies faced by mining, oil and gas companies abroad is evidence of the need for a stronger Ombudsman office to investigate complaints and recommend appropriate remedial action.

In 2009, the federal government adopted a CSR Strategy for the Canadian extractive sector operating internationally, but the four pillars of the strategy have been largely a dismal failure.

  • The CSR Counsellor appointed to resolve disputes in the extractive sector has failed to resolve any of the six cases brought before the office. In fact, in three of the six cases, companies involved simply walked away and thereby terminated the review process.
  • A CSR Centre for Excellence has virtually ground to a halt.
  • The voluntary standards endorsed by the government have been adopted by few junior mining companies.
  • And the controversial partnerships between mining companies and NGOs, funded with Canada’s official development assistance funds, have generated much criticism from academics and development practitioners alike.
A group of Ontario young people stand on the edge of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The mine is owned by Goldcorp of Vancouver BC.

A group of Ontario young people stand on the edge of the Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala. The mine is owned by Goldcorp of Vancouver BC.

As the global hub for the mining sector, Canada can do more to ensure that resource extraction projects are developed responsibly and that mining companies are held accountable when people are harmed. Canadian churches are hearing more and more accounts from our church counterparts and other partners in developing countries about the impact of mining companies on the land and on communities. Communities and workers want to know if Canada will be open for justice when people are denied justice in their own countries.

Please take action today to make the mining industry more accountable: www.kairoscanada.org/openforjustice

Loving my neighbour, paying my taxes

Tax season for 2014 ended last week. In the spirit of the season, Greg deGroot-Maggetti prepared this week’s guest blog. Greg lives in Kitchener, Ontario where he works for MCC Ontario as People in Poverty Program Coordinator. Greg regularly blogs at http://povertyfreeontario.blogspot.ca/

Have you ever saved someone’s life? I have. Or at least I helped save someone’s life.

About ten years ago, a neighbour of mine contracted flesh eating disease.  There were weeks when she was in hospital and we did not know whether she would live or die.

Photo: Alamy, theguardian.com

Photo: Alamy, theguardian.com

I’m happy to say that my neighbour is alive today. In fact, I was just chatting with her and her husband the other day. We were talking about the coming of spring and gardening after a long and cold winter.

The coming of spring also reminds me of how I helped her pull through that deadly disease.

I’m not a doctor. And I had no direct hand in saving my neighbour’s life. I simply helped make sure she got the best medical care possible. You probably did too.

The way I helped save my neighbour’s life was by paying my taxes.

It’s one of the most powerful reminders for me of why I pay taxes.

TaxesIn the current political culture, it seems as if the best thing governments can do for us is offer tax cuts. I wonder if that really is the best we can do. I know people who cannot afford to see a dentist or pay for the prescriptions they need. I’d be happy to defer a tax cut to see dental and pharmacare added to our public health system. And I’d rather see more affordable housing built.

It might be hard to imagine paying taxes as one of the ways we love our neighbours. But for me, I have at least one living example of how it is.