21 January 2011

Peace in Africa. Can individuals hope to make a difference?

As we venture into 2011, with our personal and global hopes of a peaceful referendum in Sudan; the drying up of tidal waters in Australia; eradicating FGM or the end of the worst UK winter for 100 years, I reflect on a hope set for 2010 ‘Make Peace Happen’ – set by the African Union for last year. Does setting a vision or goal make a difference? Did anything change? Can we be hopeful for 2011?

As I packed my short sleeved tops and summer skirts and headed off for 2 weeks in Kenya and Ethiopia, I left behind a winter wonderland of snow that looked more attractive from the air than when travelling to the airport!

I had hopes for my trip – and 2011! So should I be setting New Year’s resolutions?! There is general agreement goals provide a sense of direction and purpose and people perform better once committed to certain outcomes.

On the plane I read something of the African Union’s hope to unlock Africa’s potential. It states that of the many challenges facing Africa, the quest for peace and security is one of the most pressing. Whilst there may have been less violent conflicts of late, many areas are still trapped in the death, loss of livelihoods and resources that come from conflict and make sustainable economic development impossible. The assets of Kenya should not be sugar, tea or wildlife but the 72% of population that are under 30 years of age. This is particularly relevant as the life expectancy of Africans is 47 years. In Ethiopia, only 50% of girls complete education and 65% of the population is below the poverty line.

One of the hardest things to combat is the destruction of hope for a better future. As a capacity builder and coach, I often stand in the space of ‘hope’, holding out a hand to my counterpart or client who is standing in ‘despair’.

For my first week in Africa, I headed to an East African Conference where we had teaching from Samaritans Strategy Africa. ‘Africa’ means ‘pleasant’ and as Africa has suffered from wars, disease, famine, limited education and under development, that promise has not been realised. Hope for Africa means confronting some of the ‘giants’ of poverty, health, politics and environment.

Giants are bigger in proportion to us that are smaller – something I often feel physically in Africa, especially when I worked in Sudan and had the height of a 10 year old! We can always either look at our inadequacy or place hope in someone or something that can ‘crush’ whatever ‘giants’ we face in life – real or imagined.

Samaritan’s Strategy vision conferences last 4 days, and graduates set up seed projects, demonstrating love of neighbour, renewal of mindset and transformation of community – the steps needed for Africa to reach its potential.

Achieving peace, security and stability across Africa will take many years, yet we can envision and invest in the Africa of tomorrow. Similarly, we can set a personal vision and goals to achieve what we hope for in 2011, then just take the first step towards it. What’s your hope this year?! Mine is to take the next steps in helping eradicate FGM – let’s see what happens…!