Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new prime minister, was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighboring Eritrea and restoring freedoms after decades of authoritarian rule. Though Abiy Ahmed has received praise for freeing political prisoners and encouraging open media and expression, long-silenced ethnic, religious, and political tensions are now rising to the surface, causing mounting violence and widespread displacement. In November 2019, we held the first of three planned forums to build resilience to violent extremism in Eastern Ethiopia. Participants came from the cities of Harar, Jijiga, and Dire Dawa. The objectives of the first forum were to: •
- Identify the major intergroup tensions in the three cities;
- Analyze the root causes and conflict dynamics of violence in each city;
- Identify opportunities for community-based solutions; and
- Plan community interventions and projects.
The participants included religious leaders, women and youth leaders, NGO and civil society leaders, university officials, members of state parliaments, city and state government officials, law enforcement, and the private sector. Each city has a designated program coordinator, who is responsible for convening their “city team” to implement dialogue and peace-fostering pilot projects, while also forming a “community resilience committee” to address intergroup tensions in the months leading up to 2020 general elections.
During Forum 1, the community leaders succeeded in building strong working relationships across the three cities while also bridging diverse sectors of society. Through workshop sessions facilitated by Karuna Center’s Executive Director, Olivia Dreier, and Senior Peace building Advisor, Paula Green, the group learned and applied tools for conflict analysis.
Participants deepened their understanding of the role of identity in conflict and peace, and how ethnic and religious affiliations can be incorporated to successfully de-escalate tensions and plan more effective interventions. Over the course of the forum, they came to see themselves as peace builders within their communities, and—working across sectors in multi-ethnic, multireligious teams—they developed initial plans for pilot projects within each city, which they later developed into full proposals for work to mitigate the violence that will be funded by small project grants. Participants within each city are now working collectively to implement their pilot projects, a series of dialogues that bring together relevant sectors in their diverse communities. The teams are learning to plan and facilitate dialogues that respond directly to the tensions most prevalent in their cities, meanwhile building important community relationships and selecting participants to partake in Forums 2 and 3.
At the collective advice of those present at Forum 1, recruitment for the second forum will focus on adding more Christians, more women, and more youth, especially young women. We were invited to develop this program by the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, based on the success of Karuna Center’s previous work during the democratic transition in Nepal. We are very grateful for the strong implementation support of the Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development, Dialogue and Action (EIFFDA) and Imam Salah Wazir of African Immigrants Communities (AIC).