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Irish priest’s foundation having transformative effect in Kenya

By Susan Gately - 24 November, 2017

Fr Patrick Devine SMA addresses inter-tribal meeting observed by Minister of State Joe McHugh in December 2016.

The root causes of conflict must be addressed if sustained development is to happen in Africa, the Irish priest founder of a Conflict Resolution Centre has said.

Delivering the 4th Annual Lt. Gen. Dermot Earley Memorial Lecture last night in Maynooth (23rd November), Fr. Patrick Devine SMA, said that communities could not experience “sustained development because periodically schools, hospitals, industrial and formation institutions become inoperable or totally destroyed.

“We will be forever rebuilding and rehabilitating institutions if we do not address the root causes of conflict,” he said.

Fr. Devine, a member of the Society of African Missions (SMA), is the founder and International Chairman of the Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation based in Kenya, which is now also registered in the USA and Ireland, with emerging linked organisations in other African countries.

Shalom trains local community leaders in conflict transformation to enable them to analyse and overcome conflict in their own areas.  Since its foundation in 2008, it has trained over 10,000 ‘key community opinion shapers’ in northern Kenya “traversing the borders of Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and among the Somalian community”. They have hosted over 340 workshops among 16 tribes in conflict zones and completed over 300 schools projects, many of which are inter-ethnic and inter-religious.

Addressing the question of the environment and conflict, the Roscommon priest said there needed to be an “objective perspective” on three dimensions: first, how fast expanding populations are increasing demands on resources; second, how climate change is causing acute supply problems; and thirdly the disparity and inequity in the distribution of goods on the planet. The issues are interconnected he said and must e addressed together. They “play a significant role in generating a social pressure-cooker that erupts into conflict,”

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification has now invited Shalom to discuss possible strategic contributions it can make in helping with the creation of Africa’s Great Green Wall. This is a 260,000 square kilometre line of indigenous trees and vegetation planted across Africa which aims to halt the desertification of the Sahel and halt the migration of displaced Africans throughout Europe.

“The Great Green Wall is an African initiative that deserves the support of the international community,” said Fr Devine. “When completed it will be an environmental ‘Wonder of the World’ spanning 11 countries from Senegal in the west, to Djibouti in the east, and benefiting tens of millions of people.” Through the ‘Laudato Tree’ Project, the Society of African Missions is spearheading support for this project.

Fr Devine explained that Shalom works by conducting empirical research on the causes of conflict, which are “too often ignored when ‘quick-fixes’ are applied to problems”. The organisation tries to influence government policies and strengthen religious and civic NGOs, which are often “best placed to provide conflict early warning when tension and crisis are brewing”.

A younger Fr Devine with late Lt. Gen. Dermot Earley

At the educational level, Shalom’s inter-ethnic schools are also attracting international attention.  Using solar energy for consistent power supply, they have provided electricity for 150,000 students, particularly in areas of entrenched violent conflict, and supplied them with computers, desks, and books. “We want to ensure that children learn to live with others who are different to themselves, while being enriched by the diversity of cultural heritage, thus, working to reduce conflict in the long-term,” he told the Maynooth gathering.

Fr Devine said four areas had to be addressed to transform conflict – the personal, relational, structural  and cultural level – which means “ridding a culture of anything that legitimises unjustifiable violence in respect to human rights and the dignity of life.”

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