Today commemorates the final academic day of the first week here at the Bologna Peace and Security Symposium. It is a day of celebration and personal reflection about the experiences we’ve had so far, and the experiences we wish to have in the weeks to come. For me, the trip has been an incredible experience so far- each day packed with so much to do, think about, and reflect on.
In this particular reflection, I am going to talk about the two speakers of the day: Dr. David Francis and Klaas Glenwinkel.
For decades now, it has been a common belief (in the west) that Africa is so backwards that tasks such as trying to solve inter- and intra-state conflicts, creating a harmonious society, and providing a minimum standard of living for citizens, are impossible ones. Dr. David Francis of Bradford University demarcated this Western-liberal view and showed us that, indeed, this could very well be ‘the African century’. With the development and institutionalization of various sectors in the African Union (and other themed institutions within the continent), we see the transformation from the traditional quagmire bureaucracy of the African Union to a highly mechanized, and empowered, force ready to create real progress. Dr. Francis did a wonderful job answering our many controversial questions, and providing us with a non-partisan view (facts and figures) as well as his own thoughts and inclinations.
The other speaker was a German gentleman with a mass media company in Iraq and Sudan. Klaas Glenewinkel’s NGO advocates for the development of responsible media in conflict countries. The role of media and its subsequent effect on the dynamics of a conflict situation are extremely important considerations for conflict prevention and reconciliation (the simplest example I can think of is Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, which was used as a tool to perpetuate violence through radio communications). Klaas demonstrated his work through a series of emotionally riveting video clips (especially the clip explaining the story of the mother with five orphans being shot). I’m sure if we had a frontal camera on us, the faces in the audience would reflect the awe in our hearts. Of course, even Klaas could not answer to the traditional criticisms of the media’s role in enabling terrorist organizations to perpetuate fear. However, this is one of the largest paradoxes of responsible media development, and a highly controversial topic of debate.
All-in-all, today (and this entire first week) has been an extremely constructive experience. Meeting new people, taking in new perspectives, eating great food, celebrating Thiago’s birthday- all of these experiences will be engraved in our memories as we develop relationships with one another and grow not only individually, but also as a cohesive entity.
Until next time.
The University of British Columbia- Canada