According to CIVICUS, a global society alliance that monitors the status of civic space worldwide, only three percent of the world’s population lives in countries where basic civic freedoms are respected: the freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.1 The rest struggle with increasing repression and intimidation from both state and non-state actors. The passage of laws that restrict and punish critical voices, the barrage of defamation leveled against journalists, the constant threats of bodily harm experienced by human rights activists, and the fear of getting labeled as terrorist and jailed are just some of the forms repression takes across many of these societies.
Indeed, there is growing consensus that the world is taking a totalitarian turn. We are seeing it unfold on our screen, over media reports, on Twitter and various social media feeds, if not on our very own doorstep. We have seen the harrowing images in Afghanistan of masses of people flocking to the airport in search of safety. At MPI, we have heard distressing accounts from our colleagues and friends, Afghan alumni, struggling to find refuge amidst this chaos and uncertainty and the looming fear of danger. This is just the latest in a string of societal and political repression and upheaval that we bear witness to even as we persist in our peacebuilding work in our own sphere of influence.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.” And yet, we know that in the midst of the most devastating conflict and violence, hope can be found and good seeds are still being planted. As King would later on add, “but I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”2 While it is true that our capacity to pursue and work for justice and peace appears to be shrinking and getting increasingly dangerous, it is also true that many peacebuilders remain steadfast on the journey.
In the second issue for 2021 of MPI’s Alumni Newsletter, we offer you stories of the various ways our alumni navigate the contested territory of peacebuilding in their own lives and in the lives of those with whom they closely work. In this age of censorship, how can we remain true to our task as peacebuilders to speak truth to power and promote dialogue when the repercussions on our personal safety are immense? This is a dilemma that our alumna in Thailand explores. In another story, we hear the voices of two Indigenous young women from the Philippines expressing their belief in their agency to promote positive change in their generation. In Syria, we learned how peace activists are relearning bottom-up approaches to peace and bravely providing creative solutions to ongoing conflict and violence in their midst. And lastly, we have an insightful reflection from our alumnus in Cameroon of the ways the pandemic impacted peace work on the ground and how Cameroonian civil society is responding to these difficulties with persistence and unity.
We hope these four stories remind you that while there may be darkness, it is not absolute. In our own way, we can be torchbearers. We can be the stars in the night.
- Executive Summary, CIVICUS 2020 Report: SOCS2020_Executive_Summary_en.pdf (civicus.org)
- Quote taken from I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered on the eve of his assassination. Accessed here: The Last Speech of Martin Luther King: ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ – The Full Text (obrag.org)