On the International Day of Living Together in Peace this week, I reflected on my experience as a Rotary Peace Fellow, studying at the Rotary Peace Centre at Makerere University in Uganda. I was exposed to the power of peacebuilding and gained a deeper understanding of what peace truly means.
Before joining the fellowship, I thought peace was simply absence of conflict or war. However, I now understand that peace is a broader concept beyond just the absence of violence.
Peace is a state of harmony and security where everyone’s basic needs are met, and their rights and freedoms are respected. It is a state where individuals and communities can live their lives without fear of discrimination, oppression, or violence. Achieving this kind of peace requires participation and cooperation of people from all backgrounds, irrespective of their race, gender, religion, or political affiliation.
One of the essential lessons was the importance of listening to different perspectives. When we take time to understand other people’s viewpoints and experiences, we can build bridges of understanding and empathy. This, in turn, promotes trust and cooperation, which are essential for building sustainable peace. Embodying these values, Rotary International has taken significant steps in fostering peace.
Dedicated to promoting peace and addressing the underlying causes of conflict, Rotary International has established the Rotary Peace Centres programme as one of its key initiatives. Each year, Rotary awards up to 130 fully funded scholarships for dedicated peace and development leaders from around the world to study at these centers. In just 20 years, Rotary Peace Centres have trained over 1,600 individuals for careers in peacebuilding in more than 140 countries, and program alumni serve as leaders in both governmental and non-governmental agencies, international organisations, and more. By cultivating empathy, listening actively, and fostering a culture of forgiveness, individuals and families can promote harmony within their communities and beyond.
The media has a crucial role to play in promoting peace, particularly in conflict-prone regions. At the Makerere Rotary Peace Centre, I was introduced to the concept of peace journalism, which sees a glass as half full rather than half empty. Peace journalism is a form of journalism in which editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace in whatever story they are working on.
During my fellowship, I saw first-hand the power of peace journalism in action. I launched a social change initiative on peace journalism, which aimed to train Zimbabwean journalists on how to report on conflict and cover political disputes. The initiative involved a series of workshops for journalists from various media outlets across Zimbabwe, with a focus on conflict-sensitive and election reporting, as well as solutions-focused reporting. I also founded the Southern African Peace Journalism Trust, which is a network of journalists committed to reporting on peace initiatives and supporting each other.
The impact of the initiative was immediate as journalists began to make choices, including how to frame stories and carefully choose words to use, to create an atmosphere conducive to peace and report on peace initiatives.
As Zimbabwe prepares for its upcoming elections, the media has a crucial role to play in promoting peace. The adoption of a peace journalism approach can help reduce tensions and promote a peaceful electoral process. The media should prioritise reporting accurate information, promoting dialogue, and fostering understanding between different political groups. Together, we can build a more peaceful world.
The writer is a communication specialist and Rotary fellow. [email protected]