Away from home, Kenyan shines Dr Mwangi Kimenyi at international peace award

Kenya's Dr Mwangi Kimenyi is awarded Innovative Scholarship for Peace Award at Global peace Convention in Asuncion, Paraguay. [PHOTO: JOE OMBUOR/STANDARD]
ASUNCION, PARAGUAY: When the world met in Asuncion Paraguay for the sixth Global Peace Convention (GPC) recently, Kenya once again left its mark as the land of great achievers, and those of us who were fortunate to be in what South Americans prefer to call “The Mother City” walked tall with our heads high on behalf of the millions back home.

Our pride was puffed up to the limits because one Dr Mwangi Solomon Kimenyi who was receiving a global award for peace sent a powerful statement to the world that a new breed of ambassadors were emerging from Kenya besides athletes whose exploits have placed the East African nation prominently on the international pedestal such that people half a world away who had never heard of Africa knew about Kenya.  Dr Kimenyi, 58 was recognized for his contribution through concerted peace initiatives to make the world a better place to live in.

Now based in Washington D.C as a Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Growth Initiative in the Global Economy and Development program of the Brooking Institution, Dr Kimenyi  is the founding Executive Director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA). At the Washington institution, he has played host to world leaders including our own Uhuru Kenyatta.

A beaming Dr Kimenyi who was accompanied by his wife Irene (he introduced her as a fellow researcher and aide) was decorated with the Innovative Scholarship for Peace Award reserved for individuals whose advocacy for peace in academia has led to policy initiatives that have advanced social reconciliation and human development.

Those who witnessed the occasion at the ultramodern Bourbon Conmebol Convention Hotel in Asuncion included the founder and Chairman of Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Dr Hyun Jin Moon and 14 past heads of State of Latin American countries together with serving President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay.

Paradoxically, it was the infamous Kenya post-election violence of 2007/2008 and the role Dr Kimenyi played to broker peace in challenging circumstances that won the coveted award for the celebrated economist who  back in 1994 was named by the Policy Review among the top 10 young market economists in the United States. Humble almost to a fault, the burly and avuncular Dr Kimenyi explains thus:

“Before the 2007 Kenyan elections, I and a team from Oxford were engaged in a major survey on potential voters’ perceptions about identity politics and potential conflict and incitement.  Our results surprisingly showed that the probability of conflict was very high. We could identify where the real trouble sports were in the expansive Rift Valley, especially so Molo, Burnt Forest and Kuresoi that were identified as volatile epicenters regardless which side worn. 

“I returned to Molo, Kuresoi and Burnt Forest after the conflict and conducted surveys amongst the youth to understand their perceptions of the bloody uprising, their role, the roles politicians played in incitement and what they deemed necessary to be done to avoid future upheavals.  My goal was to assist all those involved                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       in peace building efforts including the government to get a better understanding of interventions key to establishing lasting peace.  I undertook rigorous analysis of the data collected and the youth groups directly involved in the conflict (mainly Kikuyus, Kalenjin and Kisii). They admitted getting involved in the conflict albeit after incitement by the older generation. They were surprisingly vague when asked whether they were clear as to why they were fighting and their nature of grievances. The youth realized that they were being used only to be casually left on their own after the conflict as politicians and the well placed went back to the cities. Their lives were greatly disrupted and they have come to realize that as youth, they are themselves victims and have more in common than what separates them.

“The critical aspect of my research was to evaluate various initiatives that were started to bring the youth together for peace including sports, environmental programs, character education, peace-corps activities and the like.  We suggested ways to support these groups as they were the agents of change for peaceful coexistence. 

“My study also established the need to support youth in income generation activities—including entrepreneurship training.  The real reason that the youth are easily incited into engaging in violence is their economic hopelessness, leaving them with little to lose.  Conflict prevention intervention must therefore include assisting the youth build economic livelihoods, accumulate assets and establish families. 

“Included in our recommendations adopted by Global Peace Foundation (GPF) was the importance of bringing the faith community into scene even though they did not play a positive role in minimizing the conflict. I also had the opportunity to talk to older people from the various ethnic groups that appeared less receptive to peace initiatives and held deep grudges.  I proposed that more needed to be done to create meaningful dialogue amongst the groups to avoid a situation whereby calm was the result of political expediency.  I admonished that a backlash would ensue if the various grievances were not addressed.  It is a pity that not much has been done to date.

“My recommendations have served to assist in designing activities and programs that have helped in building lasting peace when scaled up. That I have worked on conflict in The Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, DRC and the emerging terrorism attacks have bolstered my chances for this award,” says Dr Kimenyi, his face awash with pride.

Receiving the award watched by delegates drawn from 40 countries across the world, Dr Kimenyi lamented that Africa was worse off by the end of 2 000 than at independence just over  50 years ago for most of the states due to a multiplicity of factors including poor leadership and negative ethnicity.

He said: “We have navigated rough currents of religious and ethnic conflicts fanned by myopic leadership. We shall not compete effectively in global prosperity unless we address these issues”.

He praised Dr Moon for his crusade of one nation under God through moral and innovative leadership uninhibited by colour, race or creed.

Of the Latin American Presidential Mission  that brought together 14 former heads of state at a conference alongside the Global Peace Convention,, he said:  “African leaders ought to borrow a leaf from Latin America that transformed from feudal governments no so long ago to forward looking nations where former presidents can come together in a mission to pool up their experiences for a better future”ss.

Awarded together with Dr Kimenyi  were Dr Isabelita Borres , an educationist from the Philippines who received Leadership in Strengthening Families Award  won in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last year by Kenya’s Prof Leah Marangu, the long serving Vice Chancellor of Africa Nazarene University. Dr Borres was described as a pioneer on character education who during a career spanning 30 years has equipped Philippine teachers and students with high ethical family standards.

Others were Dr KH. Said Aqiel Siradj from f Indonesia of, the Executive Council Chairman of Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama (Awakening Scholars), the largest Muslim organization in the world that has made substantial charitable contributions in the field of education development, health care and poverty alleviation. He received Interfaith Leadership Award for promoting Interfaith Peace Building and the Vision of One family under God.

Ms Marlene Ocampos, the only woman ever elected governor in Paraguay  was awarded the Outstanding Service Award for her work spanning nearly 20 years marshalling resources to deliver aid in areas affected by catastrophic flooding and providing other emergency assistance to needy masses in her Alto region.

Besides the Innovative Scholarship for peace Award, Dr Kimenyi was in 2001 a co-winner of Outstanding Research Award-Global development network and was nominated Who is Who among American teachers in 2007.He has authored several publications, among them Nelson Mandela, The Madiba Lives  and Folly of South Sudan Leadership, All but guarantees state failure, .

A native of Murang’a County, Dr Kaimenyi had his early education at Gaichanjiru Primary School and Githumu High School, later joining the University of Nairobi for a Bachelor of Education (Bed) degree. He proceeded to Ohio University in the United States of America for a Masters Degree in Economics and International Affairs and the George Mason University, Virginia for a PhD in Sciences.

The father of three has taught economics in America for several years and is director with African Growth Initiative since 2010. He is a founding director of the Kenya Think Tank and has worked for the World Bank, the United Nations and African Development Bank on policy issues.

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Mwangi Kimenyi Global Peace Convention