Monday, November 21, 2016

Technology for Human Rights


As part of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival, join Amnesty International and the Innovative Peace Lab (InPeaceLab) a partnership of the Nerve Centre and Transformative Connections (and international partners) for an innovative and interactive session exploring how technology can be used to boost human rights research and campaigning at home and abroad.

Speakers will include:
  • Patrick Corrigan - Amnesty International NI
  • Brandon Hamber - INCORE and Innovative Peace Lab
  • John Peto - Nerve Centre and and Innovative Peace Lab


Details: 6 December, 1pm. BA-02-004, Ulster University, York Street

For more information and to book click here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Can peace in Northern Ireland be model for Colombia?

As part of his recent state visit to the UK, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia made a stopover in Belfast. The visit, which was planned for several months, took on a new significance given the October "No" vote in a referendum to endorse the peace agreement between the Colombian government and Farc.

President Santos has routinely noted that Northern Ireland is a "reminder of what is possible" and various delegations of politicians, civil society, academia and business from Northern Ireland have interacted with the peace process in Colombia over the years. It is clear from the visit that President Santos is seeking an international mandate to continue to garner support for a perhaps revised agreement, as well as to get more funds from the UK government to support aspects of the peace process. Northern Ireland offers the president an opportunity to show that peace and compromise can work in terms of political co-operation even if aspects of the peace process remain unfinished. For example, proposals for dealing with the past have still not been agreed 18 years after formal agreement.

But being in Northern Ireland will also present challenges for President Santos on the home front. Although the international community have been helpful in the peace process, some of those who supported the "No" campaign have criticised the president for being overly focused on the international community and his standing, rather than listening to how many Colombians feel. The peace process has become about presidential politics and not genuine social engagement, some would say. The transformation of some former combatants from guerrillas into formal politicians, a key part of the failed agreement, also remains a contentious point in Colombia and one the "No" campaign exploited.

For those who oppose President Santos's political perspective and approach to peace in Colombia, the Northern Ireland process might not be seen as a rosy example. There is a sizeable amount of the Colombian population who still see any involvement of former combatants in government as problematic. The president is walking a tightrope between maintaining international standing and support, winning over more people to his position which includes the need for compromise with the Farc, and keeping the Farc on board. The latter remains a growing challenge as proposal from those opposing the agreement seem to be focused on limiting Farc's rights (eg to participate freely in so-called normal politics). The road ahead will indeed be bumpy.

On the positive side, it seems that most agree that a political agreement is needed to end the 50-year-old war. Colombians however clearly differ in the ways they think this should be achieved. Northern Ireland has balanced this position for years, and in that sense is a comparative case study to be taken seriously. It also highlights that peace is never a done deal, and that building peace, as obvious as it sounds, is always a process that requires constant attention and nurturing. This is as true for Colombia as Northern Ireland where distrust, separation and a legacy of violence continue to impact on how the future might look.

Published by Professor Brandon Hamber,  John Hume and Thomas P O'Neill Chair in Peace based at the International Conflict Research Institute at Ulster University, Irish News, 7 November 2016. 

The original article is available hereIrish News, 7 November 2016. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Interview on Colombian President Visit to Belfast

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombian President, has been undertaking a state visit to the UK As part of the visit he visited Belfast on 3 November.  President Santos met with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. He also attended an InvestNI civic lunch at the Titanic Centre and then visited the Girdwood Community Hub. I was offered the opportunity to attend the Girdwood event, however, due to prior commitments with a visiting delegation from Georgia could not attend.  However, I was interviewed with Professor Mallinder by BBC Radio Ulster about the visit to Northern Ireland. Listen to the interview below.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Learning lessons from the Ebola crisis

Fantastic to see my old friend and colleague from Sierra Leone, John Caulker, recently in Belfast. He spoke at an INCORE seminar on the topic of “Sustainable Peace in Post Ebola Sierra Leone”. He explained how community networks that the project John established called Fambul Tok (“Family Talk”) were used to help building community resilience in the face of the virus. Fambul Tok focuses on the  legacy of war and particularly on sharing stories about the past often from perpetrators of violence. John outlined how the community solidarity they built through that reconciliation project became instrumental in combating misperceptions and changing behaviour around Ebola. They are now looking to roll out a wider process of networks since the end of the epidemic. John was also critical of the international community who treated the epidemic as solely a medical problem failing to see that engagement of communities was needed to stop it and that communities also had to deal with the problems Ebola caused (inter-community tensions and stigma). In post-Ebola Sierra Leone problems still prevail in that funding support is for “Ebola victims” which singles people out rather than support whole communities. John believes that any interventions should be community-centric and he has proven the value of this in Fambul Tok.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Thoughts of Chris Matthews in Donegal


I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award in Buncrana, Co Donegal on 23 September 2016. The award, which was the 5th award so far, was given to Chris Matthews. Matthews is an American political commentator and most well known for his talk show “Hardball” on MSNBC. He also served as Press Secretary to Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill. At the event Matthews took to the opportunity to reflect on the current political situation in the US. He felt what was going on right now was “crazy”. There is a tension between Trump’s “nasty politics” and Trump selling people an unrealisable dream of “manufacturing in 1950s”, compared to Hilary Clinton as an experienced politician but being painted as “the establishment”. He also noted that when he worked with Tip O’Neill he focused on letting people “know who you are” and in O’Neill’s case that meant people could support him as his values were made more prominent. Matthews also reflected on O’Neill’s political style noting that he understood that debate was a way of moving politics forward, and that today people have forgotten this thinking debate is politics. When the debate is done compromises have to be made and the work done Matthews noted. He ended by saying that his “crystal ball is a bit foggy” about who would win the US election, but if African Americans, Hispanics and women vote, Trump will lose. But we will have to wait and see...

Monday, September 19, 2016

How can technology build peace?

Very excited to be part of the Unusual Suspects Festival taking part in Northern Ireland.


  • Wednesday, 12th October 2016 at 2:00pm to 4:00pm
  • The Nerve Centre at 7-8 Magazine Street Derry BT48 6HJ 

How can technology help develop connections between people and places? What’s the role of digital platforms in divided societies? Join us for an innovative and interactive session exploring how technology can be used to boost and create peacebuilding, or #PeaceTech.

 Speakers include #PeaceTech innovators:

  • Melissa Mbugua, the Innovation Engagement Officer from Ushahidi, the Kenyan crowdmapping platform that’s been used in Kenya after the election violence in 2008, Syria and across the world. 
  • Jen Gaskel, the co-founder of the Build Peace international conference, which aims to explore technologies as a means of enhancing the impact of peacebuilding initiatives, as well as bringing together local and international thought-leader and activists to re-think approaches 
  • Brandon Hamber, the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair based at the International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE) at Ulster University, which through a combination of research, education and comparative analysis, addresses the causes and consequences of conflict in Northern Ireland and internationally. They also aim to promote conflict resolution management strategies.
  • Enda Young, the co-founder, of Transformative Connections, which focuses on the role technology in promoting peacebuilding and positive social change. Their mission is to create and support real and lasting connections between people and practice.

The Innovation Peace Labs, a new initiative created by the Ulster University, will host the session, alongside the Nerve Centre, Transformative Connections and other international partners.

To register click here.