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The Moral Imperative of (Catholic) Peace Building Lessons from Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Peacebuilding is a verb! It involves action and is not just happenstance. In these reflections and following a chronological order, I will examine the straggles of peacebuilding from several Nobel Peace Prize Recipients.

Coincidentally, as I start my reflections today on September 21st, 2022, it is the International Day of Peace. There is some level of celebration in the air as I start this reflection. I begin first with Mahatma Ghandi. Ghandi started his career in South Africa as a besuited, white shirt-wearing, chest thumping lawyer. He thought he would successfully fight apartheid in the courtroom through rigorous reasoning. He soon found out that this strategy would not work. We notice his remarkable transformation from chest thumping to solidarity with the impoverished masses both in South Africa and India where he later lived. He went from wearing suites to wearing a homespun loin cloth which became a symbol of his transformation. Non-violence and non-cooperation with the evils of poverty and colonialism became his strategies.

Second, we look at Martin Luther King Jr. MLK started his career in the United States where he declared, “I have a dream.” Concerned with racial tension in his home country, he declared he had a dream of a country characterized by racial harmony. He embarked on building peace around the notion of this dream. While the dream is yet to be a full-fledged reality, MLK’s dream has inspired many to become peacebuilders in their communities and their societies. His method, borrowed from Ghandi, was pacifist, nonviolent, and promoted noncooperation with the evil of racism as he made effort to build civil society through the Civil Rights Movement.

Thirdly, let’s have a look at Desmon Tutu, also from South Africa. He had a dream of racial integration and the formation of a rainbow nation of God in a context where society had been shredded by apartheid.  His dream was for reparation and restorative justice in what has been called “truth, justice, and reconciliation.” He boldly declared that there is no future in Africa and elsewhere without forgiveness. He called his strategy the “third way between Nuremberg and total amnesty.” Though South Africa continues to struggle for justice in its multiple forms, distributive and restorative, Desmon Tutu has shown a way and offered viable strategies. May he rest in peace!

Yet another Noble Laureate worth mentioning is Professor Wangari Mathai. Professor Mathai got her noble peace in 2004 for planting trees. Some people were astonished as they wondered what trees have to do with peace. She persuasively argued that our failure to take care of nature and our exploitive approaches to trees, which we only saw as timber for our houses, and elephants as source of ivory to make our trinkets, was analogous to us being on the wrong bus. This syndrome can only lead us to death and non-flourishing. She concluded that it is as if we are digging our own grave and that we urgently need to get off this bus.

In Liberia, we meet Gbowee and the women who wore white and danced their country, Liberia, into liberation from under the dictatorship. Thousands of women got together and started non-violent demonstrations that often included dance. The women drew international attention as their efforts contributed to the end of Liberia’s second civil war. The then-dictator of Liberia is still serving jail time outside Liberia.

Finally, and rather sadly, we have the story of Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Cong (DRC). Dr. Muwege is known for building Panzi hospitals where he helped take care of women of sexual violence. His work helped women like Lumo Sinai who had been gang raped in the sexual conflict with Coltan, a company based in the DRC that manufactures electronics such as cell phones. His strategies were providing medical and psychological support for the women who had experienced sexual violence. Though these were big strategies, the women of the DRC continued to be exposed to potential sexual violence since the root causes were not being addressed. One hopes that these root causes can be addressed for more viable solutions and in the region and beyond.