Kenyan peace fellow aspires to protect human security
(Top) Joseph Hongo (left) assesses the causes of conflict in Kenya’s Pokot District during a 2005 fact-finding mission.
(Bottom) Hongo winds up a peace meeting between Pokot and Turkana community members in 2006. Photos courtesy of Joseph Hongo
Joseph Hongo of Kenya has long envisioned “a new world order shaped not by military and political might but tolerance and mutual understanding, where issues of human security and development take center stage.”
He says his Rotary World Peace Fellowship to study at the University of Queensland in Australia, beginning in February 2009, echoes that ideal. Moreover, he believes the fellowship, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Mombasa, Kenya, and District 9200 in East Africa, will help him achieve his career goal: “to play a lead role in bridging the policy gap between community and government, policymakers, and other actors in the promotion of human security and economic development.”
Hongo’s “modest background,” as he calls it, has driven him to work hard. Though he is the ninth of 10 children, seven of his siblings died before he was born, and he suffered the loss of his father, a fisherman, and his mother at an early age.
“I regarded myself a child of the community,” he says, referring to his upbringing by different relatives. “[They] provided me with the opportunity to live in various parts of the country,” instilling an appreciation of other languages and cultures.
In 2002, Hongo graduated with honors from Kenyatta University. The next year, as an intern with Kenya’s National Assembly, he traveled to remote parts of the country, meeting with citizens and assessing the implementation of the nation’s free primary education policy. He also helped analyze conflicts in rural communities and develop appropriate policies and mitigation measures.
As a program assistant with the Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace since 2004, Hongo has participated in several peace-building initiatives, he says, including interethnic conflict in Rwanda and Burundi, resource-based conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the small-arms problem in northern Kenya and southern Sudan, and displacement and refugee problems in northern Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania. His objective in each case has been to link the affected communities with policymakers to lessen conflict.
“One of my most memorable experiences was observing the peace negotiation between the government of Uganda and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Juba, southern Sudan, in 2006,” he says. “I held talks with the rebels, where I implored them to abandon war and realize the value of human security.”
In February, Hongo traveled to assess the situation in Kenya’s north Rift Valley, which was plagued by violence after the national elections in December.
Though many are hoping for a positive outcome from the mediation process led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “Kenyans must take individual responsibility in promoting that peace and justice they are calling for,” he says. “It may sometimes involve the sacrifice of certain interests, but eventually all Kenyans will enjoy the fruits of their hard work for generations to come.”