A School of Journalism and New Media professor traveled to Oslo to be part of a panel at a Nobel Peace Prize event called Oslo Peace Days.
Zenebe Beyene, Ph.D., a professor and director of international programs who is from Ethiopia, was invited by the Norwegian Peace Research Institute to participate in a Dec. 9 panel discussion about developments in Ethiopia and possible regional implications. The panel also discussed Ethiopia’s potential role as a regional peacemaker.
Beyene was joined by Hilde Frafjord Johnson, of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo; Dan Banik, of the Centre for Development and Environment, University of Oslo; and Kjetil Tronvoll, of Bjørknes høyskole & Oslo Analytica. The panel was chaired by Henrik Urdal, the PRIO director.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and for his work to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea, according to NobelPeacePrize.org. The prize is also meant to recognize all stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions.
The panel discussion is part of this year’s Oslo Peace Days set for Dec. 5-12 co-hosted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the Nobel Peace Centre, PRIO, the University of Oslo, and the City of Oslo.
Earlier, we asked Beyene a few questions about the event and his professional goals as a peacemaker.
Q. What are some of the things you hope to discuss during the panel about Ethiopia developments? What do you hope to share with others who attend?
A. I hope to use the platform to discuss the recent development in Ethiopia and its regional implications. There are a number of factors that could explain the current ethnic tension and political uncertainties in the country. For example, religious diversity is one factor that helps us understand what’s happening in the country.
Ethiopia is one of very few countries in the world where Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc. have lived together for centuries. Due to religious extremism and the rise of terrorism, the social fabric that existed for a long time is weakening. As a result, Ethiopia has witnessed the killings of people based on their beliefs, while places of worship have been targeted by radical groups.
Unless the government, in collaboration with its international allies, does something, the situation can get out of hand any time. And that will have serious regional implications.
For a long time, Ethiopia has been known for its relative stability in the turbulent region. From Somalia in the East Coast to Senegal in the West, the belt of the continent is in trouble, and Ethiopia has served as a center of gravity.
If Ethiopia loses its stability, so does the region. Ethiopia can’t afford to fail. The international community should be aware of the danger posed by radical groups and should be behind the reform process the nation has embarked on.
In a nutshell, I will use the platform to shed light on the contemporary security challenges the country faces and regional implications of those challenges.
Q. Do you think peacemaking or peace-building is talked about enough in our world or country?
A. Here is a general assessment based on my personal observation. Humans tend to focus on what divides us instead of what unites us. That seems to be the case in today’s America, for example.
What we see in the current political environment here in the U.S. is focusing on the differences between Republicans and Democrats. If we only focus on their discourse, it seems as if the two parties had been from two totally different worlds, having nothing in common.
Each claim that it is the only savior of the nation while depicting the other as the enemy of the people. To that end, they create and manufacture narratives to back up their claims. As a result, what we read, watch or listen to is filled with negative stories.
Some may assume that is only America’s problem. It is not. From Brexit to the tension between populism vs. nationalism in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, etc., as well as the ethnic and religious tensions in Asia and Africa are testaments to a new reality the world is now facing.
As a result, conflict has become a norm and stories dealing with peaceful coexistence have become rare. It is true that conflict drives stories, but life is not only about conflict.
I hope politicians, opinion leaders, activists, etc. will understand the implications of their narratives to local, national, regional and global peace security and pay more attention to what they say. The news media also needs to shed light on stories that inspire and unify rather than on stories that perpetuate divisions.
Q. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think would be important to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my views about this honor with you. I have accepted the invitation to attend the award ceremony and take part in the panel to discuss current developments in Ethiopia, its regional impact and to add Ethiopia’s perspective to the conversation. However, the opportunity to attend such an important event will help me learn new perspectives that would strengthen and enrich my teaching at the University of Mississippi.
In his will, Alfred Nobel stated that the Nobel Peace Prize was to be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”
My attendance in the event and interaction with people from various backgrounds will help me add new perspectives to my teaching. That, in turn, will help me inspire the new generation of leaders here at the UM to think big and bring the “greatest benefit to mankind” in line with Alfred Nobel’s will, vision and dream.
Beyene earned his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in political science in 2012. He specializes in media in conflict and post-conflict societies. He has taught, researched and provided training in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United States.
He has served as a consultant for InterNews Network, US Agency for International Development, United Nations Development Programme, Voice of America, Pennsylvania University/Carnegie Foundation, Oxford University and Oxford University/U.K. Embassy in Ethiopia and Aadland Consult/IDEA International.
He has published or co-published work about tolerance and online debate in Ethiopia; the role of TeleCourt in changing conceptions of justice and authority in Ethiopia; the role of ICT in peacebuilding in Africa; media use and abuse in Ethiopia; and From an Emperor to the Derg and Beyond: Examining the Intersection of Music and Politics in Ethiopia.Tags: featured, Nobel Peace Prize, Zenebe Beyene