Pieces of the Coexistence Puzzle: A Two-Day Conference Hosted by Coexistence International

March 15-16, 2007

Resolving conflicts and creating lasting peace in divided societies requires the collaboration of specialists working in a variety of fields. Professional and academic disciplines such as democracy, human rights, gender and development must interact and cooperate, or efforts at peacebuilding will risk falling short.

Pieces of the Coexistence Puzzle, a March 15-16 conference sponsored by Coexistence International at Brandeis University, examined the relationships among these components and the potential for achieving more complimentary approaches to peacebuilding.

The keynote address of the conference was delivered the evening of March 15 by Senator Mobina Jaffer, a member of the Canadian parliament since 2001. The second day of the conference was divided into three parts: a panel discussion on integrating the components of coexistence; breakout sessions on governance, justice and reconcilation, and issues of gender in conflicts; and a roundtable discussion on the implications for coexistence education and training. Panelists included Allen Kassof, president emeritus and senior advisor at the Project on Ethnic Relations, Amongi Betty Ongom, a member of the Ugandan parliament, and Timothy Phillips, co-founder of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition, among others. The events of both days raised pertinent questions about the field and offered many opportunities for debate and conversation.

Born and raised in Uganda, Senator Jaffer was the first African, first Muslim and first person of East Indian descent appointed to the Canadian senate. A leader committed to equality for women and the promotion of human rights, Senator Jaffer stressed the need for democracies to share their resources with those in need, both at home and abroad. It is a perspective shaped by her experience 35 years ago, as a refugee from Uganda during then-President Idi Amin's expulsion of several ethnic and religious groups.

"For a short time, I had no home," she said. "I was being fed by various generous governments. I had a little baby. When you get everything taken away from you, you can understand the realities of others."

The experience taught her a great deal about what is essential; food, water and shelter for survival, and education for building a life out of poverty.

"The only reason I've been able to make the little progress I've made in life is because I have an education," she said. "Idi Amin was able to take everything from my family. He even destroyed my certificates. But he could not take away my education. That was portable. When we look at development, we need to promote education, so that people can stand on their own two feet."

Senator Jaffer also expressed frustration at the lack of political participation that exists in both Canada and the United States. Rather than attempt to bring democracy abroad, she said, we should be doing more to exercise our own rights.

"The only environment North Americans can control is our own environment. For coexistence, we need to use our democratic rights to get our governments to prioritize how we're going to use our resources. I don't believe that we have arrived at coexistence. I think we are just existing."

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Pieces of the Coexistence Puzzle was presented by Coexistence International and the International Center for Ethics, Justice & Public Life in cooperation with the Programs in Sustainable International Development, the Department of Politics and the Dean of Arts & Sciences at Brandeis, with support from the Martin Weiner Lecture Fund.