Africa’s Agents of Change

Jew Moonde

A democratic country in southern Africa, Zambia is not known for its record on women’s rights. As Jew Moonde explains, the country’s deeply embedded patriarchal values have traditionally subjugated women in a variety of ways, some of them violent, some systemic. Gender discrimination has been woven into the fabric of Zambian society, he says, and as a result, when election time arrives, women’s voices are not heard.

Jew Moonde expects to return to his native Zambia as, among other things, an advocate for women’s rights.

“Women have not gotten a fair share of participation in the electoral process,” says Moonde, 50, the peace and conflict manager of the Electoral Commission of Zambia. “And if women are not engaged in the political process, their grievances will continue building up. It is time for women to take a stand politically.”

Zambia’s recent elections have been marred by violence and intimidation, which breaks Moonde’s heart. For nearly half his life, the Lusaka native has been a consultant with the Zambia Center for Inter-Party Dialogue (ZCID); working with this Lusaka-based NGO, he’s dedicated to building an infrastructure to ensure free and fair elections, whether by meeting with politicians to sensitize them to the gender imbalance or training people on how to manage conflict in the electoral process. After two decades, many of ZCID’s legal reform proposals have been passed into law by parliament.

If you want change to come, empower people with the knowledge that they have the right to something.

Jew Moonde

But getting women involved in the political process is only part of Moonde’s mission. He wants to get the younger generation on board, too. “Politics is predominantly for old folks in Zambia,” says Moonde, who has degrees in psychology and peace and conflict studies. “Unemployed youths are the implementers of violence, and they’re also the victims.” To engage them, ZCID focuses on social media outreach and youth-oriented community radio stations; it also helps young people develop skills that might one day help them find a rewarding career. “If you want change to come, empower people with the knowledge that they have the right to something,” says Moonde.

If all goes as planned during his peace fellowship, Moonde wants to acquire the knowledge to help transform ZCID into a statutory body: a permanent peace structure that provides an official platform for dialogue and mediation in Zambian politics. “I start hearing politicians talking and youths talking, exercising their rights to expression,” says Moonde. “It shows us that what we do has an impact on people. No one will help Zambians unless they do it themselves.”

Paul Mushaho

There are more than 11,000 Rotaract clubs worldwide; one of them is in a refugee settlement in Africa. Founded in 2016 in Nakivale — a huge rural camp in southwest Uganda where about 150,000 people live in more than 75 villages spread across an area roughly the size of Kolkata — the club has members from half a dozen African countries. “Nakivale is like a mini-United Nations,” says Paul Mushaho, the club’s co-founder. “People have fled their homes because of war and had trauma on the way here.”

In 2016, Mushaho, a student with degrees in business information systems and computer engineering, fled his native Democratic Republic of the Congo after receiving death threats from a Mai-Mai militia group. Almost as soon as he arrived in Nakivale, Mushaho saw opportunities to improve the refugees’ quality of life. Two of his earliest projects were a money-transfer service and a beekeeping business that sold honey. That second project caught the eye of Rotarians in Kampala.

After establishing an enterprising Rotaract club in a refugee camp in Uganda, Paul Mushaho now envisions using the skills acquired at Makerere to accomplish even greater things.

Soon, with an assist from the American Refugee Committee (known today as Alight) and Rotary clubs in Uganda and Minnesota, Mushaho was launching his own Rotaract Club in Nakivale. Its members have taught farming and masonry skills, planted trees, established a women’s community center, and delivered blankets and mattresses to people who have taken in orphaned children. “I tell them: All we have given you is a sign of appreciation for all you do in the community,” Mushaho says.

A charismatic 29-year-old, Mushaho has an almost supernatural ability to find ways to help. When he saw that the camp’s elderly population found themselves marginalized, he organized lunches where they could share their experiences as former diplomats, engineers, teachers, and doctors. When he noticed that young refugees of different nationalities weren’t interacting, he helped organize a soccer tournament. More recently, Mushaho’s team made and delivered 14,000 masks and 8,000 bars of soap to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Nakivale. “I see people who are happy, simply by receiving what they are supposed to get,” says Mushaho. “We are creating hope in people who have lost their hope.”

In 2018, Mushaho was invited to the United Nations Africa headquarters in Nairobi, where he was honored as one of six Rotary People of Action: Young Innovators. “Our refugee community realized our local challenges needed local solutions,” he said in his speech. “We are not beggars; we are a generation of change and inspiration.”

In Makerere, Mushaho sees a reflection of his environment in Nakivale, where he was surrounded by innovative, multicultural people who were full of ideas and energy, all of them seeking ways to break barriers that inhibited promoting peace. “The fellowship aligns closely to what I am doing in the camp,” says Mushaho. “When I go back, I will know how to tackle different challenges in different communities based on their norms and beliefs. My dreams and hopes are delighted.”

Catherine Baine-Omugisha

“If people are not calm, no one is going to get anywhere,” says Catherine Baine-Omugisha. In this instance, the 45-year-old Kampala attorney is referring to her legal specialty — conflict mitigation and appropriate dispute resolution in family issues — but she might as well be talking about her own personal path.

A Kampala attorney specializing in conflict resolution, Catherine Baine-Omugisha wants to focus on the prevention of domestic violence.

With her composed demeanor and pragmatic approach, Baine-Omugisha rose through the male-dominated world of law in Uganda, serving as a magistrate, a lecturer, a technical adviser in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and, currently, a private practitioner with her own consulting firm in Kampala.

Through it all, her approach has been the same: Maintain composure. Listen, encourage others, and seek solutions. Be open to exploring a new way of doing things. Test it. If it works, embrace it. In 2000, while serving as a magistrate at Masaka Chief Magistrate Court in southern Uganda, Baine-Omugisha joined a pilot program called the Chain Linked Initiative; to enhance access to criminal justice, it encouraged collaboration among police, prosecutors, prisons, probation officers, welfare agencies, and the judiciary. The program worked so well that it was rolled out nationwide.

I may not single-handedly change Uganda’s direction. But every intervention I make to change the ordinary citizen’s outlook toward human rights is a good contribution.

Catherine Baine-Omugisha

Now she is hoping her fellowship will enable her to apply that spirit of cooperation on a larger scale. “In Uganda, at the moment, we are dealing with issues of respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights, and corruption,” says Baine-Omugisha. Her principal concern is domestic violence, an ongoing problem that stems from a combination of factors: cultural and gender biases, economic hardships, and a lack of awareness about what actually constitutes domestic violence. In educating community leaders about domestic violence’s triggers and effects, as well as its legal and policy framework, she hopes to shift the focus to prevention, rather than addressing it after the fact.

There is a southern African philosophy called ubuntu that says, “I am because you are.” It’s a reminder that no one can exist alone. Baine-Omugisha says the fellowship has helped her rediscover that concept’s value as a homegrown peace approach, and she plans to put it into effect. “I may not single-handedly change Uganda’s direction,” she says. “But every intervention I make to change the ordinary citizen’s outlook toward human rights is a good contribution. If we have a number of people doing that, we can bring about significant change.”

Fikiri Nzoyisenga

While growing up, whenever Fikiri Nzoyisenga washed dishes, his friends could not stop laughing: Why are you doing the dishes? That is for the woman to do. He just shrugged. In his home, chores were for girls and boys, just as his father and stepmother shared the cooking and other domestic tasks. “This was not normal,” says Nzoyisenga. “Things were very different in my household than in others.” It was also different in another way: With his father a member of the majority Hutu group and his stepmother a Tutsi, their marriage was forbidden. “They did it anyway,” says their son, “to show there was no problem with that.”

In the staunchly patriarchal country of Burundi, his family’s defiant example made a huge impression. “The way I was raised by my father and stepmother shaped what I became,” says Nzoyisenga, 36, the founder and executive director of Semerera, a Bujumbura-based youth coalition against gender-based violence that works in three provinces in Burundi. “Women in my community used to face many challenges linked to our Burundi culture that considered women inferior to men,” he says. “So I wanted to be an advocate for women’s rights.”

By embracing the lessons of tolerance learned from his father, Fikiri Nzoyisenga hopes to change Burundi’s patriarchal culture.

Nzoyisenga survived an unstable childhood that included civil wars in Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo (where he lived for five years), went on to study law, and began volunteering for women’s empowerment organizations. It was only a matter of time before he became a community organizer. Through Spark MicroGrants, he led programs that empowered nearly 3,000 households from more than two dozen villages across Burundi. With Semerera, a team of 14 has assisted more than 8,200 women and girls through socioeconomic initiatives, leadership empowerment, and free legal support to victims of abuse and discrimination.

Nzoyisenga does not overlook another crucial element to change: educating men on gender inequalities. “We cannot talk about peace without giving all people the opportunity to live with dignity and contribute to the development of their communities,” he says. “We are part of the problem, so we must be part of the solution.”

After completing his Rotary fellowship, Nzoyisenga plans to expand his work to two more provinces of Burundi, where he will mentor other young people through campaigns around peaceful cohabitation, cohesion, and human rights. “My father taught me tolerance and acceptance, and respecting others no matter their differences,” he says. “In time, we hope more men and women in Burundi will come to understand that things need to change.”

“We have done field work to appreciate the situation on the ground,” says Jew Moonde (right), walking with the peace fellows through a Kampala slum.

As they completed their 10-week, on-site session at Makerere University, the peace fellows provided an update about their time at Rotary’s new peace center. Or at least they tried to. “I can’t explain in words what an amazing experience this has been for me,” said Rusare. “The fellowship has made me more determined to pursue my social change initiative on peace journalism. The design is finally taking shape.”

She praised her teachers, who shared “practical experiences that made it easy to grasp many theoretical approaches” to peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Moonde provided a detailed outline of those approaches; they included instruction in analytical methods drawn from the business world; sessions led by representatives from the Institute for Economics and Peace (a Rotary partner); and an introduction to indigenous traditions, such as the Mato Oput ceremony — which involves the drinking of a bitter herb — practiced by the Acholi people of northern Uganda.