Color Line

Conversation with Patrick Bwire

Regional Liaison Officer

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, Center for Conflict Resolution

Kampala, Uganda

February 2021

What connects us: statistics, plus our unwavering faith in each other​

What is the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC)? What do you do? 

GPPAC is a global coalition of peace building organizations. In my region, Eastern and Central Africa, we coordinate peace building efforts in 16 countries where conflicts occur mainly over natural resources, such as land, water, minerals, and forest cover. Election-related conflict is also prevalent. We work with communities to develop creative ways to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts. 

For example, in Uganda, we work with youth who were once radicalized to prevent re-radicalization. During a period of extreme political violence, many young people in the North were abducted as children or born in captivity and then trained as child soldiers. When they return to their villages, they are viewed as killers and stigmatized. They are alone and have no means of livelihood. They also have trauma, so we start with trauma healing.

We provide skills training and start-up materials so they can develop income and interact in ways that connect them to the community. For example, some young people become beekeepers. As they monitor their beehives and sell their honey, they feel productive. They have a sense of purpose. They connect with people in their community, and they mentor other young people along the way. It’s a transformation, from a mindset of living in a gun culture to a culture of peace.  

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your community’s work?

Tensions and frustrations have led to increased conflicts. We have seen people with disabilities get home after curfew because of mobility issues and then get arrested. Many people work in the informal sector which has plummeted, so poverty has increased. Domestic violence has skyrocketed. These “COVID conflicts” will have local impacts long after the pandemic ends. Because of the lockdowns, we have not been able access communities to deliver services – to de-escalate and prevent conflict.

How do local communities mobilize?

African culture is based on social mobilization. In the villages, we use drums to mobilize. There are specific drums for specific events. For a wedding, there is a specific drum. For death, for a dialogue, when there is no water and we need to build a well, there are specific drums. People know to respond. We call it bulungibwanzi, “for the good of our community”. Leaders beat the drum and you are expected to continue drumming so the whole community gathers. Yet this mobilization can also happen for bad things. For example, in eastern Uganda, there is much conflict over land for farming. I may have a fight with you, but it doesn’t end there. People mobilize groups to attack each other. Conflicts are owned by the community.

15 regions

GPPAC operates in 15 regions around the globe.

What connects us: our unwavering faith in each other.

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.

What can people do individually and in their communities to reduce conflict? 

It starts with one person able to change to transform others. The little, small things that one does is what builds into the big good, the big peace. Pieces of peace. It starts with you. Changing your attitude with others, the way you are with family and others, the way you lead others. People learn from you. Children mirror your actions, how you interact with your neighbors and in your community.

At the local level, the community knows best. They know the situation and can monitor when conflict is manifesting. Most peace building response is tailor made. Local people have the knowledge, speak the same language, and know the best approaches for interacting. Many times, we think the solution has to come from external experts, yet the solution is with us. We need to build confidence in communities that they have solutions to their own problems. 

What is one of your favorite books?

Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson. It talks about change, how we respond to it and accept it. It’s applicable to everything in life.

What brings you hope?

When I see youth who used to engage in violence now being champions of peace, it gives me hope that yes, it can be done. Communities can be transformed. If one can transform, many can transform.

Connect with Patrick

Read More Like This:

Color Line