Peace Garden – an action research study

Tinashe Rukuni, a 2019 peacebuilding PhD graduate, started a peace garden in Zimbabwe as part of his research. His assumption when starting the study was that a peace garden could help bring people together who had been experiencing discord and conflict. He began the study by first identifying those willing to try something new as a way of bringing peace. Through action research, the group resolved their differences and formed a team who worked together in the new garden. The first crop was large enough for each to earn funds for school fees and other expenses. Since then, the garden has continued to grow and has produced a larger crop. The group also formed a NGO to help formalise the peace garden.

Thriving Peace Garden! 2 July 2019

Developing postgraduate studies in peacebuilding – in the DRC

The main aim of the workshop was for each of the six participating universities to develop a draft strategic plan to introduce postgraduate studies in peacebuilding. Subsidiary aims included promoting the use of participatory action research and building relationships between universities in the Great Lakes region.

The workshop was led by Professor Geoff Harris and Dr Chrys Kiyala from ICON, assisted by Dr Joseph Rukema from Sub-Saharan Africa University, Goma. There were 22 participants, 18 from five Congolese universities, two from a university in Burundi and two student observers from the Sub-Saharan University of Africa. One participant  – Theodore Mbazumutima – is a recent PhD graduate in Peacebuilding from DUT and another – Josephine Mauwa Kimanu – is a current PhD student with DUT.

Several aspects of the workshop are worth noting:

  • We used a participatory and experiential learning approach. Some lectures were necessary but the best learning, we feel, took place in small groups as participants wrestled with the issues and came up with promising insights.
  • We did not prescribe how peacebuilding programmes should be organised. This can happen in a number of ways and we were aware that many factors will influence the choices which any university will make.
  • We encouraged  the use of participatory action research, an approach with which ICON has particular expertise, and helped participants to develop draft plans of how they might set up their own peace programme and the shape these might take.

We were delighted that on the last day the Rector of La Sapientia Université Catholique, who had attended much of the workshop, committed his university to coordinate future cooperation between the five universities and with DUT. It is very likely that three of the participants will commence PhD studies with ICON in 2020. Overall, we are confident that the workshop will act as a springboard for efforts to develop a culture of peace in the region.

The workshop was funded by a grant from the NRF’s KIC Africa Interaction programme and enjoyed generous hospitality from La Sapientia Université Catholique.

Postgraduate studies in Peacebuilding, 2020

For the past six years, the Peacebuilding Programme within ICON has accepted a large number of new PhD (and some master’s students) each year. This is no longer possible but we may accept a handful of new students in 2020.

The following selection criteria will apply. Please do not apply if you do not meet these:

  • A very strong record in your previous university studies. This means a minimum of a 70% average in your BTech/Honours/PGDip (if applying for entry to a master’s degree) or master’s degree (if applying for entry to a PhD)
  • A willingness to undertake action research on one of the following topics (if you are not sure what action research is, see http://www.icon.org.za/current/resources/)
    • Tackling gender based violence on university campuses
    • Restorative justice programmes with prisoners/ex-prisoners and their families
    • Training young men in responsible, loving and nonviolent fathering
  • Able to study full-time i.e. if employed, then for less than 12 hours per week
  • Able to spend the first semester, at least, on campus.

Note that full-time students are not required to pay tuition fees and may be eligible for a DUT scholarship. On scholarships, contact grantsadministrator@dut.ac.za

Closing date for applications: July 31, 2019

Enquiries: Professor Geoff Harris geoffreyh@dut.ac.za tel +2731 373 5609 or Dr Sylvia Kaye sylviak@dut.ac.za tel +2731 373 6860

What can be done about the impending invasion of Iran?

Geoff Harris

International Centre of Nonviolence

I am afraid – very afraid – that the United States is preparing for a war with Iran. When I look at the unmitigated disaster the 2003 invasion of Iraq has caused to the region, the prospect of some similar action against Iran appals me.  

Why do I think that an invasion of Iraq is on the cards? I refer to a phrase which celebrity psychologist Dr Phil often uses – ‘the best guide to future behaviour is relevant past behaviour’. The relevant past behaviour in this case has two components.

First, there is the sheer number of times the US has ‘intervened’ militarily in other countries since the end of WW2. As William Blum[i] and others[ii] have documented, there have been well over 50 such interventions, beginning with China in 1945 and continuing to the present day.

What led to these interventions? Blum explains that in almost every case it was not because of the country’s anti-American sentiments. Rather, it was because it had shown signs of self-determination – ‘the desire … to pursue a path of development independent of US foreign policy objectives’[iii]. Just wishing for neutrality and non-alignment with any super-power was more than enough justification for the US to intervene. 

The second element of past behaviour concerns the way these interventions, particularly the major invasions, came about. Vietnam and Iraq are the best known examples. In 1967, the US tried to provoke North Vietnam into military action which could be used to justify a major expansion of the US war effort. North Vietnam was careful not to respond to such provocation, so Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara blatantly lied to President Johnson about a non-existent naval encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin[iv]. The President, impatient to be seen as decisive during an election campaign, swallowed the bait and the Vietnam war began in earnest. After 50 000 US soldiers, 1.4 million Vietnamese combatants and perhaps two million civilian deaths, the US pulled out of South Vietnam, which promptly fell to North Vietnamese forces.

The decision to invade Iraq was also based on lies. First, someone – guilty or not – had to be punished for the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 1999 and, even though there was no credible evidence of any Al Qaeda-Iraq link, Iraq seemed like a good candidate. Second, there was the continued allegation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, despite extremely credible evidence to the contrary provided by United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. Based on fabricated evidence, including that presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN Security Council, President George W. Bush ordered the invasion which began in March, 2003. The war was soon over, with minimal US casualties but the resultant civil wars in Iraq and Syria have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, displaced and traumatised millions more and multiplied the number of terrorists intent in harming the US and its allies. These consequences are continuing 16 years after the invasion and, now that the genie of violence is out of the bottle, will continue for decades more.

A frightening feature of these two examples, and many of the others documented by Blum, is a US President who is willing to believe and act on the advice of one or two key advisors rather than that of his own intelligence agencies or respected international agencies. Does this sound like anyone we know?

In fact, the track record shows that US military interventions have largely failed to achieve their objective of installing regimes which are friendly to US interests. And in most cases, US invasions and US-backed coups ‘have led to severe repression, disappearances, extra-judicial executions, torture, corruption, and prolonged setbacks for the democratic aspirations of ordinary people’.[v]

In addition, and contrary to popular belief, in the 20th century, nonviolent efforts were far more effective than violence in bringing about major changes such as overthrowing regimes, expelling foreign occupiers and secession[vi].

Given this, what advice can be offered from a nonviolence perspective to the parties involved in the likely US invasion of Iran? Given that there is no way Iran could withstand a concerted attack from the US, there is no point in it maintaining a large military to deter such an attack. My advice to Iran is a radical one – to reduce its military capacity by half in a very public way by closing military bases, demobilising soldiers and decommissioning naval vessels and aircraft. At the same time, it should advise the world that in the event of a US invasion, it will not resist. This will disconcert the US to such an extent that an invasion – of a country which will not resist – will become far less likely. There is a risk in doing this, of course, but I believe it is far less than allowing the present trajectory to continue.

The resources saved can be reallocated to issues such as combatting climate change and providing non-military assistance, without strings attached, to poorer countries in the region, especially those dealing with huge numbers of refugees. This fits closely with Islamic principles and would raise Iran’s regional and international status.

I would ask the United States to recognise that military interventions go against the very principles of freedom and truth on which the country is said to be based. This means, to paraphrase Gandhi, that the US needs to demonstrate by its actions the sort of world order it wants to encourage. One way to do this would be to join international efforts against the biggest threat to humankind – climate change – financed by significant cuts in military expenditure, the size of which dwarfs those of all its potential enemies combined.

Finally, I would urge other countries to take the risk of encouraging the US, over and over again, to behave better as global citizen.  


[i] Blum, W. 2014. Killing hope. US military and CIA interventions since World War II. Updated edition. London: Zed Books.

[ii] Keylor, W. 2009. A world of nations: the international order since 1945. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press; Litwak, R. 2007. Regime change: US strategy through the prism of 9/11. Washington, DC/Baltimore, MD: Woodrow Wilson Center Press/The Johns Hopkins University Press.

[iii] Blum, op cit, p. 12.

[iv] Hastings, M. 2018. Vietnam. An epic tragedy 1945-1975. London: William Collins, pp. 189-193.

[v] Swanson, D. 2016. War is a lie. 2nd edition. Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, p. 30.

[vi] Chenoweth, E. and Stephan, M. 2011. Why civil resistance works. The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. Columbia, NY: Columbia University Press.

Statement by ICON on violence at DUT

Incidents of violence at our university, Durban University of Technology, in recent days have cost the life of one student and brought injury to other members of the campus community. We at the International Centre of Nonviolence are deeply affected by this. In addition, we wish to play a direct role in changing relationships at the university that are based on mistrust and hostility. We have thus communicated to student leaders and management our willingness to be involved in processes that create a situation in which conflicts can be resolved through discussion, without harm to any party.

We understand that our universities are not immune to violence; they are part of a violent society and have a responsibility not to reproduce that violence within their institutions. Disrupting these cycles of violence is in our view a core task of the university and is not peripheral to the processes of teaching and learning. We at ICON take up our responsibility of addressing this through our teaching, supervision, research and community engagement, both generally and in response to these specific incidents.

Crispin Hemson, Director
On behalf of the staff of ICON
8th February 2019