Edna Alemayehu: A Peace Activist
“I think conflict does not get resolved, it gets transformed, it is how you manage it.”
Edna was born in Addis Ababa, the oldest of five children. Even though her parents did not come from privilege, they believed in education for social transformation. As a child Edna was very sociable and loved reading.
Edna’s patriotism was ignited from an early age. Discussing country, her parents never talked about ethnicities but the proud history. “My love for my country, my love for being African, my awareness of my blackness and gender came from my parents, especially my mother, “ Edna said. Her mother worked for the OAU from the late seventies to the late nineties. Hearing stories about famous and infamous African leaders of the time such as Gadafi, Mengistu, Sankara, and Winnie Mandela shaped her Pan-African outlook. Edna’s father instilled hard work, integrity and love for country in her from a young age.
Edna currently works in peace building and conflict transformation as a Chief Strategist for Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), fostering civil discourse through cultivating dialogue culture in Ethiopian youth. She guides youth to entertain ideas without having to accept them or resorting to labeling someone or resorting to violence. This is relevant because it is important for the youth to understand conflict is a part of life; it does not have to be the end of it. Edna is truthful, energetic, enthusiastic and committed, driven, hard-working, visionary, impactful and unapologetically vocal.
For a long time after moving to the US, Edna was trying to figure out where she fit in while taking a business administration course. When a friend told Edna of the class she was taking, International Peace and Conflict resolution, she eagerly learned more and applied soon after. She earned her masters in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at the American University in Washington, D.C.
Edna’s passion is learning about her biases and overcoming them, and learning about others which helps in conflict resolution. She believes in continuous growth and wants to spark this in the youth. She knew that she wanted to work with people in Ethiopia and she moved back in 2006 to try it, but the environment during that time was not conducive to her expertise. Returning to the U.S., she was employed in different lines of work.
Then in 2018, a complete change happened in Ethiopia that opened an opportunity with the Ethiopian embassy in the US. When the Prime Minister was visiting the US, a friend and Edna approached the embassy as part of the committee organizing the visit. Edna met Obang Metho, a human rights activist from Gambella, at an event organized by Forum 65 which works on civil discourse. She served as a panelist on platforms to bring better understanding between Ethiopians and the Diaspora’s role in Ethiopia’s transformation. Upon invitation by the Prime Minister, Edna joined Obang to work on the traditional peace-building mechanisms in Ethiopia. They started by talking to elders in a village in Gurage zone to learn about the indigenous
peace-building mechanisms. They went on to talk to the Gamo leaders then to the Abba Geda in Oromia, engaging with 30 elders in seven ethnic groups in a span of a year. That is when they observed the youth were not included. It was a very elder-focused, top down and male- centered method. They decided to involve the youth, which are part of the problem as well as the solution.
So they targeted universities countrywide, starting from Gondar University, initiating discourse through storytelling with Obang’s experiences. He has a great perspective because he knows there is discrimination, marginalization and name-calling; he embraces it and he has decided to define what it is to be Ethiopian himself. Universities are a hotbed for ethnic conflict and his stories provoke a positive reaction to challenge the students’ perspectives. Conflict is an opportunity to grow by exchanging ideas; it is a skill they do not have and are trying to implement that. The personal storytelling sparked that realization in the minds of the students Edna’s team worked with, and they let them know this was the start. They started off through experimentation through clubs.
Noticing few young women show up in these meetings, Edna sends word ahead of the gatherings to makes sure the organizers invite as many young women as possible. When approached by young women, she makes sure to give them her number, staying in touch. She finds ways to engage women, fully recognizing that this is not a safe space for women and it has never been. Each time she go up a ladder, she makes sure to create space for women. Edna finds young women with a spark of interest and keeps them in mind to regularly connect, to keep in touch, making sure she takes them wherever she goes.
SMNE, a non-political social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians, is registered in five countries. The organization was initially formed in response to a widespread pattern of gross human rights violations, harsh repression of basic freedoms, systemic injustice, corruption and a lack of good governance in Ethiopia by the Ethiopian government. SMNE envisions an open, free and reconciled society in Ethiopia, where humanity comes before ethnicity and where the same rights, opportunities and privileges are available to all. They work to mobilize Ethiopians worldwide to unite in a coalition across ethnic, regional, political, cultural and religious lines around principles of truth, justice, freedom, civility, equality and the protection of human rights. Edna’s team was also able to raise money for the mosque that was burned down in Gondar.
The organization’s work uses the concepts of Peace Education to engage with university students, assisting them to interact with their counter-parts around the country by practicing the skills sets within Peace Education. After traveling to 12 universities all over Ethiopia and engaging with about 25,000 students, they are currently officially piloting the initiative in Jigjiga and Gambella universities. They were selected because one of SMNE’s key strategies is to bring to the forefront regions and its residents who have historically been designated as “periphery” for flagship projects, symbolically and practically promoting civil discourse in an effort to encourage national reconciliation and consensus.
Edna is also engaged in building mechanisms for transitional justice in the Somali Regional State (SRS) as part of a five-person committee to set up the regional truth and reconciliation commission. The overall goal of the transitional justice initiative is to ensure accountability, restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation. The desired outcomes are that it establishes the truth of what had happened, holds perpetrators accountable, provides some sort of reparations and redress for the victims, prevents future abuses, and provides social healing, reconciliation, and sustainable peace.
Edna loves reading political history. When there is a debate, she works to find a middle ground. She is proud of the interactions thus far, where her perceptions are regularly challenged and she can share that knowledge to have a positive impact. She is challenging the awareness of the youth and broadening their horizons. Edna is currently working with civil society’s role in elections.
“I wish for a generation that does not see violence for the way out. I do what I do to challenge myself in what being an Ethiopian is…there are terms and labels for you that you did not even know existed. Just by having interactions with people in that context and with their contact with me, there is a takeaway. ”
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