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Handing over of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

I started working in Northern Ireland in 1996, the first question I was always asked was: “Did Northern Ireland need a South African Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC)?” This was understandable, as I was at the time working in South Africa with victims testifying before the TRC that ran from 1995 until 2003. The troubling thing, however, is that I am still regularly asked that same question nearly 25 years later. During this time, how many victims have died without knowing the truth, or obtaining justice for atrocities?

The failure to deal effectively with the past remains a stain on the copybook of the Northern Ireland peace process. A potted history of the saga highlights how punishingly slow it has been. …


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Our Halloween Turnip 2020

Turns out the story of Halloween is somewhat like the story of the grey squirrel. Brought to the UK and Ireland from the US in Victorian times as living-ornaments for the wealthy, the adaptable and competitive grey squirrel has thrived contributing to the decline of the indigenous red squirrel. If you asked a child in Ireland to draw a squirrel more than likely, they would pen a grey rather than a red squirrel. Conversely, Halloween, now considered the most quintessential of so-called US consumption holidays, was a late import to the US from Ireland. …


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“MERS Coronavirus Particle” by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In these challenging times, the University is looking to develop new courses. I suggest we offer a course in “Twitterdemiology”. The degree takes typically 2–3 months to complete, involves sharing, preferably uninformed, opinions on Twitter about the spread of diseases, preferably late at night and slightly drunk. A bonus is you never have to wear a mask during class. Involves some study in terms of looking at the occasional graph on a few websites and making a hasty conclusion. The degree is wholly part-time. …


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“Statue of Cecil John Rhodes at UCT” in Cape Town by barbourians is licensed with CC BY 2.0. The statue was removed in April 2015.

Recently I saw a piece quoting the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson, saying removing from Oriel College the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, the colonial administrator and financier, risks hiding history. The UK Prime Minister has also expressed the view, in a series of Tweets noting, particularly in relation to the statue of Winston Churchill, that “statues teach us about our past, with all its faults”. Am I the only one who thinks this is nonsense?

Statues are not about history or pedagogy but commemoration. Should we commemorate people like Cecil John Rhodes today?

If the Vice-Chancellor is so concerned about history you can take down the statue and leave a large plinth explaining Rhodes brutal history and Oxford’s relationship with colonialism. Or better still teach history in one of the esteemed colleges, or make a podcast, a movie or build a website, or even consult a book. I don’t learn history from statues. …


South Africa has a new leader; the current negotiators in the North feel like a spent force

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“South Africa flag” by S Martin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In a strange way the South Africa and Northern Ireland peace processes have always been linked. In the 1990s both were heralded as examples of how deep divisions could be overcome, and co-operation fostered between former enemies. Other connections were more direct, such as the former ANC lead negotiator and now new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s role in the decommissioning processes as an inspector on behalf of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

Two decades later, however, both peace processes have lost their shine. …


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As part of his recent state visit to the UK, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia made a stopover in Belfast. The visit, which was planned for several months, took on a new significance given the October “No” vote in a referendum to endorse the peace agreement between the Colombian government and Farc.

President Santos has routinely noted that Northern Ireland is a “reminder of what is possible” and various delegations of politicians, civil society, academia and business from Northern Ireland have interacted with the peace process in Colombia over the years. It is clear from the visit that President Santos is seeking an international mandate to continue to garner support for a perhaps revised agreement, as well as to get more funds from the UK government to support aspects of the peace process. Northern Ireland offers the president an opportunity to show that peace and compromise can work in terms of political co-operation even if aspects of the peace process remain unfinished. …


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Frederik de Klerk with Nelson Mandela — World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 1992 by Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Days after Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 I went to a massive welcome home rally at Soccer City — the stadium on the outskirts of Soweto that would host the World Cup final two decades later.

The day was one of unparalleled elation. I remember people walking for miles to see Mandela. As I neared the stadium in my old Toyota, people started to jump on the car exhausted from walking. I arrived at the stadium with 6 people in the car, and 10 people on it and with a dented roof. But I didn’t care. …


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“Union” by Reciprocal of Phi Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Northern Ireland has made massive strides towards peace since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was signed 15 years ago.

The agreement is viewed globally as a positive model — particularly in the groundbreaking way that it guarantees nationality and identities, regardless of the status of Northern Ireland.

Politicians should be commended that, in spite of their different political aspirations, they have established the power-sharing institutions.

But in spite of this, those of us who study and practise conflict transformation would view the peace here as a negative peace. …


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Watching Felix Baumgartner free-fall from space and break the sound barrier was extraordinary. As he climbed out of his little balloon with the curve of the earth below him, I was in awe of both what he had decided to do and the sheer beauty of the earth below.

But what I found equally remarkable was his attitude. Despite the seeming madness of his space dive, he says he is not an adrenaline junkie — rather, he says, he is a ‘risk manager’. He also seemed acutely aware of his family throughout the feat, saying he was worried about dying in front of his loved ones. If you google ‘Fearless Felix’ you will find many references to his family — they are obviously important to him. …


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“Social Media Keyboard” by Shahid Abdullah is marked with CC0 1.0

I am somewhat addicted to Twitter, and marginally hooked on Facebook. I find them useful in following multiple news sources, building a work profile and staying in contact with friends across the globe. That said, I think (and this is what all addicts say, apparently) I can control my habit. I definitely prefer human company to my computer and feel that social media should enhance life, not subsume it.

That said, there is an addictive element to social media (or, perhaps, to my personality). Being constantly in touch with people and getting blow-by-blow accounts of events can be compelling.

Researchers at Harvard, according to Helpguide.org, have found some evidence that the act of disclosing information about oneself is connected to the same regions of the brain that are linked to reward. This could be one reason why some people can be compelled to post and share information on social media. …

About

Brandon Hamber

Professor of Peace at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Medium is my popular writing space. Academic publications at brandonhamber.com

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