The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) at Eastern Mennonite University has named Tecla Namachanja Wanjalait as the 2019 Peacebuilder of the Year.
Wanjala, who received her master’s in conflict transformation from CJP in 2003, is the chairperson of the Kenya-based Green String Network. Its social healing and reconciliation program Kumekucha was selected as one of the top 10 global governance solutions from among 121 projects presented at the November 2018 Paris Peace Forum.
She is also the chief executive officer of the Hear Africa Center, which aims to enhance communities’ local capacities for social healing, restorative justice and reconciliation. The Center, which operates mainly in the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa, seeks to cultivate conflict transformation, social healing, reconciliation, restorative justice and remembrance and is a regional research, documentation and think tank center.
The Peacebuilder of the Year Award recognizes “alumni who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to its mission of supporting conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, development, organizational leadership and peacebuilding efforts at all levels of society,” said CJP executive director Daryl Byler.
All of the 628 alumni who have earned master’s degrees or graduate certificates in conflict transformation or restorative justice from CJP are eligible for the award, which includes tuition for a Summer Peacebuilding Institute course and transportation costs.
Wanjala is the fifth award recipient. The first was conferred on Ali Gohar MA ’02 in 2015, founder and executive director of Just Peace Initiatives in Pakistan. The 2016 recipient was Tammy Krause, MA ’99, an expert in restorative justice, and in 2017 it went to Jean Claude Nkundwa MA ’14, who works for peace in his native country of Burundi from exile in Rwanda. In 2018, it recognized Annette Lantz-Simmons, executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution in Kansas City, Missouri.
‘A shining example’
CJP has produced “some of the best and finest peacebuilders in the world,” Wanjala wrote in response to the award. “For me, to be counted among this group is truly a humbling experience…. To fellow peacebuilders, especially from Kenya and Africa at large, this is ‘our’ award. May we not grow weary of putting in efforts to ensure that our communities and countries enjoy peace and harmony.”
An active peacebuilder for over a quarter of a century, Wanjala holds a PhD in peace and conflict studies from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kakamega, Kenya, and has been a Pact International deputy chief of Party for Peace in East and Central Africa and a commissioner and acting chairperson of Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
She has also served as an in-house consultant for peacebuilding with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a coordinator for the peace and development network PEACENET, a coordinator of relief and rehabilitation for internally displaced Kenyans, and a social worker and teacher in Utange Refugee Camp. She was a nominee for the 2005 initiative 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize, and one of three Kenyan women noted as Pillars of Peace for their interventions in ethnic clashes in the 1990s.
“Tecla is a shining example of a CJP Peacebuilder who has taken what she has learned, both from her personal experience and the knowledge and skills gained at CJP and elsewhere, and used that to develop and provide dynamic and forward-thinking peacebuilding interactions with people and institutions at all levels of society,” said Jan Jenner, former director of CJP’s Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program, who nominated Wanjala for the award. “Tecla is equally comfortable and articulate with a group of market women in a small village or with a group of national/international political leaders and academics. She is a deeply committed Catholic Christian and that faith undergirds her peacebuilding work – and her entire life.”