Is SPI Still Needed? Two Africans Respond

Babu Ayindo
Babu Ayindo, MA ’98, has taught at seven SPI-type institutions all over the world, in addition to his frequent stints at SPI.

The spring/summer 2014 issue of Peacebuilder focused on EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute at its 20th anniversary year. With the proliferation of peacebuilding institutes and workshops in Africa and elsewhere, is SPI still needed? In separate interviews, two Africans – one from Kenya and the other from Mozambique – answered “yes.”

In 1996, Babu Ayindo traveled from Kenya to be among the earliest students pursuing a master’s degree in conflict transformation at EMU. He had always been a “doer” and credits EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (within which SPI is nested) for valuing that.

“CJP has done a good job of identifying those practitioners who ordinarily would not have the time, patience or typical academic qualifications to enter an academic program,” he says, “It’s given them a great opportunity to study in the field and get credentials.”

Babu’s major take-away from CJP? “Meeting instructors and professors who believed in me and my interest in the role of storytelling, dramatization, and other arts in peacebuilding. Howard [Zehr], Ron [Kraybill], Vernon [Jantzi], Lisa [Schirch] and John Paul [Lederach] were very supportive – they believed in me. This is such an important thing – to be believed in, and to be given the room to make mistakes and to learn for yourself.”

Babu was impressed that though his professors were Mennonite-style Christians, “they respected those of us with different beliefs, including the spirituality of indigenous peoples.”

Babu was raised Roman Catholic, but like many Africans his religiousness is deeply rooted in his indigenous connections to his ancestors and the natural world. “In moments of crisis, I draw from that.”

He earned his MA in conflict transformation in 1998 and today, 17 years later, is pursuing a PhD in the field at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Babu is one of the most sought-after teachers of peacebuilding in the world. He has returned to teach at SPI repeatedly and at SPI-like peacebuilding initiatives in seven other locations: Washington D.C.; Fiji; Mindolo, Zambia; Nairobi, Kenya; Winnipeg, Canada; Davao, Philippines; and Caux, Switzerland. He is scheduled to teach at the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute in Mongolia in August 2015.

In Babu’s view, the basic courses taught at most of these institutions are not substantively different from those at CJP. But each institution needs a strategic vision for its own area of the world, he says. Those in the Global South need to work more at decolonization, including decolonizing the meaning of peace and justice and tapping their own indigenous paradigms for peace. In the Global North, CJP should focus on shifting the United States toward a more just, peaceful path, Babu says.

Methodist Bishop Dinis Matsolo of Mozambique agrees with that view. He credits Mennonites for spreading the theology of peace into churches around the world. Yet he asks, “Are Mennonites doing enough about U.S. policies, when I see the U.S. disregard the UN, start wars, and manufacture and use weapons widely?”

Nevertheless, Matsolo greatly values his month-long sojourn at SPI in 2005: “To taste the heavenly banquet of studying with people from all the different countries – even those who were almost at war with each other – inspired me to think it is possible to solve the world’s problems. We lived together and shared with each other and learned from each other.”

Matsolo has done coursework at two other peacebuilding institutes – one in his own country and the other in Zambia but he feels SPI represented the ultimate experience. “SPI is like a fire at which embers get started and re-heated if they start to go out from being isolated. Once you’ve been at SPI, you can go out and start your own fires.”