World not doing enough to stop war in Ukraine, says Zayed human fraternity award winner

Kenyan activist and Italian humanitarian organisation share the $1 million award this year

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A renowned Italian mediator and peace negotiator representing one of the two joint winners of this year’s $1 million Zayed Award for Human Fraternity said that the world is not doing enough to end the war in Ukraine.

Mario Giro, the spokesman for Comunita Di Santegidio, a humanitarian association based in Rome, Italy, told The National that it is a sign that the multilateral system is in crisis.

“Politically, we are not doing enough. And this is very painful,” said Mr Giro, who has been personally involved in negotiating peace in at least 17 conflicts including in Libya and Algeria.

Comunita Di Santegidio was honoured for its contribution to successful peace negotiations and conflict resolution through religious diplomacy and intercultural dialogue, promoting peace in various places around the world, from Guatemala to Mozambique.

Normally the international community is in a hurry when it comes to mediation. You need patience, a lot of patience
Mario Giro, Comunita Di Santegidio

The organisation shares the prize with a community mobiliser and peacebuilder in Kenya, Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil — known as “Mama Shamsa” — who has been recognised for her nurturing of youths in her country and saving young people from lives of violence, crime and extremism.

Comunita Di Santegidio and Mama Shamsa were selected from 200 nominees.

The awards ceremony coincides with the International Day of Human Fraternity, which is unanimously recognised by the UN in acknowledgment of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, also known as the Abu Dhabi Declaration, signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.

Speaking remotely at the award ceremony on Saturday night, Pope Francis said "While we share feelings of fraternity with one another, we are urged to promote a culture of peace that encourages dialogue, mutual understanding, solidarity, sustainable development, and inclusion.

“I thank all those who join our fraternal journey, and I encourage them to commit themselves to the cause of peace and to respond to the concrete problems and needs of the marginalised, the poor, the defenceless, and those in need of our assistance.”

Grand Imam, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb also delivered a virtual speech, saying "There is no doubt that the path of human fraternity is full of challenges and difficulties. In this regard, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to our work on this award, which has become a global platform for presenting shining models that join the march of human fraternity, and support the efforts made to keep easing the suffering of the weak, the oppressed, and the poor for a more peaceful, just, and fraternal life."

The Zayed Award for Human Fraternity rewards people, governments and organisations for their difficult and often unheralded work with the aim of inspiring others.

Speaking to The National before the awards ceremony, Mr Giro, a former Italian deputy minister of foreign affairs, said one of the reasons an organisation such as Comunita Di Santegidio succeeds where governments fail is because it has no hidden agendas.

“Political negotiations have their own interests,” he said.

But he added that nobody has approached his organisation to negotiate peace between Russia and Ukraine.

“Normally the international community is in a hurry when it comes to mediation. You need patience, a lot of patience.”

Comunita Di Santegidio has representative offices in 73 countries that also assist refugees and support their integration into host societies through their “Humanitarian Corridors” initiative, which also extends support to impoverished communities around the world.

Mr Giro said his organisation has so far managed to settle 6,000 Syrian refugees in different countries across Europe, despite political push back.

“This is despite the right-wing political landscape. It tells that the civil society is far more welcoming and accepting than their governments,” he said.

Mothers are natural reformers

Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil, winner of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2023, says mothers are the best peace builders. Ryan Lim for The National

Mama Shamsa is a one-woman army in Mombasa, a coastal city in south-eastern Kenya notorious for its criminal gangs.

The mother of five has single-handedly helped hundreds of youths and convinced them to give up arms and lead a normal life, all without need of a weapon of her own.

“I don’t need any. I do not even have an organisation. I am a mother and that is my biggest title,” Mama Shamsa told The National on Friday.

“Mothers are creators, protectors, nurturers. We are natural reformers. When my son is bad, I tend to love him more,” she said.

Mama Shamsa shepherds young Kenyans away from violence and provides them with counselling, care and training.

She has led major campaigns in Kenya and greater Africa to draw awareness to violence against women, as well as women's and youth empowerment.

Speaking about how she entered humanitarian work, she said it was common in her village for children as young as nine to get involved in criminal activities. Sometimes they were shot by rival gangs or the police.

She said she decided to take action after seven youths in her village were shot dead by the police in 2016.

“The oldest was 17. They were part of a criminal group robbing and beating up people. Nobody wanted them,” she recalled.

“One of them named Abraham was my neighbour’s son. When I went to console his mother, I was shocked when she told me that finally she could sleep in peace.

“I felt that we, as mothers, failed him. We as a society did not do anything to help him.

“That boy was not supposed to be six feet under the earth. He was supposed to be in school.”

Mission to reform criminal gangs

With a strong resolve to change things for the better, Mama Shamsa went to the Ministry of Interior in Nairobi and asked them to stop the killings. They gave her two weeks to reform the boys.

“There were 124 of them. If I failed, they told me, all of them will be finished.”

She said she managed to convince four young men, who were allowed to stay in her house.

“I took them to the police station and they got a clearance letter. They even ate with the police, which is unheard of in Kenya.”

With news spreading through social media, she said she built a reputation among young people.

“The word went around — if you go to Mama Shamsa, the police will not arrest you. It was overwhelming. But soon, government stepped in and so did other NGOs,” said Mama Shamsa, who was recently appointed head of the newly established National Women’s Peace Committee Network in Kenya, supported by UN Women.

She said more than 400 youths have received vocational training and help to set up small sources of income.

Pope Francis pictured with the 2023 Zayed Award for Human Fraternity judging committee at the Vatican. Wam

She said the award came at a time when she was waiting and praying for an opportunity to expand her work.

“Africa is suffering from economic collapse. I was thinking, if I had the money, I would go to Uganda, Zambia and Ghana.

“Sheikh Zayed is a big name to be associated with. How am I connected to land which is thousands of miles away from my village in Kenya? I see it as God’s blessing.

“It is not about the money. But the trust bestowed on me by this organisation.

“I will have to double or even triple the energy so that I can help more youths so that the train of human fraternity can continue even after we are gone from this world.”

Updated: February 05, 2023, 4:31 AM