Burundi peace activist Jean Claude Nkundwa to receive the CJP Peacebuilder of the Year Award

Burundi peace activist Jean Claude Nkundwa, a 2014 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, will accept the center's Alumni Award for Outstanding Service at the 2017 Summer Peacebuilding Institute. (Photo by Katie Garner)

Jean Claude Nkundwa, a 2014 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), has been selected for the center’s Peacebuilder of the Year Award.

Nkundwa has devoted himself to peace processes in his native Burundi. Since May 2015, he has been living in exile in Rwanda while advocating for sustainable peace and human rights in Burundi.

The CJP Peacebuilder of the Year Award, formerly known as the Alumni Award for Outstanding Service, is given annually “to CJP alumni who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to CJP’s mission of supporting conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, development, organizational leadership and peacebuilding efforts at all levels of society,” according to CJP Executive Director Daryl Byler.

The award honors Nkundwa’s “creative and courageous peacebuilding work that combines grassroots education and networking, trans-Africa coalition-building, engagement with multiple stakeholders, effective use of the media, and strategic advocacy at the United Nations and in Washington D.C.,” said Byler.

A colleague noted in nomination materials that Nkundwa “has accomplished this at extreme risk to himself and shows courage, resilience, and deep faith in the face of uncertainty and violence.”

Advocacy leads to formal organizing

The award is “humbling and encouraging,” Nkundwa said, especially because he has been working independently of any organization until recently. “When you have an institutional affiliation, it is easy to talk about your work and have formal networking and clear channels of communication. But working out of your passion and calling, it’s sometimes difficult to communicate and even measure what you’re doing.”

Nkundwa’s independent work, as well as his collaborative and strategic skills, have clearly made an impact. After returning from a frustrating advocacy trip to the United States last summer, he decided more strategic planning and cohesion was needed to effectively tell the story of what was happening in Burundi.

In the fall, Nkundwa invited fellow African peacebuilders and organizational experts to a comprehensive strategic planning that resulted in a formal organization called “Burundi Citizen Synergy.” The organization joins various movements, media leaders and labor union leaders, among other groups, “to build a stronger network of joint advocacy and communication strategies,” said Nkundwa.

After the planning process, he was elected by the board to a two-year term as executive secretary. His current task is to develop an annual action plan, mobilize partners and resources, and secure funding.

Sustainable peace for Burundi is the goal

Nkundwa is also coordinating civil society leaders mainly based in Kigali, Rwanda, to engage with the East Africa Community, specifically chief mediator Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, and EAC chair, John Magufuli, president of Tanzania. Inclusive peace talks are the goal, he says. “The Burundi civil society groups in exile want to make sure all social categories are represented in the talks in order to ensure Burundi reaches agreements that lead to a just, sustainable and long-term peace.”

He plans two speaking tours to the United States, one in mid-March and a second this summer when he will come to EMU to accept the award.

Nkundwa will be honored during a luncheon event at this summer’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute. The award comes with a transportation grant to attend one SPI course.

The first award was conferred in 2015 to Ali Gohar, MA ’02, founder and executive director of Just Peace Initiatives in Pakistan. Last year’s recipient was Tammy Krause, MA ’99, an expert in restorative justice. All of the 590 alumni who have earned master’s degrees or graduate certificates in conflict transformation from CJP are eligible.

To nominate an alumnus for the Peacebuilder of the Year award, email cjp@emu.edu. Read more about Jean Claude Nkundwa’s work in Peacebuilder magazine.