The primacy of dialogue: Michael Doherty

LEONARD Allan NIFThe primacy of dialogue: Michael Doherty
by Allan LEONARD for Forum for Cities in Transition
2 September 2016

The refurbished premise of the Holywell Trust was the venue for a lunchtime conversation about the Maiden City’s involvement with the Forum for Cities in Transition. Attending were two dozen local citizens, from all walks of life — active community workers, a retired doctor, and simply the curious. Read more

Women and Conflict: Tripoli Film Festival


Women and Conflict: Tripoli Film Festival
by Allan LEONARD, Nancy RIORDAN and Emanuela DEL RE for Forum for Cities in Transition
7 May 2015

“Women and Conflict” was the theme to which the recent Tripoli Film Festival dedicated a special event, with the screening of a selection of out-of-competition films. Elias Khlat, festival director, is also a member of the Tripoli group of the Forum for Cities in Transition. Read more

#BringBackOurGirls Belfast protest by Nigerian Association of Northern Ireland

20140517 NANI 06

LEONARD Allan#BringBackOurGirls Belfast protest by Nigerian Association of Northern Ireland
by Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition
17 May 2014 

Members of Northern Ireland’s Nigerian community held a #BringBackOurGirls protest in Belfast on Saturday morning, 17th May, to express their concern for the abducted schoolgirls still missing in their home country.

More than 200 Nigerian teens, all female, were taken from the village of Chibok in Nigeria by Islamist terror group Boko Haram last month.

A crowd or around 30 people, made up mainly of members of the African and Caribbean diaspora, stood outside the City Hall with placards calling for the safe return of the girls.

The demonstration was organised by the Nigerian Association of Northern Ireland (NANI), alongside the African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI).

Chairperson of NANI Dorcas Obikoya, who moved to Northern Ireland almost nine years ago, said the community wanted to make its feelings known:

“We are telling the Nigerian government to look into the actions of the Boko Haram and release those children,” she said.

She said people in Northern Ireland had been very supportive:

“We see support from the PSNI, and support from the city council. It is all over the news here in Northern Ireland, so it is very, very amazing the support we have received here.

“As mothers, as parents we felt it was important and necessary to show our concerns and make our voices heard,” said Ms Obikoya.

She further said support in Northern Ireland was vital:

“We are appealing to all Nigerians, and all Nigerian friends to support us to campaign for bringing our girls back.”

Among the protesters were Forum for Cities in Transition members Peter Osborne (FCT Belfast) and Michael Doherty (FCT Derry-Londonderry).

Mr Doherty demonstrated his appreciation of the traumatic event in Nigeria, as he was part of a delegation of two dozen who travelled from Northern Ireland to attend the large international annual gathering of FCT members, in Kaduna, Nigeria last November:

“Boko Haram literally means anti-Western education, and the intent of this outrageous abduction is remove these girls’ opportunities for any attainment in life, and to marry them off as obedient, house-imprisoned wives.

“Now at this calamitous time is exactly when we in Northern Ireland need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow brothers and sisters who are the integral persons who will make conflict transformation a reality, wherever in the world it is taking place,” said the Director of the Peace and Reconciliation Group (PRG).


Event covered by Northern Ireland media outlets:

BBC Northern Ireland:

Belfast Telegraph:

News Letter:

Hasan Turan (Kirkuk Provincial Council) visit to Northern Ireland

LEONARD Allan“Terrorists tried to divide us, but we are now stronger together”: Hasan Turan (Kirkuk Provincial Council) visit to Northern Ireland
by Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition
15 August 2013

On the back of the political assassination of a fellow member of Kirkuk Provincial Council, its Chairman Hasan Turan travelled to Northern Ireland for a weeklong series of meetings and events, to exchange knowledge and experiences in dealing with societal conflict, both in Kirkuk (Iraq) and Northern Ireland. The visit was organised by the Belfast group of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT). Read more

Councillors fly to secret Iraq meeting (Sunday Life)

Councillors fly to secret Iraq meeting
(Sunday Life)
7 October 2012

Four Belfast councillors were among a delegation that flew into war-torn Iraq in almost total secrecy today.

The UUP’s Bob Stoker, SDLP man Tim Attwood, John Kyle of the PUP and Alliance’s Mervyn Jones flew out but their names had been kept under wraps and a strict embargo was placed on advance news of the trip to oil-rich Kirkuk.

The councillors, along with a number of public representatives from Derry and delegates from the voluntary and community sector, are attending a Forum for Cities in Transition conference.

But as they would have been aware in advance, Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, is one of the most dangerous and disputed areas in the country.

Terrorist bombers and insurgents maintain the ability to strike almost at will and embassy officials in the region also warn: “There remains a high risk of kidnapping and caution should be exercised.”

As Allan Leonard, director of the Northern Ireland Foundation, pointed out yesterday: “Given the problems Kirkuk is experiencing it’s not something we wanted in the public domain in advance. Names before the conference began would be bad.”

The Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation that develops programmes around a shared future in Northern Ireland.

It is co-Secretariat of the Forum conference, which works on the principle that cities which are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in a similar situation.

Surprisinly, even among the city delegation from Derry there is no representative from either Sinn Fein or the DUP.

“They did not take up the invitation,” said Mr Leonard.

My first Balkan adventure

My first Balkan adventure
by Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition
24 March 2010

For work, I headed out to Mitrovica, Kosovo, to meet our conference coordinator, Mia, her staff, our Forum for Cities in Transition participants, and to inspect progress on some of the technical aspects for our forthcoming conference in May.

This was the first time I have been anywhere in the Balkans (though for southeastern Europe, I have been to Bulgaria). I flew to Prishtina via Podgorica on Montenegro Airlines. Saved a few pounds, but don’t know if I’ll do that again, as Podgorica is a very small airport (one large lobby waiting area, one electrical outlet). I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the farm tractor pulling the aircraft closer to the gate!

It was great to have Mia collect me at the airport in Prishtina, and to give me the essential details about the situation at hand. I knew this would be an intense week of learning and working.

I have to say, reading Tim Judas’ book, Kosovo, was a good idea. Although it’s likely too superficial for anyone in the know about Kosovo politics, I do recommend it as a primer.

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KFOR posters were ubiquitous throughout Mitrovica. This one roughly translates as “the winter will be better working together (with tolerance)”. The irony is that the two men are both Albanian, the one dressed as a Serbian relatively well known. Mitrovica, Kosovo.

An immediate observation was the plethora of KFOR advertisements. They were everywhere, displaying positive public awareness of their duties. A notable one is of two older men, one dressed as a national Serbian and the other as Albanian, with the slogan (sic!), “the winter will pass by easier with tolerance”. What is notable is that both actors are Albanian, the one dressed as Serbian relatively well known in the community!

One of my first tasks was to inspect the desired venue for the conference, the Culture Centre, which lies on the south bank of the Ibar River, at the foot of the Mitrovica Bridge that connects (divides) Mitrovica South (mainly populated by Albanians) and Mitrovica North (mainly populated by Serbians, but with particular Albanian neighbourhoods).

Glad I did an inspection. While the building appears structurally sound, there is much renovation work to do inside. We compiled a list of items to follow up with the mayor, whom we met that afternoon.

Next I met a pair of Mia’s key staffers, Milos and Ardiana, which was a pleasure. Very impressed with their obvious commitment to this project, and with the work they showed me.

And then there were meetings with local participants of our Forum. Many meetings, all useful and constructive.

But back to my discovery process.

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Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) building, Mitrovica, Kosovo.

I quickly sensed a love-hate relationship between the local population (both Serbian and Albanian sections) and “the internationals”, i.e. EU, UN, external NGOs. A sense of sincere appreciation for stability that has been delivered, but at an increasing risk of a semi-dependency culture.

Put another way, towards the end of my stay a local young man asked me what I thought of the people I have met. I replied that it’s been all great, I’ve gotten along well with everyone. But then I added, “Except some of the internationals. They make me pause and think.” Standing next to him, the man’s friend said, “Sounds like a smart person.”

I came to appreciate the local pride in the the Trepca (TREP-cha) mining company, which once employed many thousands of people. My understanding is that with the onset of the wars in the 1990s, the main Trepca industrial complex stopped functioning, and it hasn’t been replaced by any other major economic activity. When you walk the streets of Mitrovica, you’ll find rows of small kiosks and stands of individuals selling basic wares.

But the pride remains. It could be debased into a melancoly nostalgia, but my impression was that it serves as a motivator to make Mitrovica a great city again. The challenge is to identify the right types of business development and investment (which is one of the objectives of our forthcoming conference).

I demonstrated by pride by finding a Trepca football scarf. Best souvenir possible, me thinks.

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Dilapadated structure for Trepca mining operation, in Stan Terg, outside Mitrovica, Kosovo.

One day, Milos and Ardiana were in charge of an entourage of us, and showed us to what they deemed the more notable parts of the city, north and south. Driving up the hills, past more Trepca mining sites, evoked my drives across the lost industrial centres of Pennsylvania. The Soviet-era plaques from the 1960s speak of another era.

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Church of unknown origin, in Stan Terg, outside Mitrovica, Kosovo. Locals say that it was used by Church of England, but architecture and evidence of frescos (original) indicate longer history.

But we learned that the history goes much further back, with a church ruin that easily dates back several hundred years (1600s?), with Welsh and English-built residences nearby. The mineral resources of this section of the Balkans have been obviously exploited for centuries.

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Monument at Miners’ Hill, Mitrovica North. Mitrovica, Kosovo.

A prominent landmark is a Tito-commissioned monument on Miners’ Hill. No one could give any detailed explanation of what the structure represented, beyond something to do with mining. Only after my departure did Mia learn that the two vertical posts represent forearms, holding the large horizontal, semi-tubular cart reminiscent of those that ferried coal from the mines to the processing plants. You can see this monument for miles.

My week in Mitrovica was a busy one. Although my work was evenly paced, I was exhausted by the end of it. I knew it would be intense. But what I was underprepared for (novice travellers take note) was that everyone smokes, all the time, and you’ll need to keep up with all of the macchiatos consumed during any given day (apparently the Albanian ones are better than the Serbian ones, but I couldn’t really tell the difference).

So, having survived this new experience, I’ll be back for more, even before our conference.

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Milos Golubovic, Mia Marzouk, Allan Leonard, and Ardiana Osmani at monument at Miners’ Hill, Mitrovica North. Mitrovica, Kosovo.

Transformation and Ongoing Conflict in Contemporary Belfast (BBC Radio Ulster)

20100131 Conflict Transformation - Sunday Sequence

Transformation and Ongoing Conflict in Contemporary Belfast
(BBC Radio Ulster)
31 January 2010

On 20 January, the Institute of Governance at Queen’s University Belfast hosted a workshop organised by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of St Andrew’s: “Transformation and Ongoing Conflict in Contemporary Belfast”.

These two themes — transformation and ongoing conflict — were explored among about half a dozen groups of 6-8 participants, during a morning session. Issues such as the definition of “transformation”, how it manifests itself and what our personal/professional experiences have been, does conflict still exist in Northern Ireland, and are we still a divided society.

Andrea Rea presented a concise piece of the workshop on BBC Radio Ulster programme, Sunday Sequence (hosted by William Crawley) (audio above). Interviewees included John Feenan (Community Foundation for Northern Ireland), Chris Brown (Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster), Audra Mitchell (Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies, University of St Andrews) (and her colleague, Mary-Catherine) and Allan Leonard (Northern Ireland Foundation).

Divided Cities conference

LEONARD AllanDivided Cities conference
By Allan Leonard for Forum for Cities in Transition
13 April 2009

I’ve arrived in Boston for a 3-day conference on divided cities, with delegates from Kirkuk (Iraq), Mitrovica (Kosovo/Serbia), Nicosia (Cyprus), Derry-Londonderry and Belfast (Northern Ireland). I had some responsibility in securing delegates from Nicosia, as well as Derry-Londonderry and Belfast.

The premise of the conference is that people from divided societies are the best people to help others in divided societies.

The Boston Irish Reporter described the organisation of the conference:

The conference is being convened by Padraig O’Malley, the John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies. In addition to dealing with issues such as race, ethnicity, religion, and political ideology, as well as the geographical flashpoints within each city where different sides clash, conferees will also discuss, in smaller groups, non-partisan topics such as electricity, water, and sewer systems and seemingly mundane topics, but topics about which O’Malley believes opposing parties can find common ground, and then work towards a greater understanding.

Ultimately, said O’Malley, the hope is that the representatives will agree to form a “club” of divided cities;annual meetings with each of the participating cities hosting the others on a rotating basis. For now, though, O’Malley just hopes to bring the group together, show them their common ground, and let the participants take it from there, including the setting of each day’s agenda.

“If they say, ‘Where’s the agenda?,’ my response will be ‘There is no agenda, because this conference is yours,” says O’Malley, “and you, as people from divided cities, have a far better idea of what you should be talking about to each other, than I do. This conference is yours, not ours. We are here to serve you, not to impose on you.”

The conference will end with a public panel discussion on Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at UMass Boston’s Campus Center, titled “Divided Cities: Common and Uncommon.”

The conference is being created through a partnership with the American Ireland Fund, with sponsorship from Robert and JoAnn Bendetson, the Connors Family Fund, the Doubletree Hotel Bayside, the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University, the John Joseph Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University, Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston, the University of Massachusetts system, the University of Massachusetts Boston, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and William Monroe Trotter Institute at UMass Boston.

I am pleased to say that the Northern Ireland delegation arrived safely. It was Derry City Council Deputy Mayor Maurice Devenney’s first trip to America, and the jet lag affected him promptly; Alderman Devenney retired early. For the rest of us who knew that the best way of beating east-west jetlag is to stay up as late as possible on the first night, we chatted over some refreshments.

Prof. O’Malley greeted all delegates at an evening reception, and some inter- and intra-group networking had already commenced. O’Malley explained how the next several days would work, and all took it in stride.

20090414 FCT Divided Cities poster