Reflections on the 7th Annual Forum for Cities in Transition

Tripoli FCT 2016 at Stolat, Bulgaria
by Padraig O’Malley, FCT Director 

The 7th annual conference of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT) was held from 16th to 21st of October at Stone & Compass center, in Stolat, Bulgaria. the center was made available to the FCT by Stone and Compass co-founders Robert Goodwin and Julie Kiernan.  They were also the largest donors toward costs for hosting the October conference. 

On this plot, there are facilities that allowed us to host a conference for approximately 80 people, 60 of whom came from 15 cities, once divided by war (some where the conflict is frozen and others where the conflict rages on), yet divided on ethnic, national, religious or ideological lines, now in different stages of conflict transformation and transition to “normalcy.”

These cities were Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and Craigavon from Northern Ireland; Mitte (Berlin); Kaduna, Nigeria; Mostar, Sarajevo and Srebrenica, Bosnia~Herzegovina; Mitrovica, Kosovo; Tripoli, Lebanon; Haifa and Jerusalem (East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem), Israel; Ramallah, Palestine; Kirkuk and Baghdad, Iraq. We were also joined by Abdalaziz Alhamza and Hussam Eesa, co-founders of: Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered (RBSS).

The Tripoli FCT hosted the conference and the major focus was on a draft Roadmap for Reconciliation between the Alawite community (Jabal Mohsen) and Sunni community (Bab al Tabbaneh), which live on different sides of Syria St., Tripoli.

Tripoli is the second largest city in Lebanon after Beirut. A traditional stronghold of conservative Sunnis, Tripoli is the birthplace of Lebanon’s Salafists movement. However, it is also a stronghold of the Lebanese Alawites, with some 50,000 of them living in the city. In 1966, Alawites came to power in neighboring Syria, triggering a pattern of Sunni/Alawite and Syrian/Lebanese violence that caused great instability in both countries, with conflict in one place frequently bleeding into the other. The Syrian army occupied Lebanon from 1976 to 2005. The Tripoli neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh (Sunni) and Jabal Mohsen (Alawite) are emblematic of both the deep relationship and the divide between Syria and Lebanon. The two areas have always been divided by their ties to Syria, and were the focal point of the wider, brutal civil war in Lebanon that lasted from 1975 to 1990. During that war, the Alawites supported the Arab Democratic Party (ADP) and fought alongside the Syrian Army against the Sunni Islamist Tawhid Movement. Since 2011, when the civil war in Syria erupted between minority President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime and the Sunni rebels trying to overthrow him, there has been a flow of fighters from Tripoli to Syria pledging allegiance to on one side or the other, exacerbating tensions between the two communities and often spilling over into violent clashes. Although the fighting in Tripoli between Sunni and Alawite militants is related to the Syrian conflict, it also has local roots.

These clashes intensified in August 2013, when two Salafi-controlled mosques known for their opposition to Syria’s al-Assad were bombed and ADP members were accused of being involved. For many Lebanese fighters, joining the struggle against the ADP in Tripoli is a way to gain local legitimacy and to help the Syrian rebels in their own way. Salafists are more entrenched than ever; jihadist groups open on its fringes.

Despite the political divisions between the Alawites and the Sunni, the two communities have much in common — they both suffer from severe social problems including poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and sectarianism. These issues have provided the space for extremism to grow. The war in Syria has caused major instability in Lebanon, as a growing number of Syrian refugees (1.3 million), now accounting for over 20 percent of the population, has affected all aspects of Lebanese life, created cleavages or reopened old cleavages across the political terrain.

Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabel Mohsen are overwhelmed with poor refugees with meager means and few options. For a time, Tripoli was a transit point for refugees trying to make their way to Turkey and onward to Europe. But these routes are now closed. Lebanon still manages relative calm, despite the continuous escalation of violence in Syria and the increasing number of refugees. However, with tensions and weapons trafficking progressively increasing along the Lebanese-Syrian border, and increased security incidents, many fear that the situation in the country may take a turn for the worse.

Over half of Tripoli’s residents are classified as poor. At least 85 percent of Sunnis in Bab al-Tabbaneh and 69 percent of Alawites in Jabal Mohsen live in extreme deprivation. More than half of the youth is not enrolled in school or left after completing basic education (9th grade); about 11 percent drop out before finishing basic education.  At least 75 percent of adults do not have a high school diploma; 78 percent have no bank accounts; 80 percent of families have never been on a social outing, such as having a meal in a restaurant. Slums once inhabited by Lebanese poor are now flooded with Sunni Syrian refugees desperate to find work. 23 percent of the city’s populations live on less than $2.00 a day.

In the face of this dire poverty, many families have no income and researchers have found that:

 “Whenever the conflict starts, the fighters get paid. And these fighters also give money to children to fulfill specific tasks. They can have three dollars a day and this is better than going to school. Their parents also think this way.”

Government at the national level is paralyzed, Lebanon in the view of many authorities borders on being a failed state.

Hence the focus of this conference on the three most pressing challenges Tripoli faces:  Reconciliation between Alawites and Sunnis; the social/economic impact of migration/refugees on the polity and the instability it creates, heightening tensions between Alawite and Sunnis and the ever threat of an incident of seeming insignificance escalating into conflict; Political rivalries and faction infighting in Tripoli and dysfunctional governance at the national level, leave Tripoli’s self-perpetuating cycle of a freefall to fester and worsen thus contributing to the city’s continuing downward spiral.

Water or rather the looming threats of shortage of water, of long periods of drought throughout the entire Levant, a region most susceptible to the impacts of climate change according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is an issue of growing severity in Tripoli.  It has been scientifically established that sustained drought in rural Syria was one of causes leading to the outbreak of the civil war now entering its fifth year. Countries in the area are already rationing water. Unless cooperation is reached by all the stakeholders in the region, water shortages will cause future conflicts, conflicts that will engulf Lebanon, creating divisiveness among communities, triggering tensions and clashes in the neighborhoods of Tripoli, and emasculating whatever progress has been made reconciling Alawites and Sunnis.

The conference’s agenda can be accessed at here.

At the final plenary on 21st, ten cities, Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and Craigavon, Mitte, Kaduna, Mostar, Sarajevo and Srebrenica,  Mitrovica, Haifa and Jerusalem (East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem), and Ramallah, made specific commitments to assist the Tripoli FCT reach the next level on its Reconciliation Roadmap. It was also agreed to hold a mini FCT conference at Stolat in mid-March 2017 to assess compliance with commitments made and to follow with a visit to Tripoli to discuss its progress on the implementation of the recommendations the amended Roadmap calls on the Tripoli FCT to undertake.

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ForumCities 20161019 Stolat PA190649 ForumCities 20161020 Stolat PA200958


Small & big observations: 

Robert and Julie had converted a beautiful old barn, creaking with age and history, into a conference center that seated 60 FCT attendees and could also accommodate another 20 observers in the background. The barn had been insulated and every heater within a 20 mile radius purchased. The weather, however, was not cooperative. The temperature was at least 10 degrees colder than usual for this time of years. Of course this caused some discomfort, but there were no complaints. Indeed, some participants had us do warm up exercises and as we collectively engaged in all kind of gyrations amid much laughter and exhortations from the “warm up trainers” (obviously yoga enthusiasts who could bend and twist their bodies into all kinds of contortions and never drop a bead of sweat!), to jump to it and force our out of shape bodies into performing acts.

Cold feet created a sense of warm bonding and the goodwill generated as we pranced and danced lasted throughout the conference.  Delegates from our ménage of cities mixed freely, engaged in intense conversations at breakfast (yes, even breakfast at 7.30 am) every day at the Dan Kolov restaurant and hotel, where delicious home prepared food was served by a most welcoming staff, penetrating questions at the end of plenaries, more intense conversations during breakaways, lucid feedback and a resumption of multiple animated conversations at dinner.

The young delegation from Kaduna, literally bubbling over with enthusiasm and mirth, were on a continuous “hugging” expedition, but when it came to making their presentation they were all seriousness, each in turn drawing on months of preparation. More hugs were exchanged at Stolat than at any FCT conference – perhaps it was a way of keeping ourselves warm when the evenings turned cold.

On the 20th the weather finally broke, sunshine fell through the clouds, the forests winding their way up the surrounding mountains lit up in kaleidoscopic bursts of greenery. We frolicked on the grounds and held breakaway sessions on the grass, basking in the sliver of warmth.

The delegations from Baghdad and Kirkuk were subdued. Given the trails of blood and sudden death over the years by serial suicide bombers, savage sectarian killings, endemic internecine retributions and chronic displacement of people fleeing from one violent ridden place to the next, they found it difficult to express more than a glimmer of hope for the future.  Adding to their sense of foreboding, Sheikh Abdallah Sami Al-Assi, a presence over the years at previous conferences was assassinated in July 2013.

Nevertheless, when it appeared that the battle to retake Mosul was about to begin they hurriedly left, the Kirkukians to get home before the air route between Istanbul and Erbil was closed. They believed that as the Peshmerga were moved from Kirkuk to the front line, ISIS would to try a counter maneuver and take advantage of the vacuum to attack Kirkuk. Turns out they were right. Turns out, too, that this possibility never crossed the minds of Iraq’s army commanders and their American advisers at the front line, making us wonder how well planned the operation to drive ISIS out of Mosul was.

But their departure was a sanguine reminder to us that among many of the cities in the FCT, violence continues in one form or another and despite flowery speechifying and the promulgation of facile promises, reconciliation is still more of a buzzword than an actuality. It reminded us, too, that we have much to do and that maintaining the FCT as a home where conflicted cities can find space for recovery is a lifetime’s task, and that we have a lot to do to strengthen the FCT so that we can rise to the challenges.

Undoubtedly, the presentation by Abdalaziz Alhamza and Hussam Eesa, the young Syrian co-founders of RBSS was the highlight of the conference because of the inspirational drive it brought to our proceedings.

Their videos and stories showed us the horrors that the people of Raqqa have to endure on a daily basis under Islamic State rule – the savagery and barbaric actions of a cult masquerading as true Islam and the lengths to which ISIS goes to silence those who dare expose its heinous crimes.

Their courage in the ever facing threat of death, ingenuity in spreading their message in Raqqa with underground publications and activities, the proliferation of videos snuck out of Syria that shock us into disbelief with their content and their willingness to sacrifice their lives, left us to reflect on the meaning of commitment.

They spoke and interacted with all of us, the epitome of calm conviction having already reconciled themselves to the fact that what they do may in all likelihood cost them their lives, as it had already devoured the lives of their friends. They taught us that there is nothing we cannot do if we are prepared to make absolute commitments to the beliefs we profess to treasure.

They raised our level of understanding and made us question our commitment to our own values.  They were humble, devoid of any sense of pretense or celebrity, almost embarrassed by the cascades of praises they have been engulfed in. In many conversations that ensued, they forced us to examine the moral underpinnings of the conflicts in our member cities.

Their witnessing cauterized the futility of the violence that consumed our member cities; they reminded us that violence yields nothing but suffering, pain, hatred of the other and a false sense of the moral superiority of our respective causes.

All ideologies dispossess our humanity, but every ideologue possesses humanity and we cannot reconcile with each other unless we search for the humanity in the ideologue.

“All we want is freedom in our country,” they told us. A sentence resonant with simplicity, but with profound implications.

We left Stolat (more hugs) reminding ourselves of our commitments to assist Tripoli before the 2017 conference in late July.  If we take our inspiration from FCT 2016, we will succeed.

Our effusive “thank you’s” to: Ivan Vasilev of the Balkan Heritage Foundation; Emilian Kerchev, Hristo Panov and the entire Stone & Compass team at Stolat; to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for assistance in processing visas and its patience; to all who came and all who were unable to make it.


Colombia’s peace agreement: Is it sustainable?

Colombia’s peace agreement: Is it sustainable?
by Padraig O’MALLEY for Forum for Cities in Transition
26 September 2016

Today, September 26, 2016, Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and FARC leader Timochenko, nom de guerre for Rodrigo Londono Echeverri, signed an agreement ending almost 50 years of civil war, using a pen made from a recycled shell used in combat; the said pen supposedly will symbolize the end of violence, closure to the conflict and the dawn of a new era in Colombia. Read more

Srebrenica remembered

O'MALLEY PadraigSrebrenica remembered
by Professor Padraig O’MALLEY for Forum for Cities in Transition
15 July 2015

Over the weekend ceremonies were held in Srebrenica to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Over 8,000 Bosniaks — Muslim men and boys — were mass murdered by the Serb Bosnian army. Srebrenica was a UN designate safe haven. Thousands had taken refuge in a dilapidated building adjacent on the outskirts of the town, ostensibly under the protection of UN Dutch peacekeepers. But the “peacekeepers” failed abysmally in their responsibilities, not just as peacekeepers but as human beings. After brief argumentation with Serb commanders they handed over the herded people, lambs to the slaughter. Read more

FCT 2014 speech by FCT Director, Professor Padraig O’Malley

FCT 2014 speech by FCT Director, Professor Padraig O’Malley
Forum for Cities in Transition 5th annual gathering, Belfast, Northern Ireland
27 October 2014

Dear Delegates,

On behalf of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT) your presence here in Belfast gives us great pleasure and we extend a warm and gracious welcome to you. Many of you had to deal with the bureaucratic travails of the Ebola crisis, and more stringent restrictions on visa applications, as a result of the global war on ISIS. We live in a time when fear often trumps reason, and all the delegates who had visas approved for the Derry~ Londonderry conference in 2012 were denied visas to the UK in 2014 for mysterious reasons that defy explanation and fall into a black hole of the inexplicable. As a result some of our most consistent attendees will not be with us, almost all Muslims – and there is no reason for me to spell out the reason why –but all express, along with their disappointment, their hopes for a successful conference and remain committed to the FCT.

The war on terror is a matter we should all take with the utmost seriousness. As part of a community of nations we must muster the strength, the profound sense of purpose and the moral stamina that is required to overcome the self described Islamic State, which uses savage brutality to trample on the tenets of a great religion whose principles it professes to uphold, displaying through social media outlet the heads of decapitated men as symbols of a new order. It is the incarnation of evil, an abomination of indescribable proportions. For some of our cities in this room that evil is at their doorstep and we must make common cause with them.

We have an opportunity to make our own stand in the face of that war and give expression to our solidarity with these cities by adhering to, and putting into action the mandate of the Call to Action, which scores of you have signed over the last five years. The Call to Action affirms your commitment to promoting human rights, the sanctity of life that throbs in the heartbeats of every human being – and your dedication to understanding and learning from each other by sharing the trials and tribulations you encounter as you make the long and arduous journey in your transitions from conflict through dialogue, holding firm to the belief that you can achieve together what you cannot achieve alone.

Belfast was consumed with endemic violence for thirty years. Yet, it has emerged, the vibrant capital of Northern Ireland, resilient and thriving, pulsating with energy, attracting inward investment, more companies from abroad doing business here, more jobs, more opportunities – – all possible because the once- upon- a time protagonists now make common cause in fostering reconciliation and providing the public space for collective healing and recovery in the full knowledge that if they forget where they once were they will can easily slip back to the abyss of a cataclysmic implosion once again.

Which is why we put such emphasis at every conference on the modalities of the Northern Ireland Peace Process (NIPP) because it provides an extraordinary example of what can be achieved when the guns fall silent.

Not that it is without flaws or that it resulted in perfect agreements, not that on occasion it takes a step backwards and stumbles, but such fluctuating political gyrations are part of the transition process itself, and communities on both sides of the divide continue to work through their problems, difficult as they are, because there is a commitment on the part of all that “never again” means just that, “never again.”

In the coming days you will have ample opportunities to question and dissect every aspect of the NIPP and to judge for yourself whether it is succeeding in its vision to create a common future for all the citizens of Belfast, or whether it is falling short; whether you have something to learn from it; whether you have suggestions that might improve its efficacy or whether the reconciliation it professes to have achieved has been translated into reconciliation at the grass roots.

But learning and sharing is not enough. The Call for Action emphasizes action, which is why cities participating in each year’s annual conference are reminded that the FCT only works if the conferees carry out the commitments they make at the close of the previous year’s conference.

All conferences we have held to date, in Boston in 2009, Mitrovice in 2010, Derry -Londonderry in 2011, Kirkuk in 2012 and Kaduna in 2013 are interlinked, an organic whole, part of an ongoing process, not stand- alone events. But unless member cities meet their commitments – and I stress this at every conference – and I must say some of my colleagues would rather that I not repeat it – the FCT is a failure.

Meeting those commitments is proof that the FCT is a living process, one that is dynamic and ongoing, not a once in- a- lifetime experience.

The Belfast Forum has put together a program that reflects the extraordinary lengths it has gone to in order to ensure a feast for dialogue. Much of the program reflects the unique attributes of Belfast as the epicenter of the conflict in Northern Ireland, a conflict that brought death to thousands, suffering to all, pain that continues to cripple, and many grievances that still linger.

It has successfully surmounted some of its problems; others remain contentious. It will share with you its narrative of the past, where it now is, what issues are presently particularly difficult ones to resolve, and how it is trying to resolve them.

You will see that Belfast has achieved an awful lot during the different stages of a transition now in its fourteenth year, but you will also see that like all transitions much still needs to be done.

True reconciliation – that is reconciliation that is generational – is not miraculously achieved in a decade or two. Healing the divisions of the past takes courage, the investment of enormous amounts of time and effort, a commitment on all sides that without that effort the future you leave your children and your children’s children will continue to be divisive and stunt their growth and your city’s future. Reconciliation must be nurtured on a continuing basis.

The truth, Oscar Wilde, one of Ireland’s most illustrious writers, is rarely pure and never simple. The quest for truth must be balanced against demands for justice – a very difficult balance on which to achieve consensus, but ultimately the key to unlocking the door to real reconciliation.

Together your collective wisdom can help Belfast, and Belfast, in return, can help you achieve the level of transition that Belfast now enjoys.

You are in for an unforgettable experience, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Belfast Forum which extended itself in every direction possible, worked relentlessly, squeezed money out of the most unlikely sources, and brought imagination and creativity to its efforts to create a four day extravaganza enveloped in a searing account of what is euphemistically called “The Troubles.”

It will share with you how it is going about the process of healing, of making whole a city once divided by ethnic and religious in a conflict once called intractable.

It is for you, sister cities in the FCT, to listen, question, learn, cooperate and work together. The FCT is, after all, your forum and it is up to all cities to meet the obligations active membership entails.

Finally, let me say this: If the participating cities do not follow through on the commitments they make, the conference becomes a chattering box – much said, great ideas exchanged, some friendships made, great site visits, some fun, shopping and sightseeing and then home, and on to the next conference.

The FCT/ Belfast Forum had to raise over $300, 000 to make this conference possible and it cannot afford to give you, its member cities, a free ride. You must keep your end of the bargain. You have an obligation to be accountable.

On this we can work together because there is no way forward unless we see ourselves as a family of cities committed to a common endeavor, unless you – delegates from the 14 cities gathered here assume full ownership of the Forum.

Padraig O’Malley
FCT Director

A friend remembers Nelson Mandela (Prof. Padraig O’Malley)

Nelson Mandela and Padraig O'Malley
Nelson Mandela and Padraig O’Malley, April 14, 1994, SABC studios, Johannesburg; following the Mandela and de Klerk presidential candidates event

A friend remembers Nelson Mandela (Professor Padraig O’Malley)
Here & Now (WBUR)
13 December 2013

Padraig O’Malley spent more than 10 years tracking South Africa’s transition to democracy, working with whites and blacks, including the man who would eventually become the nation’s first democratically-elected president: Nelson Mandela.

Ahead of Mandela’s funeral on Sunday, O’Malley joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to a reflect on a man who brought people of very different perspectives together.

O’Malley also does this kind of work, trying to bring Sunnis and Shiites together in Iraq, and Protestants and Catholics together in Northern Ireland, though his organisation, The Forum for Cities in Transition.



Nelson Mandela will be buried this weekend in home village of Qunu in South Africa. And much has been said over the past week about him, but we want to talk now about the influence he had on bringing people together far from South Africa. Padraig O’Malley is the Moakley professor of peace and reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. He brought Protestants and Catholics from Northern Island to South Africa to meet Mandela. He’s also worked to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. And he’s with us in the studio. Padraig, welcome.


HOBSON: Well, let’s talk about the magic that Mandela had when it came to bringing people together. What do you think that was?

O’MALLEY: Well, I can speak specifically to Northern Island. In a general sense, he brought people together from the very moment he left jail and became a free man, because he put the entire emphasis of his negotiations with the Afrikaners and the white people on alleviating their fears. And he instructed his negotiators to identify their fears and to put together a package that would address each of the fears. So he was always conscious that if there was to be a successful South Africa, you had to have blacks and whites working together.

HOBSON: Fears about the other side?

O’MALLEY: Oh, yes. When jus before Mandela was released – I mean, you know, in South Africa at that time – and the fear among white people is what made them crazy. They thought that blacks where going to kind of start invading their homes and start kind of kicking them out of their houses. And the rumors are bizarre the very least.

HOBSON: Yeah. So he identified the fears and then tried to figure out how to alleviate those fears?

O’MALLEY: Yes. And, of course, the seminal moment of that was when he went to the World Cup rugby final in Cape Town and the Springboks rugby team of South Africa, who’s just been barred from sports for a long time. But it was the symbol of white’s supremacy. And it was playing Australia in the finals. Mandela walked on to the pitch before the match, wearing a Springbok jersey and shook each of the hands of the team. And the stadium, which was mostly white people, just lift up in a huge roar. And after South Africa won in the dying moment of the game, he again came down on to the field, and the players practically embraced him, and he held up the cup. And he holding up that cup wearing the jersey with the cup, that was the symbolic moment that brought all of South Africa together.

HOBSON: Is there any place in the world that you look now and say, these two sides that disagree will never be able to go together.

O’MALLEY: Syria is a pretty good example, but you’re now talking about two sides. I’m talking about, God knows, how many sides. And what Senator Mitchell used to say, conflicts are started by human beings. They will be ended by human beings.

You know, in the case of Ireland – and you could say that the colonization of Ireland and the opposition to it began in 1640. It took nearly 400 years before that conflict was over. That conflict faded out every century. It wasn’t something that just died down.

HOBSON: But what is it that finally gets rid of it? Is it that the people who really have the strongest hatred for the other side die off? Their children don’t have quite as much animosity anymore?

O’MALLEY: Well, let me, you know, again, Northern Ireland case. In at different points in time, the IRA came to understand that they could never defeat the British army. But they could continue what they were doing, but they would never defeat them. And at about the same time, the British army had come to the conclusion that they could always contain the IRA, but they could never beat them. So you had two sides who understood they couldn’t beat each other.

HOBSON: Couldn’t win, yeah.

O’MALLEY: And it was in that mutual understanding and was communicated to each and was allowed to calculate and be thought about, and that the basis of a peace process began to be laid.

HOBSON: I don’t want to compare this to these events that we’re talking about, really, but when you look at the inability of two sides to come together in Washington, they can’t beat each other. It’s divided government right now. But they don’t seem very willing to work together on almost anything.

O’MALLEY: They don’t seem very willing to work together right now. But when – 20 years from now, when you look back at the history of this period, it would simply be a blip in time. And two parties were so divided that they could not work together in a particular congress or maybe even two congresses in a row, it was certainly not going to be something that is permanent.

HOBSON: That’s very hopeful of you.

O’MALLEY: I have to be.

HOBSON: What do you think will get them to overcome their differences?

O’MALLEY: Again, the people will speak. The people will realize the business of government. I mean, 55 laws were passed this year by Congress. That’s the lowest ever in the history of the country. And at some point, the people themselves will say enough is enough, and they will speak at the ballot box. That’s where the change will happen – at the ballot box.

HOBSON: Now that Nelson Mandela has passed away, if you were trying to bring two sides somewhere to give them inspiration, to resolve their differences, who would you go to? Who’s the new Mandela?

O’MALLEY: I wouldn’t go to a Mandela first. I would go to the parties first. And I would stand as I did in Northern Ireland, spend decades getting to know the leaders in the parties and to gaining their trust. I don’t think there is any inspirational figure today that, in any way, measures up to the unique qualities that Mandela had.

HOBSON: What is the memory that you will be left with, a personal interaction that you had with Nelson Mandela?

O’MALLEY: After I had interviewed him for about a couple of hours in connection with my documentation of the transition, he handed me the introduction he had done for my book on Maharaj, another icon of the struggle. And I had expected to get two pages from him, and he had written 15,000 words.


O’MALLEY: And I said wow.

HOBSON: A lot more than two pages.

O’MALLEY: And it was his, again, that air of, you know, when somebody has charisma, they walk into a room and the shape of the room changes before they open their mouths.

HOBSON: That was him.

O’MALLEY: Mandela was him.

HOBSON: Padraig O’Malley is the Moakley professor of peace and reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Padraig, thanks so much for coming in.

O’MALLEY: Thank you. Was a pleasure.

HOBSON: And you’re listening to HERE AND NOW.

Notes for Ramaphosa eulogy to Mandela (Prof. Padraig O’Malley)

FCT 20131207 Notes Ramaphosa Mandela

Notes for Ramaphosa eulogy to Mandela
by Professor Padraig O’Malley
7 December 2013

Cyril Ramaphosa, who will succeed Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa was Master of Ceremonies and a speaker at this morning’s National Memorial Service for Madiba at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

Cyril asked me to prepare a few sentences he might include in his eulogy. Here are the remarks I prepared — most of which he used.

I feel so privileged

For Cyril
7 Dec 2013
From Padraig

We gather on this sad & solemn, yet celebratory day, not to sing Madiba’s praises, not to recite his accomplishments which are too many to enumerate; not to extol him for the statesmanship he brought to the global stage, not to bless him for leading all South Africans to freedom, but to reflect on the life of a man whose inner concept of self encapsulated the essence of a moral life – a life that transcended the fault lines of our humanity, a life that took under its care the millions of South Africans, oppressed by apartheid and took their pain, their humiliations & the dignity there they were stripped of & made them his own.

And with the weight of that burden on his shoulders, he brought us home so that we all –Black, White, Indian, Colored and Afrikaner could embark on the journey to reconcile with each other, to forgive transgressions, bury hatred with mercy, to step into his foot prints & begin the task of a long & arduous odyssey to become whole, to become a nation that speaks in many tongues but one voice that melds into a chorus of unity.

He was our teacher, our mentor, not haranguing us for our failures but acknowledging that despite the rage & resentments that sometimes engulfed us, we are all frail & vulnerable & can only succeed if we reach out to each other & join our hands in service to the ideals he inspired us to reach for; in service to the nation we are building where the virtues he exemplified — respect for each other, no matter what our differences; tolerance of others, no matter how racist they may be; compassion for the weak & poor; perseverance, above all perseverance, in the face of adversity; fortitude in the face of fear; forgiveness in the face of humiliation, and humility in the knowledge that we are all equal — & that we will fail only if we allow the false gods of greed & avarice to bring us to our knees; that to be one with one another we have to be at one with ourselves; that serenity in the face of provocation heals us.

In a life during which he endured much personal pain & loss with stoicism Madiba drew on reserves of solitude to make a stronghold for the mind; he forged a will outside the makeshifts of human society. He was often alone, but never lonely. He mourned for others, but never for himself.

Madiba’s moral being epitomized the principle that gave him the strength of will, the iron cast commitment to social justice; the steel-tempered character that at once shielded him from the indignities he was subjugated to by those who treated Black people as an inferior species. He understood that all that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

He faced evil; he tamed it and endowed the country he loved so much, for which he sacrificed a lifetime with the gift of empathy. The truth, we are told, is rarely pure & never simple. He took us down the path of truth & made us face ourselves, a task that was often ugly & loathsome, but a task that was necessary if we were to heal ourselves & move forward.

In the streets of Soweto on the night he died, youngsters & oldsters, children & their parents celebrated with dance & song & joy: the father of the nation had died; his job was done; time for Madiba to rest in eternal peace in the embrace of all South Africans who fought the struggle & died for our freedom; time for us to pick up our shovels & build the South Africa he knows we are capable of building. Brick upon brick until we the edifice is complete & he can look down & smile that mischievous smile will linger with us all our lives.

Mandela spent a day with us

Roelf Meyer, Padraig O'Malley and Cyril Ramaphosa
Roelf Meyer, Padraig O’Malley and Cyril Ramaphosa

Mandela spent a day with us
by Professor Padraig O’Malley
6 December 2013

MANDELA — In the coming days, there will be an outpouring of loss and thousands of tributes from every corner of the globe in memory of a man who touched all our lives in one way or another.

I was among the few fortunate who had the opportunity to work with “Madiba,“ as he was known affectionately to all South Africans, on a project associated with Northern Ireland (NI). The University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) – more specifically its MCormack School – and Mandela collaborated to help the 16 leading negotiators from the major parties in Northern Ireland (NI) who were trying to trash out a peace agreement but had gotten bogged down in recriminations and the usual blame game finger pointing for the impasse. These negotiators included Peter Robinson, now NI’s First minister and Martin McGuinness, deputy First Minister.

Having worked in NI for decades and having had the privilege to track the negotiations in South Africa as they were occurring, which led to the historic 1994 agreement abolishing apartheid in all its ugly forms and giving the voting franchise to millions of Black South Africans, I was convinced that the NI negotiators could learn a lot from their South African (SA) counterparts.

In 1993 UMB’s joint Commencement speakers were Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s chief negotiator and Roelf Meyer, chief negotiator for the ruling “whites” National Party, both of whom also received honorary of law degrees. Now, in early 1997, after a flood of back and forths, Mandela dispatched Ramaphosa and Meyer to Belfast to access the situation. On receiving their report Mandela agreed that he would co-host a conference with the McCormack School bringing together the 16 leaders I have mentioned with the key negotiators from all the parties in South Africa who had been integral to reaching SA’s peace agreement. Mandela, however, had one stipulation: each of the NI attendees had to write to him and personally ask for his assistance. Getting these letters was left to yours truly. Not too easy! Mandela then agreed to convene a conference with McCormack in Arniston, a remote secured military base a few hundred miles west of Cape Town.
That conference took place in July 1997 – four days of intense discussions among the Northern Irish themselves and between both and their South Africans counterparts.

Mandela spent the better part of a day with us.

When he arrived, it fell to me to tell him that Peter Robinson’s delegation would not sit in the same room with Sinn Fein present to hear him speak, so, he would have to have two conversations, not one. Mandela smiled, and laughingly said. “A little bit of apartheid!”

As it turned out, the arrangements were serendipitous. Mandela told the IRA/Sinn Fein delegation in his best school admonishing tones that unless the IRA declared a ceasefire, Sinn Fein would never find a place at the negotiating table. In his conversation with Peter Robinson’s delegation he was as equally blunt. Robinson’s party had two demands: the IRA had to declare a ceasefire and decommission (destroy) its armory of weapons. Wrong approach, Mandela told them: If they really wanted Sinn Fein at the negotiating table, they should decouple the issues: ask for a ceasefire now and make the decommissioning of arms a matter that would be addressed during formal negotiations.

And that is just the way the process in NI unfolded, leading to the Good Friday Agreement a year later. When the agreement was announced all the major players parties in Northern Ireland went out of their way to deliver a special tribute to Mandela for the role South Africans had played at a critical point.

At the McCormack School we are experiencing the same sense of loss as millions the world over. But we feel it a little more deeply. Few institutions can say they co-convened a conference with Madiba. It was our finest moment.