“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
– Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO
The recent report that the United Nations (UN) University for Peace (UPEACE) is set to berth in Enugu, with its first and only campus in Africa, is quite heartwarming and comes as a milestone in the global quest for peace, security, and just society. According to the report, the approval letter to that effect was presented to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi by Prof. Edmund Ugwu Agbo, who is the head of the Department of African Geo-politics, Geo-law and International Diplomacy, of the Europe campus of the university in Rome. He was accompanied by the visiting professor of the UN University for Peace, Prof. Stella Ifeoma Inya-Agha.
Although the significance of this heartwarming development is not lost on the continent, especially Nigerians, the academia and lovers of peace around the world, a recap of the history, mission and underlying principles behind the University of Peace would not only help in better appreciation of this gesture but also show the striking semblances between Enugu and Costa Rica, where the mother institution is domiciled.
Costa Rica abolished the death penalty way back in 1882. It is also one of the very few nations (23 in number) that have no standing military force, as she abolished her army in 1948. Costa Rica has offered asylum to victims of political persecution since 1865. Again, from 1907 up to 1918, the nation served as the seat of the Central American Court of Justice, the very first permanent international tribunal that allowed individuals to file legal action against states on international law and human rights issues.
Indeed it was that government of President Rodrigo Carazo that championed the creation of the university. On December 5, 1980, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 35/55, setting out the International Agreement for the Establishment of the University for Peace, with the charter of the university forming a fundamental part of the said agreement. Forty-one nations have signed on to the charter.
The university’s mission is to “provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace and with the aim of promoting, among all human beings, the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the charter of the United Nations.”
It is also founded on four cardinal principles, namely, that the persistence of war in the history of mankind and the growing threats against peace in recent decades jeopardise the very existence of the human race and make it imperative that peace should no longer be viewed as a negative concept, as the end of conflict or as a simple diplomatic compromise, but rather that it should be achieved and ensured through the most valuable and most effective resource that man possesses, education; and that peace is the primary and irrevocable obligation of a nation and the fundamental objective of the United Nations and is the reason for its existence. However, the best tool for achieving this supreme good for humankind, namely, education, has not been used. The third principle is that many nations and international organisations have attempted to attain peace through disarmament. However, while this effort must be continued, facts show that man should not be too optimistic as long as the human mind has not been imbued with the notion of peace from an early age. It is necessary to break the vicious circle of struggling for peace without an educational foundation. This being the challenge now facing mankind, all nations and all mankind, the decision must be made to save the human race, which is threatened by war, through education for peace. If education has been the instrument of science and technology, there is all the more reason to use it to achieve this primary right of the human being.
Meanwhile, as part of the continuing process of UN reform, former UN Secretary-General, the late Kofi Annan, introduced several measures from early 1999 to reform, reorganise, bolster and internationalise the University for Peace to better advance the UN mandate, notably, the objectives of peace and security.
Today, UPEACE has grown into an even more entrenched, relevant, and utilitarian institution with a well defined and innovative programme of education, training and research for peace directed at very critical issues of conflict-prevention, human rights, human security, post-conflict rehabilitation, and environmental security.
It is, therefore, a great leap and equally very significant for the university as it berths in Africa, a continent in dire need of knowledge, expertise, and human capital in these focal arrears of the university. It is equally significant that the university’s first African campus will be taking off in Enugu. Enugu State, under the current administration, has been consistently rated as one of the most peaceful and secure states in the country today. A UN University for Peace in a state renown for peace, security, and egalitarianism is like a round peg in a round hole. Enugu State has also always been a citadel of learning. These and the foresight of the facilitators must have influenced the state’s choice as the proud host of the UN university.
This is a clear acknowledgement of the pro-peace disposition of the state. It is a testimony to the repositioning of Enugu State over the past four years as a place of fair and equal opportunity for every willing citizen to make a living and create wealth, educate their children, and enjoy life in a peaceful and secure environment. It goes further to reaffirm the state’s rating by the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report as second in Ease of Starting Business and third in Ease of Doing Business.
With the many expected educational, social, and economic benefits accruing from the coming of this prestigious institution to Africa and nay Enugu soil, this is a major one for continent. With this in place, Africans will no longer need to travel to Central America or to the university’s Campus in Rome to access and obtain the quality education and world of opportunities offered by the UN University of Peace. What they sought in far-flung lands has been deposited on their laps. And as Shakira would sing, this is time for Africa, time to deepen the knowledge and expend the frontiers of peace on the continent on a platter of gold. And what better way can peace be constructed in the mind than through quality education such as advertised and advanced by UPEACE.
• Ekeoma writes from Lagos