Peace building in Ethiopian Public Universities (Sustained Dialogue) Project

Peace and Development Center/PDC/ in collaboration with Life and Peace Institute/LPI/ has implemented Sustained Dialogue Project in Ethiopian Universities since 2009. The project was first started in 2009 in Addis Ababa University and expanded to Haramaya and Jimma Universities in 2013 and 2014, respectively. With the support secured from USAID, the projected has been expanded to three more universities namely Ambo and Bahir Dar Universities as well as university of Gondar since 2017. Currently the project embraced Ambo, Bahir Dar, Jimma, and Haramaya Universities and University of Gondar.

The goal of the project is to enhance intergroup positive relationships by promoting a culture of trust and collaboration among diverse identity lines in University campuses through a year-long dialogue process. Since its inception, the project brought together thousands of university students from diverse identity lines and created them a safer space to dialogue on identity based issues that roughen intergroup relations on campuses. So, in addition to changing the dialogue participants’ attitudes and perceptions towards other identity lines, the project seeks to position key young men and women in the university campuses to have a catalytic multiplier effect on more people in and off campus. Best practices and success stories are expected to be evaluated, tailored and disseminated to the wider community.

PDC believing the different approaches to conflict is required and informed by several interventions and its effectiveness, experiences and research outputs of similar situations and based on the knowledge on the literatures published on peace building and development, both found the SD is the right and initial or first level of intervention that one need to be engaged in for the like of the country of people or society deeply divided with long history mired with violence and conflicts such as Ethiopia- a case that has been exhibiting the same or similar situations.

The different approach to conflict appealed to PDC and that formed the basis and aspect of their partnership demanded Sustained Dialogue. It is in that and because Sustained Dialogue – an interactive process designed to change conflictual relationships over time – is different from the usual public – policy discussions and from formal mediations and negotiations. First, it focuses on the dynamics of the underlying relationships that cause divisive problems, not just on the problems. Second, it focuses on changing those relationships, not just on choosing a policy direction or on dividing material goods or power in dispute through formal mediation or negotiation. It is designed for groups, communities and organizations in deep-rooted human conflict or tension whatever the cause-ethnic, racial, religious, historic, material or personal.

Moreover, more than appealing; another elaborate definition, concept and processes, implementation, and the goal and outcomes that SD seeks to achieve are well aligned with the mission, purpose, goals and the level of interventions that both PDC and LPI can and wishes to achieve in Ethiopia and its violence and conflict contexts in that SD1 is more structured than a good conversation or study group discussion and less structured than a mediation or negotiation. It perseveres over time. It has purpose and destination and the possibility of generating power to accomplish goals. Its purpose is to provide an experience in changing relationships within the dialogue group. Its destination is to design a plan for changing relationships in the larger community. It can produce a shared sense of what kind of community or country current antagonists would like to build together to serve the interests of each.

The SD projects knowledgably, skillfully and professionally stick to the five-stages of SD processes outlined, with some rooms of flexibilities to project sites, contexts, settings that promote effective and efficient implementation of respective projects. The rooms of flexibilities also tried to accommodate progressive tasks, both practical and psychological, that each stage represents and the many faces of challenges that each stage may pose. Hence, the five-stages of the SD processes were carefully and flexibly applied with respective projects of different campuses that marked university community and diversity, scoping study and validation workshops to identify the causes of violence and conflicts and area of intervention, additional activities, different planning and implementation, different monitoring and evaluation design, tools, techniques and implementations and learning practices etc which in fact also different outcomes and effects.
Performed Activities
1. Scoping Study and Validation Workshops in the Universities
As part of the respective annual plan for SD projects in five different universities in different regions of Ethiopian, scoping study and validation workshops had been conducted for the following purposes after the five universities had been selected because these universities have been experiencing much political and ethnic violence and conflicts and the SD inventions have been found to be appropriate. Thus, the scoping study and validation workshops conducted in these five universities served the following purposes:
• Exploring the appropriate area, method and level of interventions with respect of each university which understands, identifies and acts on the pressing issues that have negative impacts and SD processes that takes in to consideration the selection effects and process effects which make the project in each more efficient and effective.
• To assess the quality and creditability of the scoping study by presenting the methodology used, data collected and their sources, the limitation and output of the scoping study to all respective audiences and participants that allow open space, discussion and consensus for validation so that comprehensive, relevant and appropriate intervention strategies are designed.
The major findings and outcomes of the scoping study and validation workshops in each university are:
• The ethnic, religious, linguistic, socio-cultural and socio-economic differences among the students led to the disharmonious relationships at Haramaya, Jimma Ambo universities.
• Religious and ethnic tensions have been identified as the two major pressing issues which causes tensions and disharmonies inter-group interactions in the University of Gondar and Bahir Dar University.
• The validation workshops at all universities have also offered an opportunity to enriching the research with important comments, recommendations and suggestions from the participants, and create a sense of ownership on the minds of the universities communities which is critical for the effectiveness of the project.
• Motivational and peace promoting speeches and personal experiences by distinguished participants.
2. Campus Awareness Campaign in the Universities
Much effort had been put in place for the participation on Sustained Dialogue processes to have had much significant effects on the participants which in turn will have larger and wider effects on those parts of the communities and the society in the country. One of the initial ways to ensure the SD projects are effective and successful are to work meticulously on target areas, identification and assignment of well diversified and large number of participants to the treatment of SD projects so that the impact effect that SD projects intended to produce are not suffered from selection bias or selection effects (that a project attracts only certain type of people) and process effects (that projects have an effect on people). In our case, one of the initial steps to ensure successful SD projects is creating well organized campus awareness campaign programs using of diversified media platforms impactful enough to communicate audiences and to act on them.
Thus, the campus awareness campaign programs in five universities in general and in particular serve the following purposes:
• In general, to attract, select, and appoint people (the university community) of the same and different natural division, background and natural division, political position or ideology and orientation-emphasizing the right mix of participants for the purpose – particularly on the basis of ethnic, religion, sex, place of birth and batch which can play an important role in shaping and organizing the whole process of SD and the SD family effectiveness and performance.
• Different campaigns at different times were conducted in all universities to make aware and attract participants to SD from the senior and first year students and to introduce SD to the whole university community.
Provided all much effort expended in five universities in the campuses awareness campaign, several thousands of people signed up or registered for the program in each universities.
3. Selection of Sustained Dialogue Participants
3.1. Selection of Sustained Dialogue Participants
Selection of SD participant was one of the major prior activities of the project. The selection process is the first step towards choosing the willing, diverse, competitive, committed and strong, respected and listened to, and those who have permission to engage in dialogue members for the project. The selection process involves a systematic procedure from sourcing the diverse nature of participants to arranging and placing those to different groups.
The selection process begins with by distributing and receiving several thousands of filled participants’ application forms. Several thousands of male and female students applied for participation with, in all, a significantly higher number of male students applied for participation than female students.
While selecting the participants, the Peace Project Officers, moderators and facilitators tried to diversify the pool of selected participants. The selected participants were placed into SD groups.
3.2. Selection of Sustained Dialogue Moderators and Facilitators
Moderators Selection is the process of picking students out of the pool of members of the SD project with requisite qualifications and competence. Moderators’ selection in the SD project is crucial for at least, one reason; The SD group performance depends on Moderators’. The best way to look performance of a group dialogue sessions is to select moderators who have the competence and the willingness to work with diversity intolerance. Arguing from the participants’ viewpoint, poor or inappropriate choice of moderators can de-motivate the rest of the group. Effective selection of Moderators, therefore, assumes greater relevance to the achievement of groups.
Basing this important element of the project, the moderators’ selection roles had been given to the leaders of the Peace Forums, reputed moderators and facilitators promptly supported by the Peace Project Officer of the PDC. It was ensured that such roles of selections are carefully provided in which all must strictly work in lines with set of criterion defined and the principles, rules, regulations, outlined by PDC with minor provisions to the contexts. To identify more qualified potential candidates with unique abilities and characters for the job, interviews sessions were also held in which PDC Peace Project Officers and SD leaders took leading roles.
The selection processes also took diversity along with other factors stated above which considered the potential candidates’ background based on their religion, ethnicity, and departments via academic batches.
3.3. Selection of Sustained Dialogue Opinion Leaders
As one of the major agents of change in the campuses who also has a massive authority and followers in their own specific groupings, opinion leaders are considered as an important element of the SD process. As a result, even though the issue is highly sensitive and they are sometimes hard to reach, and bringing them in SD groups was one of the tasks of the implementing body – PDC. To that effect, a guideline on the selection criteria, the minimum number of opinion leaders to be selected at each university, and methods of selecting and bringing them on board has been developed by PDC and shared to partners. Thus, using the guideline as parameter, opinion leaders had been selected and joined the SD groups.
4. Trainings, Workshops and Support
4.1. Moderators Trainings
Every year around 100 SD moderators should be trained in each university. The trainees were comprised from different backgrounds of ethnic, religion, gender, region, department and batch of the University students. It always keeps equal percentage of female and male. The SD moderator’s role is to maintain the focus of the dialogue in line with the SD principle and goal. The moderator’s role is to guide and stimulate the discussion. He or she facilitates the discussion using a SD principle with all the questions and exercises to guide and ensure equal individual input as well as group discussion. The moderator should create an open and safe environment so people feel encouraged and free to speak up and be actively involved in the discussion. The moderator can be imagined as a father and a mother of the family the competent moderators should have to fulfill these roles and these roles couldn’t get unless the training has been given. Therefore, it is crucial to give them a serious training on how they will behave and live with the whole quality of a good moderator.
During the whole process of SD, the moderators expected to understand what participants really think of a certain subject. Therefore, the information a moderator collects should be framed in the participants’ own language, culture, concepts and understanding of the world. It is important to minimize the influence of the moderators own views and understandings of the world. In the training, the moderators were trained to:
• View conflict as a normal, natural part of life.
• Understand that conflict can be regarded as positive, because it offers opportunities for growth and development.
• Encourage participants who are in diversity intolerance to voluntarily come for dialogue.
• Provide an opportunity for each participant involved in a specific conflict to tell their side of the story or life experience.
• Not offer their own suggestions for on how the intolerance should be solved, but instead to help participant to understand each other.
• Give each participant a chance to tell his/her identity.
• View group participants point of idea from both sides.
• Understand the issue at hand and the SD
• Keep the dialogue of the participant confidential.
Throughout the training and the practice, the moderators were capacitated to develop listening, understanding and respecting each other and problem solving skills. These skills would be very important to moderators not only while they are at facilitation of their group, but also in the campus and life time in general.
The following topics and concepts usually covered during the SD moderators training.
• How to identify the essential identity map to create a safe and mutual understanding of difference.
• Making sense of conflict and some of the possible definition of conflict the cause Vs consequence of conflict and its nature with its approach has been discussed.
• Conflict analysis methods: But way, Force field and conflict tree/ methods.
• Response to conflict
• Dialogue as a conflict management tools. The essence, definition and the difference with other means of communication like debate and discussion
• The essential elements Sustained dialogue, the important assumption, the five important stages: Who, What, Why, How and the Now of the SDD and the SD agenda with how it will be conducted has been discussed.
• The roles of SD leaders, facilitators, moderators and participants at different stages of the SD
4.2. Leadership Training
The objective of leadership training was to enhance students’ leadership skills of SD project. Every academic year SD leaders take a three days training to enhance their leadership skill of the SD project.
5. Dialogue Kick-Offs in the Universities
PDC tailored approach for planning and implementing Sustained Dialogue projects includes one of the most important and major activity is a Kick-Offs – activity which is an events marked an official day of starting the yearlong dialogue sessions.
In that Kick-Off at each respective university campus set a ground for successful SD projects for the project year to come and beyond and as such, by setting a starting point in which the year-long dialogue sessions begin and the project years that followed, it is time, may be the first time, that moderators and SD participants get an opportunity introduce each other and themselves and plan for the SD processes, sessions and interactions. The kick-Offs are designed, planned and implemented primarily in ways that they created a lasting impressions and memories that promote active participation in the SD projects life span and its wider impacts in building a civic society.
Usually in the Kick-Off events there is an outside field trips, role plays and dramas, tree planting and other activities performed. During the trip to the destinations, SD members were set to an icebreaker activity named: “Know Your Neighbor” which helped each member to know the other member sat next to him/her so that each opening up for interaction. Observantly “Know Your Neighbor” set more relaxed tone and gesture among members during the trip also resulted in they celebrated their arrival to the destination and again the SD inauguration that each holding hand in hand making circle singing and dancing together continuing until a role play produced and performed by Theatrical Art students.
The role play produced and performed by Theatrical Art students informed of the starting concepts of SD from PDC, artfully highlighted the nature, goal and processes of SD and that each member can contribute and the level of participation and impact they could create – an otherwise concepts and messages harder and more difficult to transmit to and for new members to internalize in a given time period- by asking audiences strong questions and resorting the inescapability of differences, disagreements and conflicts among people, even among family members, community, society and bodies of politic and the necessity of dialogues as a transformative means of dealing with conflicts. A well recorded and documented event that could have a wider impact beyond the scene.

SD Kick-off at Bahir Dar University
SD first session and refreshments and lunches in all universities usually ended with again different types of music and songs of different types accompanied by SD members singing and dancing until the return trip to respective university campus where SD members were engaged in the last activity of the kick-off event- tree planting in the campus perimeter in which each SD group usually made to plant a tree with at least one year of commitment to look after the planted tree and its growth- an activity which was visible and surprisingly caught the attentions of peer university students and community members which further set a stage for creating more awareness about the SD programs in the university as those who questioned in wonderment what were going on in the campus and who planted those trees.
6. Half-way Moderators’ Workshops at five Universities
Half way moderators training is important to stimulate the knowledge and skills of moderators so that they can conduct effective dialogue sessions for the rest of the dialogue sessions of the year. The ultimate goal of the workshops is to ensure that the moderators successfully manage the SD process independently, to discuss the challenges they faced during the dialogue sessions and suggest for solutions.
The following questions were used to control the group discussion.
• How was the overall SD process during the first semester?
• How many sessions each group conducted during the first semester?
• How many dropouts were there from each group and why?
• What were the major successes recorded in each SD group?
• What were the major challenges that the groups faced and how did they deal with them?
• How the SD process impacted the participants and the larger university community?
One of the objectives of the half-way moderators’ workshop was to trace the impact of SD on the moderators as well as on the participants engaged in the SD process. To this effect, the moderators were asked to discuss and report how the SD is impacting them and the participants. The moderators usually indicate the SD is positively affecting not only their relationship with others outside of their identity lines, but also their communication skills and knowledge about others’ culture and cultural values. Female students started to feel that SD empowered them more and improved their participation in the dialogue session. In general, the moderators in half-way moderators training stated that SD helped them:
• develop better and practical understanding about the concept of diversity and tolerance within the group members;
• positive relationships/friendships among diversified group members, some even outside of the SD groups. (some group members have started sharing academic materials, help each other in their campus life issues)
• share experiences about the cultures and languages of the SD participants. (abled to exchange one another’s language and have shown efforts to use others’ languages)
• freely express own feelings, opinions, and experiences about others outside of their identity lines (individual change- it shows that they have developed trust among each other).
• improve self-confidence to better express themselves in diverse groups
• improved their team work and leadership skills (by Moderators and Facilitators
• apart from their bi-weekly SD sessions, organize outdoor sport events including football and other games in order to strengthen their relationships.
• support each other in academic issues.
• SD group members organize get-together programs and fundraising activities outside of SD sessions
The following issues are mentioned by the Moderators as major challenges.
• The general instability in the country in general and in their respective universities in particular class interruptions in connection to this instability affected the SD schedules in general and the attendants of the dialogue sessions in particular. Most of the moderators could not conducted the expected number of the dialogue sessions due to this instability.
• Language barriers among participants- some SD participants felt that they are not good at any other languages than their mother tongue. As a result, they were not willing to communicate in Amharic, which is the agreed up on medium of interaction among the SD members.
• Lack of time management by the participants- some SD participants do not come to SD sessions on time. This frustrated those who come on time.
• Dropouts and absentees- some SD participants dropped out of the SD process or are absent from the sessions. This was due to very tight academic schedule which made it difficult for them to attend the sessions regularly.
8. Sustained Dialogue Campus Wide Collaborative Actions
Sustained Dialogue process in general has five stages. At the fifth stage, all students who were engaged in the SD process for one year select relevant individual and collective actions to impact the wider university communities. The purpose of SD action in general is to impact the wider university community who did not participate in the SD project. Planning and executing SD action in the university campuses has multiple purposes. First, it is assumed that planning the on-campus action component allows SD participants to reinforce their changes after their SD participation and demonstrate to new students a counter narrative to division that permeates in the university campuses. Action components are also expected to contribute to a shift in campus culture across different groups in the universities. The shift in culture will in turn prepare future leaders to leave campus with more understanding and trust of other groups as well as enable university campuses to contribute to overall efforts within Ethiopia to promote dialogue. Sustained dialogue action also complements the dialogue process with additional strategies and mechanisms in order to amplify the effect of such individual changes to reach more people and incrementally add up to a cultural shift. This action is one of the major components of the SD process with the following theory of change.

Peace Action at Jimma University
If SD participants are supported and accompanied to collaborate for peace action on campus to share an alternative, positive narrative of collaborating with other groups, Then the collaborative efforts will further reinforce trust and understanding among SD participants And then the action will have a multiplier effect that spreads a culture of trust and understanding among more people on campus, Because first the process of planning and taking action together validates the relationship of trust and creates mutual ownership of the SD action And because the demonstration of collaborative action by diverse SD participants will bring new thinking/understanding about inter-group understanding in the wider campus community. Strategic objectives for SD action are:
• Relationship changes: SD participants have developed positive relationships across identity groups.
• Spreading to more people: Collaborative actions by sustained dialogue participants spreads a culture of trust and understanding amongst diverse identity groups.
By organizing SD action, participants are expected to collaborate for peace action on campus to share an alternative, positive narrative of collaborating with other groups. Based on these theory of change, strategic objectives, and intermediate result, the SD cohort in the five universities) implements different collaborative campus actions up on the completion of the year-long dialogue process. To reach more people and bring more impact on other universities communities, the SD action in each University was planned for three consecutive days.
8.1. Planning and Organization of the SD Action
Different identity groups who had been engaged in Sustained Dialogue process raised different causes that affect trust and positive relationships among different identity lines in the university campuses. At the first four stages of the SD process, SD participants in their small groups (10-12 students) try to understand the nature, purpose, and rules of the dialogue process; share their experiences about others, reshape their attitudes and perceptions towards out group members and build trust among one another; identify deep seated causes for the distorted information about and perception towards one another and analyze the root causes for the problems; and develop possible solutions for the problems and strategies to address them, which in turn determine the types and components of the action.
At each stage of the SD process, moderators analyzed issues generated from each SD session and synthesize them thematically. To the end of the SD process, an Action Committee was established at each University. The role of the committee was to collect possible action components from each SD group through their moderators. The Action Committee synthesized the proposed action components thematically and forwarded them to Peace and Development Center (PDC) Project Officers. In order to ensure the relevance of the activities to SD objectives and check the sensitivity of the activities, PDC staff further analyzed the proposed action components. Furthermore, PDC consulted relevant unites of each University (university top managements, campus security, SD focal persons, the Peace Forums) to propose their ideas on the relevance of the action components to the current campus situation.
As the bi-weekly reports of SD groups and Action Committee proposals indicated, the major factors that affect inter-group relationships among different identity lines in the university campuses include, but not limited to:
• Distorted information from families about other ethnic and religious groups;
• Distorted information from senior university fellows about other ethnic and/or religious groups in the university campuses;
• Due to distorted information about others, negative attitudes and stereotypes towards others who are out of own ethnic and/or religious groups;
• Lack of information about others who are outside of own identity lines;
• Lack of knowledge and understanding about others religious and ethnic values, partly due to the current Federal system;
• Fear and frustration to genuinely interact with others outside of own linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups as well as places of births;
• Giving high concern for own ethnic and/or religious values and lack of spaces to listen and respect others’ core values;
• Lack of interest to interact with others outside of own identity lines;
• Lack of previous exposure to and interaction with other religious and/or ethnic groups due to their absence at the SD participants’ birth places;
• Strong warning from the family not to interact with others outside of own religious and/or ethnic groups;
• Lack of information about engaging in Sustained Dialogue in the university campuses and, as a result, associating the process with different political or religious affairs; etc.
Based on the abovementioned factors, SD groups proposes different SD Action components to address the factors to the universities communities. In consultation with managements of respective universities, campus security, SD coordinator, Peace Forum, and SD facilitators, the proposed SD Action components were grouped into five major categories and spread over three days. The major categories for the proposed SD activities were:
• Organizing coffee ceremony for the university community;
• Organizing panel discussion for the university community;
• Organizing different sport and game activities for the students;
• Promoting tolerance and positive intergroup interaction through literary works;
• Planting seedlings in the university campuses; and
• Walking for peace in the university campuses
Given the security issues in each university, consulted organs of the universities meticulously evaluated the purpose and intended outcomes of the proposed SD Action components as well as their implications to peaceful teaching learning environment in each university. Finally, the proposed activities were spread over three days and successfully executed in a participatory manner. Below are the descriptions of each activity performed during the SD Action weeks.
9. Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning
Among other detail activities of the SD process, the annual plan incorporates the monthly MEL visit to be done in all five universities by the responsible Peace Project Officer. The major purpose of the regular monthly monitoring visit is to assess the overall progress of the SD process after the kick-offs by documenting success, addressing challenges, and capacitating the leaders
During these monthly monitoring visits, different discussions usually made with the university SD focal person of respective, the SD leaders, and the moderators of each University on the overall progress of the SD process and challenges encountered during the dialogue sessions. Moreover, sample SD sessions has to be visited and some SD participants were also interviewed to track the impact of SD on their life.
During the visits, efforts usually made to enhance the moderators’ awareness on how to manage participants’ feelings and emotions during the experience sharing by using the Issues Guide. The moderators remarked on the importance of such timely guiding tools and stated that it helps them adapt to the emerging dynamics.
The visit also be used to advise moderators to encourage all of the participants to share their experiences in connection to their trust to and relationship with others outside of their identity lines and how that affect their intergroup interactions before they started to engage in the SD process. Before the completion of the visit, usually bi-weekly reports of moderatos collected from the facilitators. Communication cost for the moderators and the facilitators will be paid and refreshment costs were reimbursed for the suppliers in each university.
The other major activity which usually performed during monitoring visit was supervising sample SD groups while they were conducting their SD sessions.
In addition to the observation, some randomly selected SD participants and moderators usually asked through one-on-one interview to express their views about the impact of the SD on their life and on others in the group. This interaction, according to the respondents, helped them understand other culture and cultural values. In line with this, one of the SD moderators stated that “I knew about a religion called Waqeffata for the first time from my SD participants and I started to know more about the values and rituals in the religion.” One SD participant also stated that:
“Before I joined SD, I used to think that Muslim men don’t like Christian women because they don’t shake hands with female students. But after I joined SD, one of the Muslim participants from my group explained to me why they don’t shake hands and its religious values. Now I changed my view to those who are Muslim by their religion. Now, we are good friends with Muslim students who are in my SD group. Besides, I also have learned the culture of different ethnic/religious groups during our story telling sessions.”
The other participant stated that:
“First I joined SD just to get certificate as many graduating students do. But after I engaged in the first few sessions, I fall in love with the experiences and stories others brought to the group. Now I totally changed my purpose to engage in the SD. Now I made very good friends from other identity groups which I used to see suspiciously.”
Similarly, other also stated that their engagement in the SD sessions developed their positive attitudes to others outside of their identity lines. Their interaction with other linguistic groups has also developed their confidence to use others language as a medium of interaction as well as their views and perspectives for others outside of their identity groups.
The overall objectives of the visits were to:
• Monitor and Evaluate the overall progress of SD processes at the five Universities;
• • Provide the necessary information about Peace Action and Peace Incubation to all SD members;
• Jointly plan for SD Action with University administration, Peace Forum, and SD facilitators, and the moderators; and
• Settle all due costs related to SD program.
As the SD was approaching its last stage, a more explanatory additional orientation usually given to the moderators about the Peace Action ideas so that proposals can be prepared by involving their respective SD participants. During the visits, discussions made with the university administrations, SD Facilitators, SD Action Committees, and all the Moderators about the upcoming campus-wide SD Actions which are executed to bring more impact on the university community who were not involved in the SD process.
During the visits, all of the moderators and the facilitators also to be oriented about Peace Incubation and advised to develop implementable concept note that could show what to do and where to experiment SD.
Overall Results of the Evaluation
Students who were engaged in SD process has shown better understanding and positive attitude towards others who are outside of their religious and ethnic groups. Most of them stated that they knew only about their religions. Some explicitly stated that they came from families that strictly prohibit interaction with other religious groups. Eating with Muslims or going to places where there are Muslim religion, according to some students, is totally unacceptable practice that takes to the extent of rebaptism up on return. Students who came with such experience were at the start hesitant to sit with their Muslim fellow for dialogue sessions. But through time, as they noted, they started interacting with Muslim students freely. Now they started sharing food, eating together, and values one another’s’ religious practices and holidays. Some even exchanged good wish cards for their religious holidays. Others wished their Muslim fellows a happy Ramadan and/or Arafa through telephone calls.
SD participants in a group developed respect, trust, and positive attitudes towards others who are from different identity groups. It was witnessed that SD participants see their moderators like mothers and fathers.
SD participants spread positive things about other identity lines to their groups. They started to talk positive things about other ethnic and religious groups to their dormitory members, their ethnic and religious groups.
Intimate relationships between PDC staff and SD members and continuous follow-up motivated the students continue engaging in SD process.
SD developed confidence to speak in front of people and listening skills of students who were engaged in the SD process. Some also believe that SD improved their problem-solving skills. They said that they first go for dialogue when they face disagreement with their classmates or doormats. Female student feel that SD developed their self-confidence and level of participation in SD process. Individual participants also feel that SD developed their time management skills. They also feel secured to share their experiences about others.
SD created an opportunity for the students know more people outside of their identity lines, which in turn narrowed the gaps among different linguistic groups in the universities. Some have expressed their interest to continue their interaction even after graduation.
Those who graduate stated that they will try to seek jobs in other regions through their friends they made through SD.
Participants started accommodating religious differences than debating to defeat one another’s religious values.
Students who did not understand the purpose and activities of SD project have changed their attitude towards the project and their interest to participate in the SD program is increasing from time to time.
Sustaining Dialogue (SD) Project emphasis on enhancing positive relationships among different identity lines in the universities. The project focuses on supporting universities to establish a sustained dialogue process with action components that seek to contribute to a shift in campus culture across selected universities. It was believed that the shift in culture both prepares future leaders to leave campus with more understanding and trust of other groups as well as enable university campuses to contribute to overall efforts within Ethiopia to promote dialogue. The project tried to transform the university campuses from a place of hyper and sometimes violent inter-group competition, to a space for trust building, dialogue, and cooperation so as to address deeper relational issues. The overall goal is to increase trust and understanding across identity lines amongst young women and men on the university campuses. The program has been regularly monitored and evaluated in order to check its achievements. The monitoring and evaluation process, in addition to the monthly monitoring visits, uses base line and end line surveys, focus group discussions, and one-on-one interviews to measure achievements of the project.
At the end of the year-long dialogue process, the institutional and individual changes resulted from the intervention usually assessed. Evaluation of the year-long SD process in the five universities was made at the end of the SD Action using the indicators stipulated in the Project’s Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Guide. To this effect, a structured data collection tools were prepared and used to assess the cultural shift in norms interaction. The necessary data were collected from SD participants, the moderators, and the facilitators through end line survey, focus group discussion, and one-on-one interview. All students who went through the year-long SD process field out the end line survey. Selected SD participants, the moderators, and the facilitators were engaged through focus group discussions while the opinion leaders were interviewed.
The monitoring and evaluation process was intended to assess culture shift in norms of interaction, spread of a culture of trust and understanding among diverse identity groups in the universities, and the positive multiplier effect of the opinion leaders involved in the SD process. To assess these changes, respondents of the evaluation process were asked to focus on:
• SD participants’ and moderators’ interaction with people from other identity groups before they joined SD;
• changes in their interaction with people from other identity groups after they joined SD;
• what the respondents feel about other identity groups after they engage in dialogue process;
• the impact of SD on the opinion leaders and their multiplier effect on their fellows;
• what should be done differently to improve the impact of SD project.
Using these leading ideas, focus group discussion and key interview participants were asked to share their experiences before and after their engagement in SD process. Regarding students’ interaction with others outside of their identity groups, almost all of the respondents stated that their interactions were limited to their ethnic or religious groups.
Previous exposure to other ethnic and religious groups and the type of information the students obtain from their families and friends about other identity groups determine the person with who the students interact. Many of the respondents stated that before they joined SD, they did not consider other identity groups as equal as theirs. They believed that their ethnic and/or religious groups are much better than others. They fear other religious and/or ethnic groups because they heard negative things about others. As a result, students do not genuinely interact with other groups.
However, it has been witnessed that engaging in the SD process has created an opportunity for different linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups to sit together and share what one feels about the others. During the dialogue sessions, the students share the values and practices of their ethnic groups and religious groups. They also share what one knows and feels about the other groups. The information they get from other SD members helped the students transform their perception, attitude, and trust to other ethnic groups to the positive. The stories they heard from other SD members helped the students better understand the values of the larger community. This in turn increased their confidence to interact with other ethnic and religious groups in the universities. This in turn increased the level of trust and understanding one has for other identity groups.
Engaging in the SD process has also changed the intense intergroup competitions, mistrust, and misunderstanding to cooperation. Students from different ethnic and religious groups who were suspecting one another due to their ethnic or religious background started to facilitate or moderate dialogue sessions together. Students who have been engaged in the SD process started to differentiate individuals from ethnic or religious groups. These group of students have also started to intervene into interpersonal disputes so as to prevent it from escalating to intergroup violence. Some of the SD members have also been witnessed that they hide in their dormitories students outside of their ethnic groups during ethnic based tensions in the universities. This was observed at Bahir Dar and Haramaya Universities. SD moderators and the participants increased their confidence to approach other ethnic and religious groups and started to deal with their differences and concerns freely. Violent intergroup competitions over ethnic and/or religious values and practices among the students in their campus life have been transformed to a space for dialogues, genuine listening, developing shared values, and trust building. Students who went through the dialogue process have started to value and prioritize dialogue as an important tool to resolve interpersonal conflicts and find get lasting solutions for the problems that put them apart in the university campuses.
During the selection and placement of SD participants, students who have peer influence over others in their university communities (i.e., opinion leaders) who could have positive multiplier effect on their peers were also systematically selected and involved in the SD process. The opinion leaders are students who are respected and recognized people in their groups (ethnic or religious), they are listened to and influence how student followers think about other identity groups and shape the type of intergroup interactions in the university campuses. These students were selected from ethnic and religious lines based on their level of engagement in ethnic or religious affairs in and outside of the university campuses. At the beginning of the SD year, from Ambo, Bahir Dar, and Gondar Universities 5 opinion leaders from each were invited to participate in the SD process. From Haramaya and Jimma Universities 10 opinion leaders from each were involved in the process. Except some drop outs, the majority of them took part through the dialogue process. Those who completed the SD process were also interviewed to see their positive multiplier effect on their peers.
The opinion leaders who were interviewed explained that their engagement in the SD process increased the level and scope of interactions with others outside of their ethnic or religious groups. the positive narratives they heard from others about their ethnic or religious values made them reframe their perceptions and attitudes for others outside of their groups. These opinion leaders who were known in the universities by influencing their peers to be with own ethnic or religious groups only have started to talk positive things about others and interaction with other ethnic or religious groups who they categorized before as threats to their values. They also have started to listen to others, value others’ claims, and respect the values and practices of other identity groups, especially religious groups. Some of the opinion leaders who perceived SD as a strategy to crack ethnic or religious solidarity have changed their attitude towards the process and started to encourage their peers to take part in the SD process. Some of them have shown their efforts to create positive impact on their peers in their identity group by promoting inter-group understanding as a means to peaceful coexistence.
The opinion leaders feel that the experience they got from SD process have helped them play positive roles to enhance trust among different ethnic groups in the university campuses. Some feel that they are contributing their part to improve the level of interaction among different ethnic lines in the university campuses; however, the trust and relationships among these groups, according to the opinion leaders, still need improvement. The opinion leaders also feel that SD empowered them to talk about positive things about other identity groups. In the future, they also have a plan to influence their peers to expand their relationship circles to outside of their identity lines.
10. Challenges and Opportunities
During the beginning of the academic year there happened a student ethnic conflict in different public universities because of the conflict between the Oromo and Ethiopia Somali. the PPO noticed that the peace forum and the SD club members did not reach the Somalis, and Tigray regions students in partial as they were leaving the campus especially the Somalis were totally withdrawing from the University and this national problem has seriously impact the composition of our groupings. In addition to this most of the students who filled out the moderators registering form are from the graduate batch. However, the PPO tried to select students from different regions, batch and department/faculty and create a best combination based on the registered students.
The other challenge probably a hassle to SD is the unit structure of the project under Peace Forum both in HU and JU. During the student protest against the government action taken in East Harergie. Students considered peace forum as if it is a government organ, still in these SD universities there is a power politics or competition between the students’ union and the peace forum (either the SD club should function under the student union or the peace forum), hence the SD is running and mobilizing 600 students effectively the student union think that loosing this club out of control is a loos in power so they are straggling not to give up the groups.
Campus situation all over the country was tense since the beginning of the academic year due to the national and regional political tension. This situation to some extent had negatively affected campus stability in the five universities involved in the project. Due to the tense situation in Haramaya and Jimma Universities, classes were interrupted and some of the students were forced to leave their campuses. During this time, it was challenging for SD moderators and the participants to meet for their dialogue sessions because other students were associating the sessions with the current political situation. In Ambo University, the moderators repeatedly stated that other students outside of the SD groups associate their SD sessions with the current political situation. The moderators are trying their best to tell the truth and, as a result, some students have changed their perception towards SD program.
On the other hand, some of the SD moderators and the participants also left campuses due to the instability in their respective university. Since the causes of the problems were related to ethnic issues, some students in the SD project feared to come to the sessions during the unrest. After the classes were resumed, students became busy due to the revised academic calendar for compensating the missed classes. These problems have created challenges on some of the moderators to conduct as many SD sessions as expected during the first semester. It was also reported from Ambo and Bahir Dar Universities that some students lost trust to share their genuine experiences about other identity groups due to the current ethnic tension in the country. Besides, few SD participants were not willing to continue in the SD program after the ethnic tension in the universities, which in turn increased the number of drop outs from the program. On top of these all challenges, the SD leaders, the moderators, the SD coordinator of each university and the PPOs have remained intact and shown unreserved commitment to sustain the dialogue sessions.
The university campuses in Ethiopian context are highly influenced by national, regional and international dynamics. In the academic year, tensions had been raised in all over the country and this tensions in turn resulted in instability in many of the universities in the country. The five universities where the project has been implemented have also been affected by national and regional instabilities. These instabilities dictated declaration of the State of Emergency in the country. Due to tight campus security, some of the students feared to go to SD sessions. Second, due to recurrent instabilities, normal teaching-learning process were interrupted and the universities revised their academic calendars several times. To cover missed classes, instructors were arranging several makeup classes for the students. Consequently, it was challenging for SD moderators to get convenient time for all SD members their groups. On top of this, being under the State of Emergency created sense of insecurity among SD participants to meet for SD sessions. Change in the academic calendar affected moderators’ plan not only for SD sessions but also for campus wide Collective Action. The purpose of SD Action is to impact more people who did not engage in SD process; however, due to the revised academic calendar, SD participants could not bring the expected number of their peers to the events organized for SD Action because many students were engaged in other academic endeavors. However, efforts were made to minimize the impact of these challenges by having closer and regular discussions with the universities and other stakeholders who were responsible for security administration.
11. Success Stories
Despite the tensions in all over the country for the last four years, SD has continued in all of the Universities and the intervention is bringing the expected change on interactions among different identity lines. Some SD participants were desperate about the ethnic tension in their respective Universities; however, the moderators are able to retain these participants in the SD project by providing them the necessary advice to their peers. This is due to the fact that the student community understood that SD has created a safer space and equal opportunity for all groups to come together and talk about their common problems.
In its short lifespan, SD has also created an incredible impact on the peaceful interaction of different identity groups in the universities. Regarding this one of the moderator in Ambo University who is from Oromo ethnic group said the following:
“This year, we encountered an ugly conflict with students from Gambella Regional State. The dispute which happened between two students in a cafeteria quickly developed to intergroup violence. The cause was very minor, but the situation became off-hand due to some students’ provocative behaviors. During the violence, many students were attacked from both groups, one from Gambella was severely wounded. Despite these all, SD moderators and participants from both groups were so intact and friendly. Both the SD moderators and the Participants from Gambella region were coming to the SD sessions. Especially, one of the participant in my group was amazingly open and genuine to share his experience and continued his positive relationships with all SD group members including the Oromos. His relationship with other remain strong even after the violence.”
Students from different religious groups have also started to respect one another’s religious practices and values. Regarding this, participants of one of the SD groups in Haramaya University stated during the monitoring visit that:
“SD brought us together from diverse backgrounds. There are Muslim, Orthodox, protestant and other religious groups in our SD family. When we first started to engage in this dialogue process, we used to make decisions based on our individual interest only. For example, when we use our refreshment, we used to order our individual preference without considering the religious values of other SD participants in the group. As a result, some of the participants in the group were not comfortable because their religious values may not allow them to share some food items especially during fasting day/season. But the more we stay together in the SD group, the greater the opportunity to learn from one another about other’s religious values and practices as well as why they refrain from some food items. During this Easter season, we all decided to respect the religious values of Christian students in general and orthodox students in particular. Since our Orthodox friends have been fasting, we all agreed not to order any food with animal product for our refreshment. Participants who are fasting started sharing food with us freely and comfortably. This increased our relationship”
Students of Ambo, Bahir Dar, and Gondar Universities have also acclimatized themselves with the SD goal and objectives in short period of time. Despite the ethnic-based tension in their campuses, most of them continued to engage in the SD process even under the declared State of Emergency. Some SD groups even organized a football match to more strengthen their relationships. To create a safer environment for the dialogue participants, the Peace Forum in collaboration with the SD focal person produced badges for SD moderators to wear during the SD session so that no security personnel interrupts their SD sessions. this helped the SD moderators and the participants carry out their SD sessions without any fear.
The goal of Sustain Dialogue is to increase understanding across different identity lines on university campuses. At this stage, the project achieved that:
• a large number of students from different identity lines met more than 10 times in every project year to make dialogues on issues related to ethnic and religious pluralism;
• students who were engaged in the dialogue process developed better understanding about and tolerance for other identity groups;
• students from different identity lines who were considering one another as rivals collaborated to plan and execute campus wide action;
• students who have changed their understanding, attitude, and perception towards other ethnic and religious groups shared their changes and impacted others who did not participate in the dialogue process;
• students who went through the SD process started to talk many positive things about outgroup members about who they heard negative things before they joined SD;
• the Universities mobilized their human and material resources to support SD process in their respective campuses;
• managements of the universities have shown greater support for activities related to SD project.
• Academic and administrative staff shown collaboration and contributed their part to execute planned activities;
• the universities’ interest to buy-in and scale up the project to other campuses increased;
• compared to the previous years, the number of students who want to engage in the SD process significantly increased (more than 20,000 students have filled out application forms to take part in the upcoming SD process);
• students who went through the dialogue process have shown better understanding and empathy for other who do not belong to their ethnic or religious groups;
• students who participated in the SD process played a positive role to deescalate campus tensions and support students who were targeted due to their ethnic background;
• leaders of the Peace Forums increased their leadership skills and became more visible in the university campuses. By successfully and peacefully organizing the project, they got trust and confidence from the universities managements and other security apparatuses which were monitoring the situations during State of Emergency.
Some Success Stories
Story 1: From Hate to Protection
One of the moderators from Jimma University who was interviewed said:
“Before I joined Sustained Dialogue process, I knew my religious and ethnic values only. My perception to Muslim students was not good. I joined SD in 2017. When I first applied to participate, there was a strong pressure from my ethnic groups not to engage in such an affair. My friends though that what SD was doing is against our values. But I unnoticed my peers’ pressure and went to my dialogue group. To be honest, I first went to the group just know what is going on, to check whether or not what my ethnic fellows were saying about the dialogue program. After I joined the program, I found it completely different from what we thought about it. In the dialogue process, I saw when everybody from any identity line shares his/her experience about others and the values of his/her ethnic and religious values freely. This in turn made me revisit my perception and attitude towards others who are outside of my ethnic and religious groups. My participation in the dialogue process totally changed my campus life and scope of interaction in the university campus. At the end of last year’s dialogue process, I decided to contribute more by being a moderator. Being a moderator created me an opportunity to learn more from my participants not only about others’ values but also how knowing these values help us make a peaceful interaction with others outside of our identity lines. My engagement in the dialogue process helped me know more about Muslims values. Now, my perception and trust to my Muslim fellows has been totally changed. I respect their religious values and practices and I advise my religious groups to do the same so that their religious values will be respected by others. For example, this year, there was regular dispute in my dormitory between one Muslim student and other Christian dorm mates. The Muslim student wanted to practice his religious obligations in his dormitories while others opposed him. Using the skills, I developed from the dialogue process, I played a mediatory role to resolve the problem in my dormitory. I encouraged my dorm mates to dialogue about their problems. Especially, I asked my Christian fellows to ask themselves “What they lose if their friend carries out his religious practices in his dormitory?”. After few days, all agreed to allow their dorm mate to perform his religious obligations in the dormitory. Our friend also started to perform his religious prayer in the dormitory. Now we resolved our differences and I started living together peacefully. Now I have been changed from hate to protector of Muslims values.”

Story 2: Sustained Dialogue gave me a counter positive narrative about others.

One of the Sustained Dialogue participant from Haramaya University sated as follow:
“I was born in Southern Region, Sidama Zone. My family told me many negative things about Muslims and the Oromos. What I heard from media regarding terrorism affected my attitude towards Muslims. Due to this information, Haramaya University was my last choice. I was placed in the University without my preference. Since there was no other option, I decided to join the University. The year I joined the University, campus situation was not good. The ethnic based tension in the university frustrated me like any other students and increased the level of fear I developed before. As a result, I consulted my family to facilitate my transfer to other university. I also developed medical case and got a person whose grade point was similar with mine. To be honest, I was not sick but I was insecured to pursue my study in the University. I collected clearance form from the University Registrar to leave the University. Expect one; I got the signature of all concerned offices. But some of my friends. Before I leave the University, one instructor advised me to stay in the University and see what will happen. My friends also advised me the same, but I was not convinced. When I was in this state of dilemma, one student advised me to join the dialogue program and I did. In the dialogue process, I heard a different story from the Oromo and Muslim themselves. What they shared us in the dialogue group was totally different from what I heard from my parents about the two identity groups. The experience I shared from Oromo and Muslim students in the dialogue group made me question the previous information I obtained from my mother. I deliberately approached them asked them to share me more about their values, norms, and perceptions to others outside of their groups. When I approach them, I learned that they precious cultural values and practices. I learned that they love, respect, and humanize others who are outside of their identity groups. Through these students, I was able to see the wider Muslim and Oromo communities. Through the dialogue, I changed my perception to these two groups to the positive. I totally forgot my transfer to other university. Today, my closest friends are from these two groups. Through the dialogue program, I got 12 people from other religious and ethnic groups. I made friend with more than 20 students who do not belong to my identity lines. This time, if I go to Oromia Region, I have more than 10 closest friends who I love and trust much.

Story 3: I left Everything Behind

A fifth-year law student who completed the SD process at Haramaya University said as follow:
“I was grown up in a diverse community. In my community there were Tigre, Amhara, Agew, Muslim, Orthodox, and protestant. These communities though me love and respect for any group. When I came to the University, I thought I will develop these values in the university. With this understanding, I decided to learn Afan Oromo and Harari languages during my study in Haramaya University. To this effect, I made friends from Oromo students. My first university year was good in this respect. I learned some Afan Oromo words from this student. We were so close friends. But the next year, there was ethnic tension in the university. Oromo students started attacking those who cannot speak Afan Oromo. One evening, the Oromo students who I trust much came to me and showed unexpected behavior. He said me “dubadhu”, i.e. to say “speak’. Since He taught me Afan Oromo, I tried to say some words, though I could not escape his attack. He hurt me because I did not speak Afan Oromo. Being attacked by somebody whom I trust much destroyed all good things (respect, values, and trust) I developed for others. I I started to ask myself who I am. I stopped to trust others outside of my ethnic group. From 2014- 2016, I had no close friend at all. My interaction was only with Amhara students. During summer, I was advising preparatory students at my birth place not to go to any university in Oromia Regional State. But in 2017, I joined the dialogue program. In the dialogue process, I shared more positive experiences from other identity groups including the Oromos. The genuine information we shared in the dialogue group helped me activate my past experience; regain my previous respect and values for others. In the dialogue group, I got lovely Oromo students who were totally different from the one I knew before. These students changed my attitude to Oromo ethnic group. Now I forgot everything. I chose to love everyone, trust them at all, and respect their valid claims. I also have forgiven the student who hurt me because of my linguistic background. The dialogue process helped me leave behind all sad experiences.”

Story 4: I became more tolerant than I was before
“When I first join university, I did not know anything about other religious groups so I did not respect them. I took more time to bring people to my religious groups. I felt that a was a prophet. I used to believe that any person who opposes my view will be punished by God. As much as possible I influence others to follow my religion. I was not interested to listen to those who were outside of my religious groups. I want others to respect my values, though I did not do so. When I was invited to engaged in the dialogue process, I took it as an advantage to convince more students. But when I started the dialogue process, I found the process different from my expectation. The moderators demonstrated as what to do and how in the dialogue process. They shared us their experiences and they asked us to do the same. They advised us to deeply listen one another and share genuine experience. In the dialogue process, I observed when different identity groups genuinely share and patiently and respectfully listen to one another. This has brought a paradigm shift in my life. There is a shift in my life from debating to convince to listening to be convinced. Now I genuinely listen others outside of my religious group. I learned that I have to listen to and value other identity groups. Now I learned from my dialogue group members that to be listened, we need to listen others, to be respected, we need to respect others ideas and values. This changed my attitude towards other religious groups. Now I respect the values of other religious groups as equally as mine. I tolerate religious differences than before. I advise my friends, but I don’t argue to impose my view on others. I genuinely listen others and respect their values. I freely interact with other religious groups. Besides, I confidently share the positive things about other religious groups to students who are from my religious line. I tolerate religious differences and advise my peers to do the same”.

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