Having recently returned to work in North Darfur, Sudan, peace studies graduate Dr John Ahere has found the theory and skills gained through his PhD, completed in 2020, have helped in many ways.
Growing up in Kenya then later working with different stakeholders on conflict prevention, management and resolution in more than 12 African nations, a desire for peace has always been far from theoretical for John.
“Obtaining a PhD enhanced my critical thinking skills, which have enabled me to engage more effectively and confidently on peace and security discussions,” he says. “These critical thinking skills have also helped me in offering potential solutions to social challenges in the course of my peacebuilding jobs,” he says.
“And, now that I have a PhD, people listen to me a lot more these days knowing that I am an expert in my field.”
John’s PhD journey at UNE started with a desktop search.
“I was looking to pursue PhD research and so decided to conduct mapping of universities around the world that offered scholarships for peace studies, especially to students from developing countries,” he says.
“I chose UNE because the potential supervisors that I contacted were responsive and humane in their engagement on the questions that I had and in discussing my research ideas. This is something I found quite unique to UNE in comparison to the other universities that I engaged with.”
While initially struck by the quietness of Armidale – he had expected to find a large, bustling city – he found the course was not short on exciting opportunities.
“UNE’s peace studies program provides peace researchers with the space and resources to be able to pursue ideas to their furthest horizon,” he says.
And outside of research, there were a number of highlights.
“I had the opportunity to be hosted by UNE’s student radio station, TUNE!FM, for an hour to speak about various peace and security issues that were facing Kenya and South Africa,” he says. “The icing on the cake was that the show received an award during the inaugural UNE Life Clubs Awards for Most Popular Guest – Student Category!
“I also got the opportunity to organise the 2020 UNE Peace Studies Conference and introduce the keynote speaker, which was another highlight.
“And making my confirmation of candidature presentation as part of my PhD studies in a full Oorala lecture theatre was thrilling!”
While he says it was “very hard to leave the comfort and conveniences that Armidale offered,” John is passionate about using his skills to help promote peace back in Africa.
“The Darfur region in Sudan is one that has been plagued by civil war and in spite of the recent Juba Peace Agreement, vulnerable groups continue to be exposed to violence.
“I currently work in North Darfur with an organisation called Nonviolent Peaceforce, which aims to protect these vulnerable groups. I am in charge of implementation of a civilian protection program and work closely with communities and duty bearers to enhance local capacities and mechanisms for civilian-led protection from violence,” he says.
John believes courses like UNE’s peace studies program have an important role to play in creating a better world.
“UNE’s Peace Studies program is essential, in order to continue to produce the graduates that the current world needs the most. At the moment, there are too few of us (peacebuilders) in a world that is not at peace.”