Miraji Magai attended our December 2013 Lemkin Seminar and serves as Secretary of Tanzania’s National Committee on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and all Forms of Discrimination. He is also a Program Officer of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
My daily professional duties and responsibilities put me in a position of researching ideas and implementing programs and actions that contribute sustainably to peace. I must admit that working for the cause of peace is involuntarily and it gives me profound comfort and joy. It happened that once I got the opportunity to join the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation, an institution working to promote peace, unity and local needs-based development, I found the kind of institution I would like to stay for all my professional life.
This opened up a way into new professional space, including this newfound field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention. And it all adds up to calming my incessant craving for a peaceful world—a world that does not need deadly weapons created by human beings to exterminate fellow human beings, a place where a person will not consider himself superior to other people, especially to the extent that they feel justified to kill others. I consider these acts too primitive to be qualified as the acts of human beings.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long-term prevention of atrocity?
The situations are different across countries when it comes to atrocity prevention. And it involves overcoming many complex issues. Generally speaking, however, it requires political will first and foremost. A statewide effort involving all sectors of the society—women, the youth, and civil society—should be employed.I believe that the provision of broad-based education serves the individual, social and economic wellbeing of society, plus enhances the quality of life for people. Hence it is a matter of fairness and justice that access to and participation in the education system is available to all. Atrocities prevention policies must be incorporated into these academic efforts.
Also important are the establishment of institutional mechanisms to specifically assume preventive tasks, such as the ICGLR-National Committees for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities. These preventive mechanisms are already proving to be effective. By addressing issues aimed at the early prevention of atrocities through awareness programs and dialogue in different parts and sectors of society in Tanzania, the immediate impact (or “output” in programmatic language) of these initiatives has already been seen. And the ICGLR-Tanzanian Committee is currently assessing the long-term impacts, or outcomes. International support like that from the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide is of vital importance in making things move forward.
Functional communications and information systems that involve all sectors of the society—with a clear focus on the elevation of the quality of human life and quality of human relations—also constitute effective tools to combat the power of ethnic, extreme and discriminatory ideologies from accumulating into deadly violence. Through good information system, people know can better understand the price they will pay for their evil acts, and the value of human life.
Lastly, I also believe that broad-based economic creation, growth and distribution constitute effective atrocity prevention tools. It is all about how people participate in the economic wealth of a nation. Unbalanced distribution of resources triggers feelings of injustice and provokes violence, especially among unemployed youth.
What does a day or week in your current position look like?
The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation was named after the founding president of the United Republic of Tanzania with peace, unity and people-centred objectives. The foundation fosters workable solutions by promoting concepts, projects, strategies and action plans. Being a Programmes Officer at the foundation, I naturally find my daily working hours and weekdays to be very busy!
The time is spent in researching, interpreting data and using the data to organize and coordinate meetings to address issues of national interest and make policy recommendations to the government. My time also includes representing the Executive Director of the foundation at national, regional or international meetings.
Time is spent as well in coordinating and supervising the implementation of a range of projects. As a Member and Secretary of Tanzania’s National Committee on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and all Forms of Discrimination, I play important role in developing concept notes, projects, and implementation plans aimed specifically at early prevention. In this regard, I’m always assisting the implementation and coordination of the Committee’s projects and activities.
Likewise, as an appointed National Coordinator of Civil Society Forum of the ICGLR—which was recently established under the ICGLR Protocol on Democracy and Good governance in the GLR—I find myself busy with organizing and coordinating meetings and managing activities of the Forum. As the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation chairs the ICGLR-Regional Civil society Forum, I have to ensure coordination of regional meetings as well, and attend national structures establishment meetings in member countries of the GLR.
Who or what inspires or motivates you?
My inspiration in this early prevention work can be largely attributed to the testimonies of my university friends who are survivors of genocide in Burundi and Rwanda. I’ve also been inspired by those I’ve met in my duties in the foundation, people whom had previously engaged in negotiations for peace in the Great Lakes Region.
In the second week of September 2014 while in Bujumbura, Burundi, I happened to speak with the chauffeur of the hotel shuttle. The man narrated well the trauma he suffered at the age of three while his parents were killed in his presence—without the knowledge of the killers. He managed to jump to a tank-car the next day and made his long way to Dar es Salaam where he was lucky to be raised in a family as Tanzanian. Now he is back home making a family with painful memories of the past. All these true stories compel me to do something to prevent these heinous acts. The documentation and testimonies we have at the foundation about the genocide that occurred in Burundi and Rwanda, the knowledge and experience of the Raphael Lemkin Seminar in Poland, but also the genocide prevention capacity building seminars in Tanzania that the National Committee for Prevention of Genocide organized in collaboration with AIPR have inspired me so much.
For a government official who may be just entering the field, what advice do you have to give towards effective work in genocide prevention?
People’s needs are the point of reference for all our efforts when executing our daily governmental activities. Their needs form the basis for strategies of genocide prevention. Prevention work needs an extensively informed mind. Setting oneself into motion and practice, one has to know that work in genocide prevention surpasses the normal authoritative and bureaucratic nature of many of government businesses. So, one should try hard to find a fine balance between bureaucratic instructions of the office and people-centered work in genocide prevention.