Patron -  Joanna Lumley, OBE

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African Legacy and Pastoralists Livelihoods: A Cultural Night in London

PENHA, in partnership with the Evelyn Oldfield Unit (EOU), held a celebratory African Legacy and Pastoralist Livelihoods cultural evening on Saturday 3rd December 2016 at Resource for London. PENHA had the privilege of welcoming two guests of honour – Joanna Lumley OBE, PENHA’s Patron, and Dr. Tekeste Ghebray, former Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The event attracted people from different backgrounds – professionals, academics, and diaspora community members – and was a great success.

The main aims of the event were to promote PENHA’s work to the wider Horn community and others in London through a photographic and art exhibition, highlighting the value of pastoralist livelihoods and the positive cultural heritage of pastoralism; to identify potential supporters and volunteers to support PENHA's work in the UK; and to develop partnerships and expand the network of existing and new PENHA supporters from the donor community, NGOs, academia, the private sector, local authorities, and others who wish to engage with PENHA in the UK and in Africa.

The evening included musical and dance performances, as well as heart-warming speeches by the guest speakers and by the PENHA Board of Trustees and others on PENHA’s work and in recognition of the contributions of Dr. Zeremariam Fre, the founder of PENHA, who is stepping down as Director.

After the opening speech by Bereket Tsegay, PENHA Programme Development Manager and Yusuf Dirie, Research Fellow, the Chair of PENHA Trustees, John Plastow, introduced the guest speakers and thanked them for their support, expressing special gratitude to PENHA’s Patron, Joanna Lumley, noting that `Joanna is a long-standing friend of Dr. Fre and PENHA, a remarkable lady who gives her time for many causes and is a real campaigner for quite small organisations like PENHA’.

The first guest speaker, Dr. Ghebray, reflected on his personal involvement with PENHA over the past two decades. With his work with IGAD, he was able to witness at first hand that ‘PENHA links people up across the region; it defended pastoralism against all odds early in its inception. People were frowning in Eritrea when Zeremariam brought the subject matter to a largely pastoralism-illiterate audience. I was there in those seminars and workshops. But believe me, over time, PENHA won the argument and people started to grasp pastoralism as a mode of life, just as farming is. PENHA acted as a bridge between the peoples of the region by bringing several of them in common fora across the region to learn new things and to share experiences with each other’. Reflecting on the work carried out by PENHA, Dr. Ghebray continued:

‘For over 25 years, PENHA has played a role in development practice and debate in the IGAD countries. PENHA has collaborated with policymakers, local government, development agencies, community organizations, and ordinary people in pastoralist and non-pastoralist communities. PENHA has been involved in and contributed to development policy and practice in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somaliland, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda – seven countries in over 25 years. This is a tremendous achievement for PENHA and its founder, Dr. Fre who is at home in each of the countries of the Horn; he is a man who speaks most of the official languages of these countries.’

Dr. Ghebray then outlined some of PENHA’s achievements – regional ownership; influencing policy through advocacy and capacity building; the economic growth and social change of modern pastoralism; regional and international cooperation – and noted the challenges ahead. He paid tribute to the outgoing PENHA Director, saying that ‘Zeremariam, right from the founding of PENHA, has traversed the Horn of Africa region scores of times. He did not care whether he was warmly welcomed or not. He relentlessly and unselfishly worked with pastoralists in their own backyard, with government officials, members of parliament, academia, and international organisations. I witnessed this personally while I worked in Eritrea and later as IGAD Executive Secretary’.

To end, he said ‘I say to those young future PENHA torchbearers, learn from your mentor Dr. Zeremariam Fre and move on. It is a monumental challenge but you can do it. May we gather again to appreciate PENHA’s achievements under your leadership.

Afterwards, PENHA’s Patron, Joanna Lumley, took the stage, remembering her experiences of working with Dr. Fre and Dr. Ghebray 22 years ago in the mountains of Nakfa in Eritrea, saying of Dr. Zere, ‘You can’t say enough about Zere, because we all know him and love him. What you have with PENHA is deep in the heart of all of us.’ Joanna also paid tribute to the pastoralists, witnessing their contribution to the lives of millions and to the environment. Reflecting on the global technological advancements and the impact on the lives of pastoralists, she said:          

                   ‘Extraordinary things are happening in the world but at the bottom, we are all still people and this is what Zere has identified in the pastoralists in the Horn of Africa. They can be assisted by IT and mobile phones, but actually the fundamental point is that these people have a traditional way of life, a way of living and they wish to continue that way, they want to have peace and educate their children, to farm and to feed. And not so long ago in the history of mankind, we were exactly the same as these pastoralists.…This life must be protected, respected, and understood. If the Horn of Africa loses its pastoralists, environmentalists – people who actually look after the earth far better than we do, we begin to lose sight of what humanity is.’

On the work of PENHA, Joanna highlighted the organisation’s role by saying, ‘PENHA as a small organisation punches far above its weight. It is in fact a huge, impressive and an important organisation involving these countries [the Horn of Africa]’. To end, she expressed her wishes to see PENHA developing, saying ‘It is important to have dreams and it is also important to articulate them and to follow them through and not to give up. So we are the people with passion, Zere my heart is with you’.

John Plastow thanked Dr. Fre for his long-standing contribution to pastoralism and to the environment in the Horn of Africa and the role that he played, saying ‘Dr. Fre is appreciated and loved by many people, including activists, academics, practitioners, business people.... He is a remarkable person and has a persona that attracts people and keeps them for a long time. Zeremariam, in PENHA, has been fundamental in bringing transformation in pastoralism and instrumental in forming national fora in countries like Ethiopia.’ He said that Dr. Fre has been part of the journey – an important journey – of making pastoralism a recognised livelihood, and thanked him for his great contribution, encouraging those from the next generation who will take the lead role to carry on the work that started a quarter of a century ago.

Nicole Kenton, PENHA Trustee, presented Dr. Fre with a book of words of appreciation from some of his many friends and colleagues who had described him as ‘a life-changer, an enabler, a motivator, and a catalyst’.

Dr. Fre spoke of his journey, saying ‘PENHA is about the Horn Region. When we started it in the 1980s, the region was full of disasters and was highly recognised for conflict, famine, drought, fighting and civil war. The generation at that time motivated us and said – what can we do about this region? The region has a long civilisation where Islam and Christianity have been part of it for centuries. It has its own culture, identity, and at that time what we felt was painful. So we said let’s wake up and do something – only myself and others come along to challenge this.’ He continued:

‘Now being there for more than 25 years or so, there are changes in the region but there are also some challenges. Our countries are still unstable…and the region has a long way to go in terms of establishing itself, opening borders, having cross-border trade, reconciliation among our people to live peacefully as it is because it is a rare commodity. The region is quite rich and the PENHA borderless logo is sufficiently an ideology which hasn’t yet been achieved. Despite the colonial borders and independent entities, the region has so much in common. This is what PENHA built on. PENHA played a great role in making pastoralism an acknowledged economy and way of life in the Horn of Africa. The biggest legacy of PENHA is we broke the barriers of highland-lowland, rural-urban, religious difference, etc.’

Dr. Fre called on the next generation who live in the UK with origins in the Horn to be open- minded and make a success out of living here. He then thanked all the people who had worked with him over the past three decades, including grassroots organisations in the Horn, politicians, academics, and ordinary people who inspired him and helped him to keep up the work of PENHA, as well as all friends in the UK and other parts of the globe.

Representing Dr. Fre’s family, Bilen his daughter, a big PENHA supporter said, ‘On behalf of my brother, who is not here tonight, and my dear mum, we are very proud of you, you are a great father and role model. PENHA is a younger sister to me – definitely the third child of our family. I say that with happiness and a lot of memories. I am appreciative of having a father like you. We are so proud of you!’.

The speeches concluded with Mulat Haregot, Director of the Evelyn Oldfield Unit (EOU) of Resource for London. Mr. Haregot explained the role that Evelyn Oldfield, who was originally from Sierra Leone and died in 1992, had played in developing a strong and effective voluntary sector, saying ‘The biggest trust which owns the building – the Trust for London –established this organisation in memory of Evelyn’. Furthermore, he said ‘Resource for London has been working as a centre for voluntary groups and organisations in London. And I am very pleased to associate with PENHA’.

Showing appreciation of the artistic work exhibited on the night, he noted the importance of transformation for creating strong diaspora communities and their contribution to their country of origins in Africa. Addressing the relevance of PENHA, he said ‘PENHA can be an example of having that vision of a borderless approach in its leadership as well as in giving up to the young people. I think instead of saying ‘you retire’, Dr. Fre can be an ambassador of Africa. With that I will see PENHA as a bridge between the Centre and other groups to aspire the leaders of the African countries to stop this unnecessary situation on the continent, including famine, civil war and others in a very positive way’. Finally, representing the organising committee, EOU and Trust for London, he used the opportunity to thank PENHA Trustees and members, guest speakers, associate members, the performers of the night, and the participants.

In between the speeches, the audience enjoyed diverse cultural performances, including songs by Joseph Adamson from AIL-TV and Steve Harris, dancing by the Dankira Group, poetic works by the Syrian poet Amir Darwish and Dr. Fre. A Table of Hope, organised by Yusuf Dirie, gathered participants’ hope and dreams for the future of the Horn region including, ‘The Horn of Africa and its peoples are always in my heart and thoughts - admiration and affection in abundance’; `Peace harmony and a borderless Horn of Africa where everybody contributes’; ‘A Horn of peace and opportunity’; ‘Reconciliation’; ‘United and prosperous’, and Dr. Vanessa Champion presented her reflections on fieldwork in Uganda. There was also an audio-visual display and an exhibition of oil paintings by an Ethiopian artist, painted in 1996, and handicrafts of pastoral peoples, not to forget delicious traditional food from the Horn of Africa.

The cultural event was a true celebration of pastoralist livelihoods and of PENHA's legacy. It played a role for framing an education and advocacy programme for PENHA within the context of the UK, and increased PENHA’s individual support base.

The event was organised by the Working Group composed of Estifanos Abebe, Mesghina Abraha, Yusuf Dirie, Dr. Zeremariam Fre, Nicole Kenton, Federica Risi, and Bereket Tsegay (Chair), with an advisory group of senior PENHA supporters. PENHA would like to thank the Evelyn Oldfield Unit for the part it played in expanding this strategic partnership with PENHA and other diaspora community groups.