Episode 134: Tom Periello

credit: Jamelle Bouie

Tom Periello is President Obama’s special envoy for the great Lakes Region of Africa. This includes the countries of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Now, this is usually the part of the intro in which I briefly tease my guests career. But in Tom’s case he’s had many different careers. He’s served in the United States Congress for one term representing Virginia, he was a human rights lawyer for the war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone and he was a co-founder of the global grassroots advocacy movement Avaaz among other things. And in this conversation Tom describes how and why he’s alternated between pursing positive social change at home and abroad.

We kick off with a very topical conversation about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And just to set the scene a bit: on December 19th, the second and constitutionally mandated final term of the president Joseph Kabila expired. He did not leave office. There have been subsequent protests on the streets of the capitol Kinshasa and elsewhere that left at least 20 people dead. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, which is a societal pillar,has been trying to mediate a less violent resolution to this conflict. Tom discusses his role in this effort what the United States is doing to ensure the democratic transition of power in the DRC.

Image credit: Jamelle Bouie 

Episode 130: Tali Nates

tali-natesTali Nates has a personal connection to Schindler’s List. On it was the name of her father and uncle, whom Oskar Schindler saved from a Nazi extermination camp.

She is now the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center in South Africa and we have a fascinating conversation about how the lessons of the Holocaust are applied and learned in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Tali was born in Israel and moved to South Africa before the end of Apartheid. She candidly describes the moral compunction she experienced during that era and how teaching Holocaust history to white south africans became a method of resistance.

This episode is part of a series that is being created in partnership with the Salzburg Global Seminar, which is a forum and meeting space that brings together a cross section of global leaders to take on some of the big global challenges of the day. We kick off discussing her participation on one of the Salzburg sessions before turning to her own family history and contemporary work.

 

Episode 129: Maina Kiai

maina-kiai

Maina Kiai has some profound insights into how governments abrogate the rights of people to freely assemble. He is a Kenyan human rights lawyer and activist who currently serves as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

His career was born in opposition to an oppressive government in Kenya and in this episode he discusses the kinds of tactics and strategies he used to advance human rights under an authoritarian government. He also recounts his role in helping to mediate during the disputed 2007 Kenya elections, which turned very violent and resulted in his own life being in danger.

We kick off discussing the potential impact of a Trump presidency on human and civic rights around the world and, based on his experience, here in the United States.

If you have 20 minutes and want to learn (and find inspiration) in how activists can promote human rights in the most difficult of situations, have a listen.

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Episode 127: Sarah Chayes

20140914_ceip_chayes_1001-editSarah Chayes was a reporter for NPR working in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Then, in early 2002 she decided to give up her career in journalism to help rebuild the country. She joined the NGO world, eventually founding an Afghan-based NGO. During this time, while living in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, she became an advisor to the top US generals in Afghanistan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Michael Mullen.

These experiences in Afghanistan informed her prize winning book, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, which as the name suggests examines the corrosive effect of corruption in post conflict countries and beyond.

We kick off talking about the problem of corruption before discussing Sarah’s fascinating life and career.

Episode 121: Greg Stanton

Greg Stanton has spent a career researching and fighting genocide. He speaks candidly about the psychological toll of this line of work and managing the PTSD which he confronts to this day.

Stanton is a descendent of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and as you’ll learn from this conversation, the human rights gene runs strong in this family. His father was a liberal preacher and civil rights activist, and Greg tells me the most dangerous place he’s ever worked, to this day, was registering black voters in Mississippi in the 1960s.

Greg is the founder of the NGO Genocide watch. His career as a genocide scholar and activist began in the 1980s as an humanitarian worker in Cambodia, and he recounts collecting evidence of war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. Greg served for many years in the State Department as well, including in Rwanda to help establish the war crimes tribunal following the 1994 genocide. We kick off discussing an ongoing genocide against the Yazidi people in Iraq and Syria.

The subject matter of this episode is pretty heavy and I just want to thank Greg for being so open and honest about the emotional challenges he’s faced throughout his career.

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Episode 100: Ashish Thakkar

Ashish Thakkar is an African entrepreneur who started his business at the age of 15 having just escaped the Rwanda genocide. That business, the Mara Group, is now a vast enterprise headquartered in Dubai and with operations in 22 African countries.

I met Ashish a few weeks ago at a conference in Dubai and learned just enough about his personal story to know that I needed to speak with him for a podcast episode. It’s an intense story not only of his own escape from the Rwandan genocide, but in the 1970s his parents were forced to flee Idi Amin’s Uganda.

Ashish tells much of his family history and the story of the founding of the Mara Group in his new book The Lion Awakes: Adventures in Africa’s Economic Miracle. Ashish is also the founder of the Mara Foundation, the work of which we discuss, and he was recently named the chair of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council.

 

Episode 89: Katie Meyler

Katie Meyler is the founder of the NGO More than Me, which provides schooling and counseling to adolescent girls in Monrovia, Liberia. Katie founded the NGO in 2009, but during the Ebola outbreak last year it transformed into a community hub in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, which was the hardest hit neighborhood in the hardest hit city in the hardest hit country by the outbreak.

Katie3-2-e1431706766825We have a powerful discussion of why she opted to stay put in Liberia during the Ebola crisis, even though she became symptomatic. And how she dealt with all the death and despair that was surrounding her.

Katie grew up poor in a very wealthy town in New Jersey and she discusses how service trips with her church first exposed her to extreme poverty around the world. She tells an ultimately inspiring story about the founding of More than Me and how with the partnership of the government of Liberia, she is trying to replicate the success of More than Me in other parts of the country. We kick off though, discussing a new resurgence of Ebola in Liberia several months after the country was declared Ebola free.

Episode 88: Rabia Chaudry

Rabia Chaudry is best known for bringing the irregularities surrounding the murder conviction of Anand Syed to the attention of This American Life reporter Sarah Keonig, who then turned the saga in into the wildly popular Serial podcast.

rabia But Rabia is well known and highly regarded in national security circles for her work to train law enforcement on countering violent extremism. She is the founder of the Safe Nation Collaborative, is a former New America Foundation and Truman National Security Fellow, and is soon starting a project with the US Institute of Peace.

We have a great conversation that is particularly timely in amidst a new wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the USA in the wake of the Paris attacks. We discuss her own family’s story of immigration, how growing up in rural towns — often the only person of color — shaped her worldview, and how the September 11th attacks and its aftermath inspired her to a career in public policy.

We kick off discussing the current backlash against Muslims in the USA and then pivot to a longer conversation about her fascinating life and career working.

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