Afri was founded on September 1st 1975 when Sean McFarren SDB, called a meeting of a group of friends and initiated the organisation under the name Afri – Aid from the Republic of Ireland.
Early Annual Reports outlined Afri’s aims and objectives – to create awareness about the plight of the poor of the ‘Third World’ and to fund projects overseas. They also outlined the need to be involved with the issue of poverty in Ireland. The contributions given by young people in schools throughout Ireland were acknowledged. The first chairman was Commandant Fergus Fleming and the Vice Chair was Garrett Sheehan.
These early reports emphasised the importance of having the course properly charted, ensuring that the Afri ‘ship’ didn’t run out of fuel and that time be allowed for reflection and reassessment.
The eighties began with a major re-evaluation of Afri’s work. Obstacles to development such as the political and economic relationships between the developed world and the under developed world and the arms trade, were identified. The following quote from Eisenhower was used: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed’.
There was also an increased commitment to addressing poverty issues in Ireland which were hard to ignore as the Afri office was then located in the north inner city parish of Sean McDermott Street within a marginalised community.
The International Conference on World Peace and Poverty in 1982 represented the launch of the ‘new’ Afri, now meaning Action from Ireland. An exhibition on the effects of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was purchased and displayed by Afri. The St Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign, a symbol of opposition to the arms trade became a national campaign in schools throughout Ireland, having been instigated by young people in Derry and launched there by Sean MacBride in 1983.
Afri’s new approach involved seeking ways of linking issues in Ireland with issues in the Developing World, such as supporting the Dunnes Stores strike in 1984, resulting from the decision of Mary Manning and nine of her colleagues to refuse to handle ‘the fruits of apartheid’. Afri set up a meeting between the strikers and Desmond Tutu on his way to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which upped the international profile of the strike as did a trip to South Africa by the strikers and their arrest and deportation from Jan Smuts Airport. This extraordinary strike ended after nearly two years with victory for the strikers when the Irish government intervened and banned the importation of fruit and vegetables from South Africa.
The Afri newsletter Peacemaker was launched with an emphasis on poverty in Ireland and overseas. Afri was active in the Campaign to oppose US President Ronald Reagan’s Foreign policies as well as the campaign for the release of Niall O’Brian and the Negros Nine from prison in the Philippines. During this period Afri also supported projects in Ethiopia, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, India, Brazil, Equador, Kenya, Guatemala, Philippines, and Chile.
Afri personnel took part in preparations for the UN decade on Women and attended the Nairobi Conference and Afri supported and organised visits to the Greenham Common peace camp.
We were active in the Nicaragua Must Survive Campaign and were involved in hosting the visit of Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto and Vietnam veteran and anti war activist Charles Liteky. During this period the television documentary ‘Arming Ourselves to Death’ was commissioned by Afri and shown on primetime television and we took part in the campaign to oppose ratification of the Single European Act.
Afri’s Great Famine Project which was launched to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the famine in Ireland continued through the 1990’s with walks, exhibitions, publications and the marking of famine burial places throughout the country. Among those who took part were leaders of the Choctaw nation of American Indians whose ancestors gave a donation of $US170 for famine relief in Ireland. The invitation by Afri to the Choctaw was a way of expressing gratitude to the Choctaw for an act of generosity which happened only sixteen years after their own ‘trail of tears’ when half their people died following their forcible removal from their ancestral homelands in Mississippi. A plaque was unveiled in Dublin’s Mansion House during their visit to commemorate this event. Other participants in Afri’s famine project included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anti-war activist Brian Willson, leaders of the Maya people from Guatemala and John Pilger.
In 1992 Afri organised the visit of Oglala Sioux Indian, Joann Tall and Brazilian Indians as part of the 500 hundred years of Resistance campaign. Joann Tall visited and planted a tree at the birthplace in Kilinkere in County Cavan of General Philip Sheridan, who had risen to the rank of General in the US Army and had been particularly brutal to her ancestors among the Plane’s Indians. She was welcomed by members of the Sheridan family, who apologised for the activities of their ancestor.
In the nineties Afri was active in the campaign to oppose the Gulf War and was also involved in the launch and support of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign. Afri’s first Kildare Conference now known as Féile Bríde also took place under the title ‘Brigid, Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker’ –and was described as a post Cold War Peace and Justice Conference.
Afri supported the Debt and Development campaign and organised exposure visits to the North of Ireland. Afri staff went to South Africa for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela at the invitation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the mid-nineties, Afri’s Director of fourteen years, Don Mullan left the organisation.
Following a conference entitled Militarisation and the International Arms Trade organised by Afri and The Centre for Research and Documentation, held in Crossmaglen, Afri began to do research into the arms trade in Ireland. This resulted in the publication of The Links Report which identified, for the first time, companies based in Ireland that were involved in making components for the international arms trade. The report led to a campaign to end Irish involvement in this sordid trade.
Afri was also instrumental in setting up and funding Ogoni Solidarity Ireland, which focussed on the exploitation of the Ogoni people of Nigeria by their Government and the Shell Oil Company, and resulted in the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the ‘Ogoni 9’. Following the collapse of the IRA cease-fire in 1994 Afri were involved in setting up and supporting The Table Campaign, which called for dialogue as the way forward. Afri also protested the JFK Warship visit and the visit of Bill Clinton. Afri organised events to highlight the continuing erosion of Irish neutrality. We also organised a visit by the Paez from Columbia, to highlight the problems being caused by Irish company Smurfits on Paez land in Colombia.
The campaign to oppose Ireland’s involvement in NATO’s PfP was launched at Féile Bríde and followed by public meetings around the country including a meeting with the Taoiseach at government buildings. Afri published a discussion document entitled ‘Should Ireland join NATO’s PfP’, which was widely distributed and read. Afri was also involved in the publication of Professor John Maguire’s book ‘Defending Peace’ and a ground-breaking report ‘What Price Peace’, which looked at the growth of the Arms trade in the North of Ireland in the wake of the peace process. Afri also hosted a number of visits to Ireland by Michael Lapsley who specialises in the area of restorative justice, dealing with the consequences of trauma and violence and healing of memories, which led to a number of workshops in Portadown and Derry based on these themes. Michael Lapsley was also part of a human rights delegation including Afri staff, which visited East Timor just prior to the election there in 1999.
The Just a Second campaign was re-launched – the aim of which was to raise awareness about the arms trade by raising the equivalent of one second’s arms expenditure and using it to fund projects promoting justice and peace.
Afri’s Development Education programmes continued throughout the nineties and up to now, introducing themes such as the negative effects of militarisation and alternative means of bringing about conflict resolution. Afri initiated the idea of a Hedge School in 2000, which took an ancient Irish educational format and applied it to the contemporary world. We enjoyed a great success when we campaigned to oppose the military implications of the Treaty of Nice, which was rejected by the people, but was cynically re-put to the people who accepted it the second time around.
The Afri Hedge School has been established as one of our flagship events – a symbol of refuge and resistance in past oppressions. Among the contributors during this period has been former President and UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. World music was provided by Steve Cooney and Laoise Kelly together with the ‘Tower of Babel’ group made up of students from among thirty nations represented at O’Connell Schools in Dublin. Many of the students, having come to Ireland as unaccompanied minors, found in O’Connell Schools a place of refuge and learning in what can often be an otherwise harsh and inhospitable environment.
The Hedge School has, in recent years relocated to the Erris peninsula in County Mayo where a major conflict has continued between the local community and Shell Oil Corporation regarding the manner of extracting gas and bringing it ashore in that remote but uniquely beautiful area. These seminal events have taken place at different venues in the Erris area, the area which will be most affected by the project as it currently stands. Themes such as ‘From Niger Delta to Erris Shore’ were taken up by speakers like Majella McCarron (a friend and co-worker of executed Ogoni Leader Ken Saro-Wiwa) and Philip Ikurusi and ‘The Goat and the Flow Station’ in which Kevin O’Hara brought insights from over twenty five years of working to highlight the abuses caused by oil companies throughout Nigeria.
Choctaw tribal leader Gary Whitedeer presented the Second Choctaw donation to Ireland at the hedge school, a gift of over €5000 from the Choctaw nation who had previously sent a donation for famine relief to Ireland during the darkest period of our history. The remarkable Sunny Jacob reflected on seventeen years in prison, many of which were spent on death row and in solitary confinement and how she maintained her strength of heart and ability to forgive throughout the long struggle to prove her innocence of the crime of which she was charged. In addition, Afri published The Price of our Souls by Michael McCaughan and supported, with the French-based NGO Sherpa, a formal complaint against Shell on behalf of Pobal Chill Chomain, which was presented to National Contact Points in Dublin and Holland.
The famine walks during this period were led by, among others, Denis Halliday, Caoimhe Butterly, Brendan Forde, musicians Sharon Shannon, and Andy Irvine, ‘Mother Jones’, Owens Wiwa, Christy Moore as well as Vincent and Maureen McGrath. Said El Bouzari from Morocco was also among the walk leaders highlighting the conditions of migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers, a theme which was continued in our Easter Monday event which was called ‘Arrivals and Departures’ and featured a scene in which ‘Ireland’ welcomed the US war machine with open arms at arrivals, while simultaneously kicking out a vulnerable young African student through the ‘Departure’ gate which had been constructed outside Dáil Eireann. In a related theme, Sigma Huda, UN Rapporteur on human trafficking addressed this issue at Féile Bríde and Susan George addressed the theme of her book ‘How the other Half Dies’.
One reason why the ‘other half dies’ is as a result of lack of access to safe drinking water. Following a visit to Central America, Afri supported a project entitled ‘water as a human right’ in El Salvador.. Among the coordinating team for the project in El Salvador were Lorenzo Cruz, Ismael Ventura and Therese Osborne, who wrote the following: ‘At one time I would have thought it incredible that anyone would feel grateful to have 20 litres of water per day for drinking, cooking, bathing and household use. After all, in Ireland a shower uses approximately 32 litres and a bath as much as 80 litres. But in my frequent visits to the families in the villages of Quebrada Honda San Sebastián and Los Melgares, where the rainwater catchment tanks have been built, I have observed that children and adults alike are proud and happy now that they have access to that precious liquid – water – which one in every six people on earth does without. This wasn’t a giveaway project, but a long, careful process of capacity building and decision-making. Families attended many community meetings during which they discussed the causes and results of poverty, including poor health and poor quality of life. From the beginning, this project aimed at bringing the reality of ordinary people in El Salvador to the attention of ordinary people in Ireland, so that bonds of solidarity would be formed.’
We celebrated out 30th anniversary together with Comhlamh and Kimmage Manor at a gathering called ‘Solas’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu also joined us for our anniversary celebrations during this period.
Afri also explored the possibility of running a ‘Justice and peace’ Candidate in the Presidential election, in the person of Denis Halliday. The idea had to be abandoned because of the difficulties involved in nominating a person to run. Following the 90th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, which was marked by a display of military hardware by the Irish Government, Afri organised a contrasting commemoration called ‘A Show of Strength or a Show of Weakness’ in which we pushed a hospital trolley past the GPO.
Afri was approached by the well known comedian, campaigner, TV documentary maker, Mark Thomas to introduce him to a school with which he wanted to work on exposing the issue of ‘arms brokering’ in Ireland. Afri introduced Mark to Sr. Barbara Raftery and together we worked with Thomas and his Channel 4 crew as they filmed students from Scoil Chríost Rí in Portlaoise, who formed the ‘After School Arms Club’ to put pressure on the Irish Government to bring in legislation to control the Arms Trade in Ireland. The project was broadcast as an hour-long ‘Dispatches’ documentary on Channel 4. This was an exciting and effective project, in which we in Afri were happy to be involved, and which shows what young people can achieve when given the means and opportunity. In addition we were involved in the formation of the Cluster Munitions Coalition in Ireland. We have been supporting this campaign which resulted in a treaty to ban Cluster munitions being agreed at an International Conference in Dublin in May 2008. We also are members of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
Afri also supported the Ploughshares Group as they went through three trials, following their action at Shannon Airport to try to prevent the Iraq war, resulting in the kind of mayhem which we see occurring on the streets of Iraq on a daily basis. Their acquittal on all charges was a rare victory, a source of encouragement and a cause for celebration!
Afri was invited to address the International Peace Bureau’s ‘Books or Bombs’ conference in Cairo. In addition we published ‘A Decade of Betrayal: the militarization of Irish Foreign and Defence Policy’ Our schools work continued with ‘education for liberation’ events for students throughout Ireland
Afri recognises the extreme threat to our planet posed by the impact of global warming and climate change. We believe that this is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity and we lament the failure of Government’s – dictated to by Corporations whose only motivation is profit – to recognise and respond to this reality. We have added the term ‘sustainability’ to describe our priorities which now incorporate ‘Justice, Peace, Human Rights and Sustainability’.
The activities of Corporations, especially those involved in ‘resource exploitation’ continue to cause havoc throughout the world. For example, having supported the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta throughout the nineties, Afri suddenly found the issue coming home when gas was found off the west coast of Mayo. Quickly Shell’s familiar footprints were to be found all over the Erris peninsula as they attempted to trample the rights of another community into the ground. As in Ogoni, the local community rose up in resistance and the Rossport 5 ended up in jail for nearly 100 days as Shell attempted to bully the community into acceptance of their ways. As the numbers of marchers swelled on the streets Shell backed down and the men were released but the community continued to be demonised by Gardai, Shell and the Irish State. Willie Corduff was beaten up by masked men in the Shell compound and Pat O’Donnell had his boat holed and sunk. Afri have been proud to stand in solidarity with this brave community in resistance and will continue to support them in the trying times ahead.
The theme of the 2009 Famine Walk was ‘Power concedes Nothing Without Demand’ and leaders included Willie and Mary Corduff as well as Philip Ikurisi from the Niger Delta. The introduction stated that the walk was a celebration of remembrance and resistance, ‘remembering those who are killed or injured in resource conflicts from Ken Saro-Wiwa executed by the State with Shell collusion in Nigeria in 1995 to Willie Corduff, beaten by Shell security with State collusion in 2009. In the spirit of Frederick Douglass, the famine walk will again issue its compelling and just demands of the forces of power – locally and globally- ‘Power concedes Nothing Without Demand – it never did and it never will’.
As Ireland began GM potato trials we highlighted the issue through information packs and as making it the theme of our famine walk.
More recently as the prospect of fracking becomes an ever more likely reality Afri has sought to help spread the lessons of Rossport to the people likely to be affected by fracking from Leitrim to Clare and other counties besides. We have also brought the experience of other communities such as the people of Bhopal in India to bear in this context. A meeting in Manorhamilton entitled ‘Bhopal – the legacy and the leaks; lessons for Leitrim’ featured two survivors of the Bhopal disaster telling of their experience at the hands of the ruthless Corporation know as Union Carbide. We’ve also commissioned a film by award winning film maker Dearbhla Glynn on this subject.
John Monaghan of Rossport was among the speakers at the ‘Possibilities’ event organised by Afri, Children in Crossfire and Spunout.ie in April 2011. This event was attended by over 2000 people and was addressed by the Dalai Lama and Richard Moore as well as Rita Fagan, Ruairi McKiernan, Mary Robinson and incorporated music, dance, theatre, poetry and much more besides. It was a major achievement for three organisations to work together so successfully in organising an event of such magnitude.
Having supported a ‘rainwater harvesting’ project in El Salvador we then developed a partnership with the Pastoralists Journalists Network on the borders of Somalia and Ethiopia in Northern Kenya. Abjata Khalif spoke at our hedge school in 2011 and we have worked with his organisation in promoting solar power, using local radio to challenge conflict in this very troubled area. This partnership continues.