Justice Africa was founded in London in 1999 by four longstanding advocates for peace and human rights – Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Yoanes Ajawin, Paulos Tesfagiorgis and Alex de Waal, to undertake research into the underlying causes of human rights violations and to campaign for policy changes. It established an innovative approach, looking beyond documentation and legalistic prescription. It built on the work of a series of existing and previous organisations.
Tajudeen was general secretary of the Pan African Movement and sought to complement his work there with an additional capacity for research and advocacy. Among other writings he published a regular ‘Thursday Postcard’ which was widely read across the continent. A collection of these postcards has been published by Pambazuka press. Tajudeen served as Principal Director from 2005 until his untimely death in 2009. He is fondly remembered by many.
Paulos, a leading Eritrean human rights activist, was unable to continue his work in his home country and established JA as a new platform abroad. Paulos served as Principal Director from 2003-2005 and remains a member of the Board.
Alex and Yoanes brought with them ongoing projects related to civil war in Sudan from their years at African Rights where they had been responsible for the Sudan programme. Alex was Principal Director from 1999-2003 and remains on the Board. Yoanes left Justice Africa to return to South Sudan where he is remains active in politics and human rights work.
Over the years Justice Africa has directed its attention towards emergent issues in Africa including the peace and security agenda of the African Union; the governance record of liberation movements in power; HIV/AIDS and governance; and youth politics in Africa. Our initial focus began in the Horn of Africa, a region where the challenges of divisions, inequitable development and bad governance have been particularly acute. Our focus spread to include the Great Lakes region and through partnerships with regional and sub-regional institutions, has also had a Pan-African focus.
ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA: THE BEGINNING
One of the main impulses behind the creation of Justice Africa was the Ethio-Eritrean war. We sought to establish an organisation that could have both Ethiopians and Eritreans on the Board. We succeeded in that modest aim, but we struggled to bring civil society from the two countries into dialogue with each other. Our concern with these two countries and their tragic conflict was a springboard for work in peace and security throughout the Horn of Africa, and our determination to work to build strong peace and security mechanisms for Africa as a whole.
IGAD AND THE AFRICAN UNION
Although our initial core programmes were on Sudan, our mandate has always emphasised regional and Pan African solutions to the challenges of building sustainable peace, democracy and development in Africa.
We have worked with regional bodies, in particular the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, and the African Union, to promote the effective involvement of citizenry and civil society in decision-making on the continent.
When Justice Africa was first formed, a large part of its core work centred on Sudan, largely as a result of the active engagement of Dr Alex de Waal and Mr Yoanes Ajawin over several years on issues of human rights and peace in Sudan, in particular in the marginalised region of the Nuba Mountains.
Our earlier work in Sudan also included enabling the wider civil society organisations in Sudan, both in the north and the south, to be effective participants in the various peace processes about the country, through our ‘Civil Project’.
Our annual Kampala conferences (1999-2002) on the Sudans were instrumental in creating spaces of engagement, opportunities for dialogue and consensus building between different civil society organisations, academics, politicians and other stakeholders in the peace process. It was not an easy beginning, but with patience, transparency and a genuine commitment to dialogue we were able to overcome initial suspicions and reservations.
Alex de Waal