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Expert to lecture on resolving conflict

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Finding solutions: Brendan O'Leary was an adviser during the Irish peace process

Brendan O’Leary is well versed in conflict. The University of Pennsylvania professor’s ideas on power-sharing are said to have been influential during the Irish peace process.

The reason why he’s here? Family. His cousin, Elizabeth O’Mahony, sits on the Adult Education School board. The charity is behind Dr O’Leary’s talk on power-sharing at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute tonight.

“Power-sharing is any set of arrangements that prevent one agent or a collective agency from having a monopoly in political power,” he told Lifestyle.

“The way that can be manifested varies. [It] can be executive, legislative, judicial, military or indeed cultural.

“What I’m going to do is give an analysis of primary sources of violent conflict in the world and why power-sharing is generally recommended as an appropriate solution to conflict and the circumstances under which the solution is needed.

“As far as I know Bermuda is not a deeply divided place, so I’m not looking for work. I have plenty to keep me busy in other parts of the world.” Dr O’Leary spent part of his childhood in Nigeria. Although “idyllic”, it ended abruptly. His family was living in the town of Kaduna in 1966. Major riots broke out when the local Hausa population expelled the Igbo population from their workplaces and homes. Many were killed.

“The Nigerian civil war literally broke out in our backyard,” he said. “My sister and I were small children and were playing in the backyard when a man came with a machete. He asked for our cook, Adolphus.

“We were children, but we worked out he was up to no good, so we ran into the kitchen and shouted to our mother.”

His mother defended Adolphus despite being threatened with a machete. The police were called and statements were taken but the would-be attacker was released because his mother’s poor eyesight prevented her from identifying him.

“From that episode I saw the deep danger of ethnic violence and I also saw my mother behave very bravely and impartially protecting someone’s life,” he said.

His parents then moved to another area of conflict, Northern Ireland, before settling in Sudan. A coup d’état happened a month or two after they arrived.

“That was a fascinating start to life as a young boy, three different parts of the world, all exhibiting different conflict,” Dr O’Leary said.

He studied political science at Oxford and the London School of Economics and has been a political and constitutional adviser to the United Nations, the European Union, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, the governments of the UK and Ireland and the British Labour Party during the Irish peace process. He is also the author, coauthor and co-editor of 21 books and is the series editor of National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century.

“The role I play is typically that of an adviser, not someone who stands for office,” Dr O’Leary said.

“In a way that’s an easier role because your advice has to be good and I prefer the role of giving advice to that of actually being responsible for political decisions myself.

“Having advised on one peace process, the Irish one, that gave me some insights and knowledge that were useful when going into other parts of the world, but the simple lesson I would extract from the role of experts and advisers like myself is people think that what we want to do is go and export our own county’s institutions to other locations. In fact, the real bias that people have is they want to promote in other countries the reforms they would like to see in their own.”

The Adult Education School seeks to give students “greater power over their own lives through education” and serves all strata of society, according to its chairman, Gerald Simons, who said he was happy to be associated with the lecture.

“This is someone of world-class,” he said. “From my point of view, given the divisions in the community which became evident in the last few months as a result of the changes in immigration policy, his speaking in Bermuda is very timely and quite fortuitous.”

Power Sharing in Deeply Divided Places starts at 7.30pm in the BUEI Auditorium. Admission is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Students pay $10. Get tickets on 294-0204 or at the BUEI gift shop

Power-sharing talk: Brendan O’Leary’s lecture is being hosted by the Adult Education School