Student Profile: Zerihun Addisu Kinate - The Education of an African Peacebuilder and Educator

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Zerihun Kinate, an outgoing student in the Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) program, has a rich background of knowledge in law, political science and international relations, combined with experience as an economic diplomat and expert in foreign trade relations and negotiations. Before joining the MPACS program, Zerihun described himself as a change-maker determined to disrupt systems and practices for the greater good. As he nears the end of his studies, he recognizes increased nuance and sensitivity in the issues he is passionate about, along with a critical understanding that there are no easy solutions to complex problems.  

Zerihun describes his focus as the "politics of the human condition”. It demands continual learning and unlearning, as well as meaningful action, which aligns with his moral convictions, character, and search for meaning in life. He seeks to give voice, agency and visibility to African values in knowledge production, policy discussions, and broader efforts for world remaking and to address the challenges Africans face. 

Since coming to Canada in 2016, Zerihun has been actively involved in leadership and community engagement with the Ethiopian diaspora and other communities.

At the heart of the Canadian soul, there is a deep commitment for the human community. This is what brought me to Grebel to study how we can live in peace. Researching and engaging through the lens of social justice for marginalized and underserved communities is my deep aspiration to bridge the two worlds I relate to.

Alongside his MPACS degree, he serves as the Vice Chair of the Ethiopian Canadians’ Association for Kitchener-Waterloo and the Surrounding Area. “It has been an exciting and remarkable learning experience with the opportunities of opening various avenues for growth and success,” Zerihun says. These avenues have included serving as Program Coordinator for Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region (FACSW) from MarchAugust 2022, and as a leader of the Resilience Project for underserved communities and East African people in the region. In each of these roles, Zerihun focused on funding, project planning, and community engagement while working to strengthen collaboration on common challenges facing underserved communities. Zerihun has also worked as a research assistant to Professor Ann Fitze-Gerald, director of Balsillie School of International Affairs to undertake research on conflict n Ethiopia. He also served as a Peace Scholar for Professor Johonna McCants-Turner supporting the development of a scholarly presentation at Harvard University’s Canada Seminar on black and racialized feminism in in the context of state violence Canada.

Zerihun has also been active at the University of Waterloo, where he served as an MPACS representative for the Graduate Student Association (GSA). At the time of this publication, he serves as President of the African Graduate Student Association (UWAGSA) and African Canadian Association of Waterloo Region and Area (ACAWRA). He also serves as a policy analyst and supports projects with the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE), where he has provided training on conflict resolution, non-violent communication and community engagement.

While enhancing his perspective in many ways, the MPACS program also has deep personal connections for Zerihun. One example of this is the War which broke out in November 2020 in the northern part of in Ethiopia, between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. This conflict is one of many events that influenced his approach to studying peace.  

I joined Grebel with an aim to link the structural, political, and economic aspects of poverty, hunger and wars. Also, to understand governance challenges with sensitivity and nuance to applying emancipatory, liberal, local, and international partnerships of peacebuilding approaches.

On top of his work as a researcher and negotiator, he has also contributed articles for online and print media.  

I am a strong believer that education in Africa or any part of the global South brings a responsibility for action and social change.

Zerihun draws inspiration from pioneering African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Tom Mboya, Ali Mazrui, Gebrehiwot Baykedagn, Temesgen Gebre, and others. He likes to engage African problems with a focus on enhancing institutions, governance and policy. The MPACS program has allowed him to pursue leadership and contribute to social justice initiatives here in Canada, strengthened by his commitment to learning, engaging, and grappling with complex issues

Racism, social inequalities, injustice, poverty, lack of equal opportunity for immigrants, refugees, etc. have dramatically influenced my current and future research, and how I engage with issues.

Choosing MPACS was multi-faceted for Zerihun. One of the large benefits he has found in the program is how it can challenge worldviews and teach the importance of understanding everyone’s unique backgrounds and experiences.  

As an immigrant of African descent, I have come to the realization that my voice matters, and I need to take action as I interact with different people from different walks of life. I have become an advocate for representation, decision making, inclusion and diversity. Issues of immigration and migration are now my new interests as I am part of that community. It is an area that requires significant intervention and fresh voices.

Throughout his degree, there were many courses that stood out to Zerihun. One of his favorites was PACS 605: Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding, taught by Professor Nathan Funk. Part of what Zerihun enjoyed about this course was its focus on social equity, nonviolent change, and reconciliation. This course appealed to the values of restorative justice, peace building, and interdisciplinarity while devoting attention to local and Indigenous knowledges. 

PACS 605 provides an opportunity to hear what peers think of some serious topics we deal with as a global community. We had one of the most exciting online discussion forums on Learn commenting and reflecting each week. It is the only course I encountered that incorporated the burning topic of racism, and African philosophy of peacebuilding such as Ubuntu, which makes it profound in engaging real world experience with diverse knowledge from various cultures.

Growing up in Africa. Zerihun witnessed the poverty, violence, and deprivation ensured by ordinary Africans. Individually and in collaboration with others, he hopes to get involved in peacebuilding and development initiatives focused on alleviating these problems. After graduating, Zerihun hopes to continue his journey as a scholar focused on policy analysis. He also hopes to continue research and advocacy for policy change with stakeholders based in Ottawa, Waterloo region and the Greater Toronto Area.