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Zeremariam Fre honoured with 2018 Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Award

5 October 2018

We are delighted to announce that Dr Zeremariam Fre, author of ‘Knowledge Sovereignty among African Cattle Herders’, has been awarded the prestigious 2018 Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship in recognition of his outstanding work supporting marginalised pastoral communities across the Horn of Africa. 

Horn of Africa

For more than 30 years Dr Fre, a Teaching Fellow at UCL Bartlett Development Planning Unit, has been helping to secure the rights of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities, promoting sustainable development and environmental care, and conserving and sharing indigenous knowledge. 

The Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship recognises and supports people from all walks of life as they contribute to reconciliation projects within, between and across communities. Dr Fre becomes just the ninth individual to be awarded the Fellowship, which this year focuses on environmental care.

Commenting on his award, Dr Fre, said: “’The Horn of Africa region has had its share of disasters over the last forty years and has been in the global media limelight which has tarnished its image. Yet, the Horn of Africa is the centre of many historic civilizations including Christianity and Islam, encompassing a wealth of literature and architecture, and has a long history of communities who share common borders, ethnic affiliations and common resources. 

“As someone born and bred in that region, with great beliefs in pan-Africanism, I always had a great interest in our common heritages, not our differences, and that inspired me to establish the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa. 

“My involvement with the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at UCL since 2002 has  helped to share my African experience and knowledge with our students but also to learn a great deal in creating greater solidarity with the colleagues who share common interests on African and wider Global issues like the ones we face in the Horn of Africa.’’

In 1989, Dr Fre founded the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), an African-led international NGO respected for fostering cooperation in a region that has been beset with food insecurity, conflict and political instability.

Dr Fre has been a passionate and committed spokesperson for marginalised pastoralists in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Sudan and Uganda, facilitating knowledge sharing and cooperation across communities and borders. He has fostered an understanding of pastoralism as an economically rational and environmentally sound way of living, and of pastoralists as effective custodians of the environment on which they rely. 

Announcing the award, Fellowship Chairman Dr Charles Lane said: “Dr Fre has sought local and community-led solutions to environment and livelihood challenges which can be replicated, adapted and shared. His approach to pastoral development focuses on environment sustainability and is shaped by commitment to regionalism, reconciliation and grass-roots action.

“This approach has helped change how people think about their situation and given hope to other marginalised communities across the region and beyond. Dr Fre’s contribution stood out among a competitive global field of impressive nominees for the Fellowship, who are all working tirelessly to make our world a better, more peaceful and compassionate place.”

Dr Fre recently published a book with UCL Press titled ‘Knowledge Sovereignty among African Cattle Herders’. It is the first book to study the practices of Beni-Amer cattle owners in the western part of the Horn of Africa. As the book explores these herders are not only masters in cattle breeding, they are also knowledge sovereign, in terms of owning productive genes of cattle and the cognitive knowledge base crucial to sustainable development.   

The Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship is a flagship project of Global Reconciliation, recognising and supporting people contributing to reconciliation within, between and across communities. Global Reconciliation aims to research and promote reconciliation through dialogue and practical engagements across national, cultural, religious and racial differences in Australia and overseas.  

Previous winners include South Sudanese musician and activist Emanuel Jal FGR and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO FGR. 

Dr Fre was presented with his fellowship, by Tim Flannery, a leading Australian environmentalist and author, Tim Flannery at an award ceremony at the Melbourne Town Hall, Australia, on Thursday, 4 October 2018. 

Image credit: Zere Alitena mountain Ranges Tigray Ethiopia 2016