Archive for Iraq

A Witness to Four Wars, Columbia Graduate Now Focuses on Building Peace

The following story was put together by the Public Affairs Office of Columbia University.  Monique, the student featured, is graduating from SIPA today.


Monique Tuyisenge-Onyegbula, 27 years old, has already witnessed four wars in Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been a long journey for Tuyisenge-Onyegbula, who is graduating with a master’s degree from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs this month. Her goal: To help bring peace to communities affected by violence.


Monique Tuyisenge-Onyegbula (center) with her brothers and cousins in Kigali, Rwanda

Image credit: Monique Tuyisenge-Onyegbula

At the age of 11, Monique and her family were forced to flee from civil war in Rwanda, where she spent most of her childhood, and then lived as a refugee in Cote d’Ivoire, which was also affected by conflict. Years later, she was able to return with her brother to the U.S., where she was born, and served in military operations supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Navy.

“It took me four wars to understand; war is not the answer, machetes are not the answer,” said Tuyisenge-Onyegbula, who earned a bachelor’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University in 2007. “If we don’t sit down and discuss what we were fighting about we will not be able to keep the peace.”

Born in Michigan, where her parents were students at Andrews University, Tuyisenge-Onyegbula moved back to Rwanda with her family in 1984, when she was a year old. In April 1994, the country descended into a brutal ethnic war between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. More than 800,000 people were killed in less than six months.

Her family fled without passports to Goma, a border town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire). They lived with two other families in a one-bedroom apartment near a hospital that was overwhelmed with victims of the war in Rwanda.

“I consider myself lucky,” she said. “Although we had to stand in line for food aid, we did not have to live in the refugee camps for long, which became dangerous… But I hit a very low point in Goma, and I lost all hope there.”

As conditions deteriorated, Tuyisenge-Onyegbula’s father arranged for her and her brother, Jeffrey, to travel to Cote d’Ivoire and enroll in a boarding school. Without passports, it took three years for the siblings to establish their U.S. citizenship. Max Church, a close family friend in Michigan, helped secure their birth certificates and establish their American nationality.

For much of this time Tuyisenge-Onyegbula received no communication from her family in Goma and feared the worst. As political tensions in Cote d’Ivoire escalated, she and her brother received their passports and arrived in the U.S. in January 1998.

For two years they lived in Ohio with Church’s son and his family. In 2000, Tuyisenge-Onyegbula was reunited with her family in Delaware—they had escaped to Kenya and passed through Haiti before arriving in the U.S. After completing high school, she enlisted in the navy to put herself through college, and served until January 2006 as an engineering machinist on the U.S.S. Wasp, operating and maintaining steam turbines and reduction gears used for ship propulsion.

During her service, she shared her experiences in Rwanda with her shipmates. “I would literally shake for hours just talking about it, and the shaking would last beyond the conversations,” she said. “I was still bitter.”

After leaving the military, she completed her studies at George Mason in Virginia. While there, she attended an event where she witnessed the first conversations she had seen between Hutus and Tutsis since leaving Rwanda. Deeply moved, she committed herself to working for peace in the region where she grew up.

“I want to help create an instrument of change that can help break the cycle of violence in the Great Lakes region of Africa,” she said. “Ethnic identities are a major cause of the problem. They are mere labels that hinder our conversations. I want to help create peace.”

At Columbia, she studied international security policy and served as president of the SIPA Pan-African Network, coordinating events such as the African Diplomatic Forum and African Economic Forum. Tuyisenge-Onyegbula and her husband are currently expecting their first child. She hopes to return to the workforce after her baby is born, to focus on foreign policy issues with a U.S. government agency, an organization in the Great Lakes region, or a multilateral organization such as the U.N.

“I survived for a reason, I believe. I suffered, but I was spared for some reason too,” she said. “Many friends of mine died from violence or from starvation. I want no child to go through what I experienced.”

The People You Meet

One of the things I love about my job is that I constantly get to meet fascinating people.  This is certainly the case for SIPA students as well due to the vast number of events held on campus.

This week I participated in a Marine Executive Association event in New York City.  The event was a career and education panel focused on helping active and retired Marines think strategically about their future.

During the networking portion of the event I met a gentleman by the name of David Danelo who it turns out is an accomplished author.  He has written two books and I immediately added both to my “to read” list.   If you are interested in border issues and/or security issues, it sounds like his two books provide deep insight and fodder for future study and analysis.

The book that especially piqued my interest is entitled, The Border: Exploring the U.S. – Mexican Divide.  To research the book, David traveled the length of both the U.S. and Mexico sides of the border over a period of several months.  Border issues are a hot political topic and the likelihood of increased discussion in the future makes this sound like a fascinating read.

George P. Shultz, U.S. Secretary of State from 1982-89 states:

“Danelo provides invaluable information and insight in this book, which deserves a wide and attentive audience.”

The other book is entitled, Blood Stripes – A Grunt’s View of the War in Iraq.  The mainstream media often pays attention to the large policy issues related to the war in Iraq, but very rarely have I heard in depth accounts from those in the field.

Both of these books look interesting and if either of these topics is of interest to you and you plan on studying at SIPA, they might provide great preparation and insight prior to enrolling in our program.

The New York Post states:
“Activists, left or right, will find this book uncomfortable, but its honesty makes it a great education for the rest of us.”

Counterterrorism Specialist Austin Long to Join SIPA Faculty

Austin Long has been appointed Assistant Professor in the School of International and Public Affairs, where he will teach security policy. Long most recently worked as an associate political scientist for the RAND Corporation, serving in Iraq as an analyst and advisor to Multinational Force Iraq and the U.S. military. He also worked as a consultant to MIT Lincoln Laboratory on the technology and urban operations of counterinsurgency.

Professor Long authored the book, Deterrence – From Cold War to Long War. The following description comes from the RAND Corporation Web site:

Since its inception six decades ago, the RAND Corporation has been one of the key institutional homes for the study of deterrence. Never a well-loved concept in the United States, deterrence lost any luster it held after the Cold War. The 2002 U.S. national-security strategy proclaimed deterrence’s irrelevance for most future national-security challenges. However, the 2006 version of this strategy reversed this move, recognizing that deterrence will be as indispensable for the “long war” as it was for the Cold War. This book examines these six decades of research for lessons relevant to the current and future strategic environments.

Among its conclusions are that U.S. domestic politics inevitably requires some considerable reliance on deterrence and that deterrence remains relevant to most of the threats the United States is likely to face, from near-peer competitors to regional states of concern and even to many terrorist organizations. It also makes specific recommendations about policies and force structures the United States should pursue to maximize its deterrent capabilities.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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