Today the news media (that I follow anyway) are headlining the unprecedented, surprise visit of Secretary Kerry to Somalia, following meetings in Kenya to discuss the fight against Al Shabaab, regional security (with a focus on Burundi and Sudan) and refugees in Kenya. Besides meeting with current politicians, opposition leaders, the UN High Commission for Refugees and NGOs in the aid and development communities, he visited the elephant orphanage and national park for a safari.
Sound familiar? The focus of top US government officials on the conflict and associated problems in the Horn of Africa is satisfying validation of my research goals and field studies on which I embarked last summer. It is even a bit humorous to see how closely Kerry retraced the steps I took while there. I hope that my dissertation will contribute to the dialogue and shed light on paths forward in the US and international policy to improve regional security, diminish conflict, and improve human security.
But today it makes me sad as well. My mentor, advocate, cheerleader, and advisor, John Steinbruner, is not here to share it with. John passed away from a long battle with cancer less than a month ago. He would have loved seeing this turn of events, after staunchly defending my choice of Somalia and the regional conflicts as an important and worthy case study for my dissertation. John’s wisdom, humanity, vision, and generosity will be celebrated at the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel on Tuesday, May 19.
John taught me that we all matter.
That who I am and what I think mattered to John, and that he wanted to help me, as well as my fellow students and colleagues, make an impact for good in the world. To be my best – whether physical, emotional, intellectually or spiritually – and to do my best.
I came to Maryland’s School of Public Policy and CISSM as an older student with a well established career in examining issues of nuclear nonproliferation and international security from a technical perpsective. I had a choice to make – pursue my PhD going down a familiar path of major power politics and nuclear balancing or to chart new – and messy – intellectual territory studying civil conflict dynamics. My passion was for the latter, but was having difficulty getting traction wtih the seriousness of the issues among more traditional international security experts. John knew different and opened wide the intellectual space to argue how these complex issues mattered not just for humanitarian concerns but for vital national and international security interests.
John would pose incredibly difficult questions and then listen intensely to responses and ulitmately tie complex threads together into simple and cogent policy arguments. My own dissertation, which I had hoped to finish under John’s guidance, is a response to one of those questions. The last time we talked in January, he was excited to see some data analysis I had done which suggested “interesting and important’ results. That was the ultimate you wanted to hear from John – that your ideas or research could be ‘interesting and important’. Then he would gently nudged you in certain directions to make the ideas sharp and clear so that you could have impact with the results.
The news today says that we were right in our choice. All of you who have followed my blog seem to think so too. So today I encourage you to remember, no matter what you are doing and where you are, believe in yourself and make it matter. Because it does.