Double Mason alum leads Africa Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace

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Joseph Sany was named one of the vice presidents of the United States Institute of Peace, where he leads the Africa Center. Photo provided.
Joseph Sany was named one of the vice presidents of the United States Institute of Peace, where he leads the Africa Center. Photo provided.

Growing up in the slums of Cameroon, Joseph Sany said he witnessed urban violence and police oppression regularly. He heard about genocide in Rwanda, and he saw more violence firsthand when he worked with NGOs and visited countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone during civil war.

“What drives me is making sure that at the end of the day, everything I did, I helped a woman, a man, a child live in a community where they don’t have to worry about violence,” said Sany, who earned his master’s in conflict analysis and resolution (’05) and his PhD (’13) in public policy from George Mason University.

In October 2020, Sany was named one of the vice presidents of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where he leads the Africa Center, following a more than 20-year career working at the forefront of peacebuilding with civil society, governments, businesses, and international organizations in Africa.

Sany and his colleagues at the center, which is committed to peace and security in Africa, regularly meet with and inform U.S. policymakers, including the U.S Congress, he said.

“It’s about, how do we listen to African voices? How do we work with our African partners in that spirit of humility and co-learning?” Sany said, adding that the center informs policies and shapes peacebuilding practice by supporting those working on the front lines of conflict in Africa.

Whether it was training thousands of peacekeepers in Africa on conflict resolution, advising diplomats of the Economic Community of Central African States with USIP, or providing guidance to multimillion-dollar peacebuilding and civil society development programs in Africa and Asia with the nonprofit FHI 360, Sany said Mason laid the foundation for his success.

“The [Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution] allowed me to think through the issues in a systematic way and find approaches to frame them to facilitate the emergence of conflict sensitive solutions,” he said, adding that his public policy degree also provided insight and a foundation for his policy work.

Originally drawn to the school because of its reputation as a leader in conflict resolution, Sany said he also benefited from learning from Mason professors who are peace practitioners with real-world experience, and from international classmates who contributed diverse and inspiring perspectives to class discussions.

“Sany was always probing and seeking fresh answers to the complex challenges of conflict analysis and resolution, with a particular passion for the potential for a peaceful Africa,” said Carter School professor Terrence Lyons. Sany said Lyons served as a mentor to him and provided connections that led to his first contract as a consultant in the conflict resolution field.

“What made [Sany] stand out was how he straddled the worlds of grassroots everyday peacebuilding and the graduate seminar, always looking to understand how the two can be linked in order to build a more just world,” Lyons said “His well-deserved position at the USIP will allow him to continue that work and to make sure we never ignore those working in the trenches to build peace in Africa.”

“Most of my classmates are now out there in the world making a difference because we were exposed to solid theoretical foundations, the world of work, the nature of the international cohort, and the proximity to Washington, D.C.,” Sany said. “That is a winning combo.”