EVANSTON, Illinois, December 30 /PRNewswire/ --

Amid daily headlines of civil war, suicide attacks, ethnic violence and social unrest emerges some welcome positive news.

The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International -- a humanitarian service organization dedicated to world peace and understanding -- has awarded seven Africans to study peacemaking and conflict resolution at the Rotary Centers for International Studies located at leading universities in England, Japan, Australia, Argentina, and the United States.

The African fellows in the 2008-10 class hail from Somalia, Zambia, Gambia, Nigeria, Togo, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

Launched in 2002, this innovative approach to world peace is a master's level program aimed at equipping the next generation leaders with skills needed to reduce the threat of war and violence. The Peace Fellows are selected every year in a globally competitive process in which applicants must demonstrate a commitment to peace through their personal, academic and professional achievements.

Like the members of the classes preceding them, the 60 students in the 2008-10 class are a diverse group, representing 33 countries and an array of professional and cultural backgrounds. Their interests and areas of expertise include education, international law, economic development, journalism, and social justice. The seven African fellows are:

- Mahamoud Abdi Sheikh Ahmed of Borama, Somalia, a team leader with the Norwegian Refugee Council in Somaliland, which provides basic education to children of displaced families. Ahmed's own childhood was interrupted by inter-clan violence, forcing his family to flee to Ethiopia. Ahmed eventually returned to Borama, became a teacher and manager and newscaster of a local TV station. He will attend the Rotary Center at the University of Bradford, England. - Elias Courson of Porthacourt, Nigeria, worked with the non-profit organization Our Niger Delta to address community development and conflict resolution. He believes that his Rotary Fellowship will sharpen his understanding of the causes of conflicts in Nigeria and will prepare him to work towards an implementation of humanitarian law standards in Nigeria. He is attending the Rotary Center at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. - Murtala Touray of Bakau, Gambia, initiated the first national civil society coalition in Gambia to observe the election process and mobilize mass participation in voting. He is attending the Rotary Center at the University of Bradford, England. - Yawo Tekpa of Lome, Togo, had to flee his home country in 2002 to avoid political persecution for his efforts towards student rights and social justice. After gaining asylum in the United States he earned a bachelor's degree in peace studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Tekpa worked as an outreach coordinator for Amnesty International. He is attending the Rotary Center at the University of California Berkeley, USA. - Teddy Foday-Musa of Freetown, Sierra Leone, founded the Sierra Leonean chapter of the World Peace Prayer Society and has worked as a teacher. It is his belief that peace and good governance are the gateway for development of Sierra Leone and Africa as a continent. He is attending the Rotary Center at the University of Queensland. - Francis Kabosha of Mporokos, Zambia, has worked on projects to address water preservation and malnutrition in his country as a member of the District Development Coordination Committee and Southern African Regional Disaster Response Team. He is attending the Rotary Center at the University of Bradford. - Joseph Hongo of Nairobi, Kenya, has worked with the AMANI Forum, a nonprofit organization that advocates for dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution and aims to organize Parliamentarians for sustainable peace in the Great Lakes region. He is attending the Rotary Center at the University of Queensland, Australia.

One of my most memorable experiences was observing the peace negotiation between the government of Uganda and Lord's Resistance Army rebels in Juba, says Hongo, who most recently assessed the underlying issues of the post-election violence in Kenya. The responsibility to bring this country to peace and tolerance rests with Kenyans. It may take long, be difficult and sometimes involve sacrifice of certain interests, but eventually all Kenyans will enjoy the fruits of their hard work, for generations to come.

In addition to the two-year program, the Rotary Center at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok offers an intensive, three-month course aimed at mid-level professionals in governments, NGOs, and international industry. After five sessions, 18 African professionals have completed the peace studies program in Thailand.

Liberian peace activist Richelieu Allison was a member of the first graduation class. He is the regional director of the West African Youth Network, a group that mobilizes and trains young people to restore peace and human rights in West Africa. Inspired by the peace fellowship program, he now plans to put what he has learned into practice. With the help of the Rotary Foundation and the Rotary Club of Freetown in Sierra Leone, Allison is organizing in March 2009 a three-week peace caravan through Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

The aim of the caravan is to promote peace, unity and reconciliation in the war affected countries in West Africa and to increase the involvement of local people in the peace building process, says Allison.

Rotary Foundation Chair Jonathan Majiyagbe notes that 363 Rotary Center alumni, including 31 Africans, already are making a difference in key decision-making positions in governments and organizations around the world.

It is this growing network of peace fellows that makes me believe that peace is possible and Africa will have a peaceful and prosperous future, said Majiyagbe, a lawyer from Kano, Nigeria.

Rotary is the world's largest privately funded source of international scholarships and has more than 30,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographic regions. For more information visit www.rotary.org

Sandra Prufer of Rotary International, +1-847-866-3208, sandra.prufer@rotary.org