This month, October, the UK and several other countries in Europe mark Black History Month - an opportunity to celebrate the sometimes overlooked contributions of people of African and Caribbean descent.
In collaboration with our staff working across 26 countries, we have chosen to spotlight some of the incredible Black women and men who have played and continue to play such a crucial part in humanitarian, peace-building, and disarmament history.
The figures profiled below are important to MAG staff, but this list could have been so much longer given the huge number of Black humanitarian heroes who remain unsung.
Margaret Arach Orech
Margaret is an ambassador for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its sister organisation the Cluster Munitions Coalition.
As a victim of conflict in Uganda, Margaret works tirelessly to use her own experiences to inform her work highlighting the plight of landmine survivors and advocating for their needs and fighting for international recognition of their rights.
In 2018, Margaret was honoured by the EU with a Human Rights Defender award for her work as the Director of Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA), as Commissioner to the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA) coalition, as a board member of Uganda’s National Council for Disability (NCD), and as a partner to the Uganda Mine Action Centre.
Margaret was also recognised as the 2014 Woman PeaceMaker by the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.
"Any work for Humanity is not in vain even when you encounter setbacks. Persistence does yield positive results."
Margaret Arach Orech
About her campaigning work and overcoming insurmountable odds, Margaret continues to stay upbeat: “Any work for Humanity is not in vain even when you encounter setbacks. Persistence does yield positive results."
Margaret continues to advocate for landmine survivors and campaign for states to sign up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Ella Baker (13 December 1903 - 13 December 1986)
Ella is one of the most important American leaders of the 20th century and, arguably, one of the most influential women in the civil rights movement.
Ella played a key role in some of the most influential organisations of the time, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence”
“The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence,” Ella said of leadership in the civil rights movement.
The nickname bestowed upon Ella, "Fundi", reflected her influence on young leaders in the civil rights movement. The Swahili word means a person who teaches a craft to the next generation.
Ella also involved herself with several women’s organisations and was committed to justice for all people.
Ella may be less well-known for her work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, but it is no less important. The group would ultimately become one of the steering group members of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), which works to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Ella continued to be a respected and influential leader and committed activist until her death on her 83rd birthday.
Mbaye Diagne (18 March 1958 – 31 May 1994)
Mbaye was a Senegalese military officer who served in Rwanda as a United Nations military observer from 1993 to 1994.
When Rwanda descended into the horror of genocide, Mbaye found himself part of a UN peacekeeping force that was stretched to breaking point but his actions made him stand apart.
As well as the unfolding genocide, Mbaye was appalled by the actions of European aid agencies working to save only their own nationals and dismayed at how UN peacekeepers in Rwanda had been let down by a lack of coordination from New York.
Mbaye resorted to taking huge risks on his own initiative to save hundreds of civilian lives.
The genocide had rekindled a civil war between the government army and rebel forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which had been briefly on hold following a tentative peace deal. Led by the now-President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, the RPF advanced on the capital, saying it would stop the massacre.
As time went on, the war split Kigali into two zones – one controlled by the government, the other by the RPF.
On 31 May 1994, Mbaye was killed when a mortar shell launched by RPF forces exploded near his car at a government checkpoint.
His body was repatriated to Senegal and buried with full military honours.
In 2005 Mbaye was posthumously awarded the rank of Knight in Senegal’s National Order of the Lion. And the UN Security Council created the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage in 2014 in his honour.
It is impossible to do justice to Mbaye's incredible story and the context of the Rwandan genocide; we recommend this interactive BBC article below.
MAG is delighted to take this opportunity to draw your attention to just some of the amazing people who have advanced humanitarian, disarmament and peacebuilding efforts over the years.