Introduced: Brian Currin

Brian Currin is a South African Human Rights lawyer and international mediator. He played a central role in the political transformation process in South Africa during the late 1980s and 1990s. As the Director of the Concentric Alliance, he is currently involved in projects within the mining sector in Southern African countries aiming to build relations between the private sector, the government, and mining communities.

What are you working on as a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy?

As a human rights lawyer, I have worked as a social activist and change agent for over 30 years. Initially as a lawyer during the final decade of apartheid in South Africa and after 1995, internationally as a mediator and peace process facilitator in intra-state conflicts.

What has been of grave concern to me for many years is why, so often, after peace agreements have been reached, conflict re-emerges and with that human rights violations perpetrated by agents of “popular” governments whose leaders had, in their earlier lives, led the struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights. 

I am currently researching that phenomenon. In doing so, I am analyzing the history, nature, and the extent of political development internationally, as reflected in political and economic institutions, to understand political transition and the drivers of political order, on the one hand, and political decay -- why states fail -- on the other.

In a few words, how would you describe your cooperation with the Robert Bosch Academy? What do you appreciate the most about the Academy?

In my experience, the Academy achieves the perfect balance in its engagement with fellows: freedom, on the one hand, to do one’s own thing, but at the same time a constant discrete presence organizing, advising, and facilitating the “group” and each fellow’s individual needs, simultaneously encouraging and enabling the achievement of each fellow’s chosen objective for the fellowship.

How do you evaluate the fellow community? To what extent did you get in touch with other fellows and what did you get out of it?

The quality and diversity of my co-fellows is amazing. To have so much expertise on one’s doorstep is a privilege. Unfortunately, because of our diverse needs and interests I have not been able to make the most of this treasure. As much as our weekly lunches as well as the wonderful tours to different parts of Germany bring us together, for me they are not enough. So I am committed henceforth to having as many one-on-one lunches with each of my co-fellows before I leave at the end of January next year.

What new insights are you going to take home to South Africa?

There is huge value in looking at problems from different angles, especially from a distance. So, what I observe about my country’s challenges through a Berlin lens, where I am learning so much about state and nation building, reconciliation and healing, is very different from what I observe and experience whilst in South Africa.

Somehow, the big picture becomes blurred and we do not see it clearly enough. For me the big picture that I see now as being fundamental to South Africa’s future and the future of many other sub-Saharan states is the building of inclusive political and economic institutions and nation building, which are in my assessment, in most instances, non-existent.

What do you like about Berlin? What is your favorite spot in the city and why?

Friendly people, diversity, walks in forests, wonderful lakes, museums, culture and concerts, neighbourhood bars and restaurants, and bakeries. And I must mention the seamless public transport system.

My favourite spot! A difficult question because there are so many, but let me settle on Gendarmenmarkt. The dimensions of the square are so pleasing to my eye. It’s a square through which I amble most mornings and evenings between Stadtmitte station and the office. My wife and I are frequent attendees of the Konzerthaus, always an uplifting treat.

And of course the two cathedrals, French “Dom” and German “Dom” facing one another in harmony with the Konzerthaus and statue of poet Friedrich Schiller, which, all together, although not intended suggest what is dear to my heart: peace and reconciliation.