Cairo, EGYPT – When you hear the phrase ‘peace process’, a few specific pictures of global news events come to mind. Depending on your age, perhaps in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or even 60’s, it could be synonymous with everything from the first ever Camp David Peace Accord with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978 with President Jimmy Carter, or the Israeli-Palestine Peace process of the 90’s, right across to the North and South Korean peace process of the last five years.
What these processes traditionally spew out across the media are usually images and videos of very seasoned global negotiators, almost middle aged diplomats crowding the halls of the UN, or a battery of State Department officials dashing from one time zone to another, trying to hold together with ‘grit and panache’, what always seems to be an elusive or at best – a fragile peace process.
“I don’t consider myself a diplomat. I just see things a little different from most people, and I try to share my honest ideas about how the world could work better, says 17 year old Zuriel Oduwole”. She had just finished an unprecedented face-to-face meeting and was sharing her experience with one of the Arab world’s most influential leaders and a strong US ally, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi of Egypt.
The 30th world leader she would sit down with over the last 7 years, she spoke to the Egyptian leader openly in front of the media about everything, from his role in the stability of the middle east today, to his leadership in Egypt, the voice of the Arab youth and their place in shaping the future of the world, and what he wanted his legacy to be, after he leaves office as President of Egypt.
Why do you have to wait for war, to start peace, she asked the media? Zuriel believes the world can drive for peace constantly, to prevent war breaking out, in the first instance.
Ironically, it is not her first foray into the global diplomacy circuit. In September 2015 when she was just 13 years old and while attending a series of events at the UN, she added her voice to a peace initiative between Venezuela and Guyana, over the disputed Essequibo oil territory. She sat down first with President David Granger of Guyana asking him in front of news cameras what the real issues were, while sharing her opinion, on why both countries should avoid a military conflict, at all costs.
“I just thought the world had enough conflict zones already – Sudan, Afghanistan, Congo, Yemen, Iraq – and why add another. Children especially girls, are always voiceless and vulnerable, because schools and education are always early casualties of conflict”, the 17 year old teenager explained about her initiative four years earlier.
A fierce advocate for girls education, especially for the African continent where girls as young as 11 and 12 are known to get married, she was honored in January 2017 at the age of 14 at the US State Department by Secretary of State John Kerry, for her ‘steely’ advocacy. According to him, she could have been a normal California girl, playing with her friends on social media and cruising the malls after school, but she chose differently.
“The world should listen to President Abdel Fattah El Sisi speak later this month at the UN General Assembly in New York. He would be sharing his new vision for the middle east, and I think he may say something quite interesting too”, the 17 year old added, as she wrapped up her media address.
She is seemingly following in the footsteps of strong US female diplomats, including former UN Ambassador up until 2018; Ambassador Nikky Haley, and former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton. The remarkable difference however is, Zuriel Oduwole is still very much, just a teenager – the girl next door.
When she is not engaged on the global scene or speaking to youths across the globe about the power of an education, she is busy leading and handing out her annual DUSUSU [Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up] award to an African first lady, for their measurable work in the area of gender development.
So far, the first ladies of Tanzania , Kenya , Namibia , Senegal , Mozambique  and Cape Verde , have all received this coveted six year old annual recognition.