• This Mauritian, senior UN official, continues in his personal name, a relentless fight on social networks

In this exclusive interview, Bruno Donat, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the United Nations, looks back on his career and his passion for his work. He also shares what is most important to him: peace.

Obviously, your surname is not unknown to Mauritians, including, among others, your father, Monseigneur Rex Donat, former Anglican bishop of Mauritius. Recently, you have made headlines beyond our borders, notably through Al Jazeera, Reuters and The Guardian. But, could you introduce yourself?
I am part of the Donat family. I would say that I am one of those Donats, Mauritians, a little dreamer, pragmatic, creative and perhaps a little “crazy”. Courageous and attached to the values ​​transmitted by the family.
My father, still active at 88, embodies this family vitality. I followed in the footsteps of my elders, my brothers, by building my own identity. The person I am today is the result of this rich family heritage and the experiences that shaped me.

Who were your role models growing up?
I was born at the time of independence. Growing up, I had extraordinary parents who, in their youth, were beginning to become national leaders. They were models. My father was the first Mauritian to hold the position of “warden” (rector) of St Andrew's School secondary school. My mother, an inspiration and pioneer in many fields, served as president of the Girl Guides and the Mother's Union. In her old age, she became the first non-Catholic to head a Catholic college. My brothers, Jean and Norbert, are also leaders in their own capacities.

On the Church side, figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a model of peace, and Anglican Bishop Trevor Huddleston have had a great influence on me. During my teenage years, when Trevor Huddleston, persona non grata in South Africa, became our bishop in the Anglican Church, he was fighting for the release of Nelson Mandela and was president of the World Anti-Apartheid Movement. This had a big impact on me.

When it comes to politics, I fell into the pot like Obelix. While still a high school student, I did an interview with Sir Gaëtan Duval for the school magazine. At university, I wrote an article on the post-independence period and had the honor of interviewing major political figures such as Paul Bérenger, Navin Ramgoolam and Sir Anerood Jugnauth.

From a young age, scouting, as a Cub Scout in Rose-Hill, offered me excellent training with role models in this field.

What advice would you give to a young person who might like you one day want to become a senior civil servant working on rescue and peace initiatives, in conflicts, as a peacekeeper or humanitarian?
I think you have to dream. You have to dream to be able to change and improve things, for yourself and for those who cannot improve their situation.

I have three pieces of advice for the younger generation. First, learn well and use your intellect. You need to be informed and understand the topics in depth. Use reason and intellect to analyze and solve problems. Second, be human. The heart thinks too, and it is essential to work with compassion and empathy. Third, have a sense of humor and don't take yourself too seriously. Remember that clothes don't make a monk. So, combine intellect, heart and humor to lead a balanced and enriching life.

After leaving Mauritius, what was your academic career? How has this prepared you for your professional career and life choices?
I did my first degree in theology, not necessarily to become a priest or religious, but to understand people. Having grown up in an environment of values, I wanted to understand what people believe in, but also the non-belief of atheists. I explored major religions like Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity.

Then, I pursued a master's degree in political science with a concentration in international relations. I then became interested in understanding political systems, individuals and their beliefs. I took a step back to analyze international systems, markets, types of governments and governance. I covered many regions to deepen my understanding of political systems.

My specialization became conflict management. In wars and major conflicts, there is always a military aspect. I wanted to understand this, not just by reading texts, but through direct experience. I was a U.S. Army cadet, a program normally open only to Americans, while I continued my education.

These three pillars have prepared me for my international career, equipping me with the knowledge and skills to navigate and excel in a complex and ever-changing world.

How did you transition from your studies to an international career?
When I was still a student, I did all kinds of jobs to finance my studies. I worked in coffee shops, while volunteering for Human Rights Watch, which gave me human rights DNA. I then joined The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

My first internet application was like a lottery for me: my first job at the World Bank. Thanks to my skills in English and French, I stood out. I was assigned to some pretty interesting education projects, which marked the beginning of my international career.

After eight years at the World Bank, I returned to my love of conflict resolution, working with combatants in the broader Great Lakes region, particularly in Congo. From the World Bank I moved to the United Nations Secretariat, where I worked for 25 years in international relations, mainly in war zones. My specialty is the disarmament of combatants in conflict zones.

Attached to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, I currently work in peace operations. Most of our work is not made public. It's about quiet diplomacy and public diplomacy.

At the UN, I wore three hats: civilian peacekeeper, humanitarian and political affairs.

What are the highlights of your career in international affairs, particularly in the war zones and conflicts you have worked on?
There are too many, it will make people jealous. I will simply say that I had the privilege of saving lives. Being able to make decisions that directly impact people's lives is a big responsibility.
I was three times the head of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants in Congo and in neighboring countries: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and others. I had a team of 150 people, made up mainly of civilians and my fellow peacekeepers. It's thrilling to save lives.

As a team leader at UNOWAS, the UN regional office for West Africa, covering 12 countries. I had the opportunity to be on the front lines for crucial missions. Which allowed me to understand the importance of quiet diplomacy and public diplomacy. It was an invaluable experience that shaped me as a professional and as a human being.

And what about the stories of you with your guitar and drums singing “La Rivière Tanier” in various parts of the globe?
It came naturally to me. Music and me are a family affair. We sing at parties and the song “La Rivière Tanier” has a very special meaning for me. I have been lulled by this melody since my childhood.

Even in a war situation, music has always brought me peace. I have always traveled with my guitar. Which is atypical for a senior civil servant, but I do it without hesitation. Whether in Somalia, Gaza or Africa, almost everywhere, I use music as a means of communication.

It even saved my life once. We were under enemy fire, in a dense and dangerous region. I got into our vehicle and started singing “La Rivière Tanier”. The people around us understood that we were not a threat. They came to us and my colleagues were able to initiate a dialogue.

It is not every day that we see such recognition for a fellow citizen from such a broad spectrum of Mauritian society. This regardless of political allegiances, with for example, on social networks, former President Cassam Uteem writing that you “deserve our deep respect […] There is still hope in humanity! “, and more…
This embarrasses me a little, but I want to thank everyone who has supported me during recent events. I appreciate the encouragement I received.

I made an online plea regarding the children in Gaza and Israel killed on October 7. This can earn me enemies and, over the course of my career, I have had many. Advocating for peace is never easy.

At the beginning of March, I started a hunger strike in Geneva.

Encouragement came from everywhere. I've had calls from leaders all over the world. Some people don't like that I advocate for children in Gaza and Israel, but it is undeniable that too many women and children are dying. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, learned of my hunger strike and wrote to me to thank me for my “generous initiative”, which gave me a lot of courage.

There have been unpleasant incidents. In New York it didn't go well and I was hospitalized. A former head of state told me: “Bruno, you have everything to lose by doing this. » But recently, when I was in Gaza, I told myself that we cannot stay still.

Apparently the message got through and I shook the international system. I continue my life despite the threats that persist. Some said they were going to cut off my head. It's difficult, but I continue to work for peace. The United Nations, international organizations and Member States certainly have a role to play. But, personally, as an individual, I encourage people to advocate for peace in a peaceful way.

Are there any lessons learned that you would like to share?
You must have the courage of your convictions. It's not always easy, but it's an inviolable right that everyone has. As individuals, we must have the courage to help our neighbors. In Mauritius, communitarianism threatens peace and good Mauritian living. With the elections approaching, we must be vigilant. Sometimes, Mauritians do not realize the privilege of having peace here.

And when are you going to serve your country, Maurice?
I believe that I am already serving my country. I have had situations where I was able to directly serve. For example, on the post-Kaya situation.
I would really like to work in Mauritius. The wars will continue without me, but I would love to work for Mauritius more.

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