Since graduating from Wheaton College, Rose Jackson ’06 has worked in some of the most violent regions in the world. Serving as a staffer for various U.S. political campaigns in her “time off,” Jackson has spent most of her time working for organizations on the ground in politically torn nations in Africa, gaining an understanding of the cultural and political tides in these countries in order to help support democracy promotion and enhance access to political rights.
Jackson initially worked with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an international organization that works in numerous countries around the world to support democratic structures and help their operation.
“[I was doing] everything from working with local women’s organizations that were trying to get the government to provide support for women’s rights and access to legal recourse, to working with the parliament in Uganda on how to set up better structures and resource functions,” said Jackson. “I got exposure to . . . fascinating places and people.”
Several years later, Jackson applied for a Rotary Scholarship, spending two years in Kenya, working on a Master’s Degree while also aiding election efforts in Uganda and political development in Somalia, as her focus shifted away from the challenges surrounding development and democracy promotion, and towards a more security-minded approach.
“I became increasingly interested in . . . counter-radicalization, which is . . . essentially the political side of counter-terrorism. In places that have a terrorist or destabilizing threat, looking at what you can do to both stabilize the region and provide peaceful outlets of expression for people. Which is fun!” she added, grinning.
During her Master’s program, Jackson had the opportunity to take a semester and do anything she wanted — a rare opportunity for someone farther along in her career. She became fascinated with the political sentiment of radical democratic change in North Africa.
“What we were looking at in North Africa was the opportunity for fresh systems, the complete overthrow of government, people willing to put their lives on the line for the opportunity to vote, to choose their leaders, to express themselves freely,” said Jackson. That enthusiasm for such change, she says, struck her interest, and at this point in our conversation came the bombshell remark.
“So, I decided to go to Libya, and I got there two weeks before Gadhafi fell.”
And so, in the waning weeks of the Libyan Revolution and its immediate aftermath, Jackson worked on the ground in Libya, conducting research and political analysis surrounding rebel factions and political sentiment.
She used this information to support the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which evacuated hundreds of thousands of at-risk migrant workers to remove them from threatening areas.
“They dropped me in the middle of Libya and they said, provide us regular updates, political analysis, do profiles on who are the major power centers, who’s important, what are flash points, [and whether we] can . . . predict where conflicts might exist,” she explained.
“I got there before it had devolved into mass chaos, before these groups had splintered off into [what are] now turning into . . . organized criminal networks; [It was] a time when people were thankful to the United States for its help, and so I could pretty freely wander around the country and ask people questions.”
Due to this dynamic, the region was largely secure by the time she arrived. But when asked about the inherent danger of working in these regions, Jackson was careful to warn against romanticizing it.
“You have to be able to answer the question . . . is the work you’re doing worth your life?” she said. “You have to confront that harshest, most intense angle of it, because were you to find yourself . . . in the middle of a firefight or kidnapped . . . would you feel that that effort was worth the greater good, that to you it was worth your life? And if you can’t answer ‘yes’ to it, you shouldn’t be in those places.”
Jackson explained that the Libyan rebels took a continuous approach during the revolution by taking one town at a time, and because they held these towns once they had been taken, such a process added to the stability.
“With the exception of . . . one or two towns on either side of where the fighting was at that moment, you were safe and stable,” she said. “When I landed in Benghazi, with the exception of a few buildings with a giant hole through it or occasional pockmarks of bullets, you couldn’t tell there had been any sort of revolution.”
“You would come to a coffee shop and a guy would drive up in a truck that had an anti-aircraft gun . . . welded to the back and he would park his car, get out, get his coffee and get back in – that was his vehicle, they had just retrofitted it for the fight,” Jackson recounted. “[In] moments like those you were very cognizant that you were in a war zone, but the rest of the time people were out buying clothes and eating food and drinking coffee and trying to put their city back together,” she added.
Jackson’s work continued after the fighting had largely ended, but she explained that her work was eased by being in the right place at the right time.
“You had a cohesion among all these different militias and groups unified against Gadhafi,” she said. “And so even for the three months that I was there after the revolution, there was still enough cohesion because you were in the initial transition phase where they were choosing a transitional government and a new cabinet, and negotiating official positions for the militia groups.”
Jackson said she will officially switch to the foreign-focused world in the future, but she values her political experience in the United States as well, which makes her relevant through advising aspiring office-holders and democracy builders in developing countries.
She adds that in her shift to the security sector, the best way to understand and eliminate threats to our national security is to understand the political dynamics behind the regions she has been researching.
“Sometimes the best conflict resolution can come through a variety of political actions and creative programs more than . . . kinetic action [such as] big raids [and] explosions,” said Jackson. “So that’s [what] I’m kind of moving towards.”