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Peace-building efforts to be tested by upcoming Kenya election

31 July 2017

Journalist Bill Corcoran takes a look at Trócaire’s peace-building initiatives in Kenya’s hotspots of intertribal violence.

Watch: We Are Kenya which explores intertribal issues and peace-building efforts

Peacebuilding in Kibera slum, Nairobi

Edward Shihima

Edward Shihima is a member of the Luhya tribe living in Kibera, a Nairobi slum. Photo: Thom Pierce, 2017

Edward Shihima has seen first-hand the impact that peace building has on communities in Kibera, a Nairobi slum overwhelmed by intertribal violence following the country’s disputed general elections in 2007.

Dozens of people were killed, businesses were destroyed, and the local economy fell apart after residents who supported different political parties got involved in running battles with each other primarily along tribal lines, recalled the businessman and pastor.

“Our economy was badly affected,” explained the 60-year-old from the Luhya tribe. “There was very little for sale, people could not make any money because shops were closed, so food prices went up. Life was difficult for a long time afterwards”. 

After the violence subsided, Trócaire, through its on-the-ground partners, Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation and Christ the King Church, began to implement a range of initiatives designed to foster peace and reconciliation in Kibera. 

The programmes also helped to re-establish traditional structures for delivering justice that have been eroded by migration and the demise of mechanisms to resolve disputes and grievances within communities. 

According to Trócaire’s governance and human rights program officer, Terry Githinji, the initiatives involve working with all stakeholders, including chiefs, county commissioners, and elders, as well as the youth who were the main perpetrators of the violence. 

“We set up the Sports for Peace initiatives to bring the youth closer together. We also used church structures to preach the message of peace as they are deeply rooted in Kibera,” she explained.

According to Trócaire’s governance and human rights program officer, Terry Githinji, the initiatives involve working with all stakeholders, including chiefs, county commissioners, and elders, as well as the youth who were the main perpetrators of the violence. 

“We set up the Sports for Peace initiatives to bring the youth closer together. We also used church structures to preach the message of peace as they are deeply rooted in Kibera,” she explained.

Sport for peace

The Youth Sport for Peace Initiative in Kibera is used as a way to get young people from all of Kenya’s different tribes to interact positively around sport. Photo: Thom Pierce, 2017

Peace Monitors

Githinji  continued that Trócaire helped to mobilise, train and equip locals as peace monitors in their communities so they could preach reconciliation and work with government institutions to identify and act on conflict triggers and early warning signs.

Shihima became one of these peace monitors in his community, and decided to use his standing as a pastor to “preach peace among the youth”.   

“After peace began to prevail new opportunities arose for business people. Food prices started to go down too because of intertribal trade, and we also had more choice,” he recalled. 

Aside from Kibera, widespread intertribal violence also gripped many other parts of Kenya in early 2008. In response to these hostilities Trócaire increased its peace-building efforts in two other badly affected areas located in the counties of Nakuru, Turkana, and West Pokot.  

When it comes to conflict resolution there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Tailor-made peace building approaches in Nakuru

Each situation is unique, so interventions must be tailor-made to deal with the economic, social, historical and environmental circumstances driving it, said Githinji.

As a result, Trócaire tailored its peace-building approaches in Nakuru, Turkana and West Pokot to suit each situation. 

Mauche water well Nakuru

A public well near Mauche, a village in Nakuru County, has provided life-giving water to the local Kalen-jin and Kikuyu tribes, and has recently also fostered peace between the volatile communities. Photo: Thom Pierce, 2017

Nakuru is a diverse county that is home to many different ethnic groups grappling for land, while the conflict in the latter two counties is primarily between two tribal groups: the Turkana and Pokot. 

Trócaire conducted its work in Nukuru in conjunction with Shalom and the Association of Sisterhoods in Kenya (AOSK).

“In Nakuru what was primarily needed was reconciliation after the violence caused by the elections. So, through our partners on the ground we organized, trained and equipped peace circles members, so that people could confront each other, heal and forgive,” said Githinji.

A peace circle is a restorative justice model involving victims and perpetrators used in this instance to address the conflict that arose from the disputed 2007 general election holistically. They combine victim reconciliation, offender responsibility, and community healing as part of their processes.

Trócaire also works to promote peace in Nakuru County through chief barazas, a traditional community structure for resolving disputes. 

“These monthly meetings are good mechanisms to identify issues that trigger conflict and they also provide early warning of potential trouble in the areas they take place,” commented Githinji. 

Turkana and West Pokot

Epat Echule Turkana

Epat Echule is a Turkana. Her community has had many problems with poachers and raids from the neighbouring Pokot. Photo: Thom Pierce, 2017

In Turkana and West Pokot the tribal conflict goes back generations and is linked to clashes over scarce resources, unclear county boundaries and banditry. The area is especially tense in times of drought, and the violence is mostly propagated by young armed warriors who seek to increase in size their herds of cattle.   

All three factors that led to the violence were undermining Trócaire’s development efforts in an area in desperate need of it, so in 2008 and 2009 the organisation began to roll out peace building initiatives among the most affected groups. 

In Turkana, Trócaire worked through the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, which has a lot of influence locally, the Legal Resource Foundation and Shalom, while the Justice Peace Commission was its partner in West Pokot.

Githinji explained that a major problem in this part of Kenya is that traditional peace-building and conflict-resolution mechanisms have been eroded over time because of the region’s changing social and economic dynamics. 

“Traditional structures involving community elders and chiefs dispensing justice have broken down because of things like migration and economic development pulling rural people into cities. There was nothing keeping the community structures together. And as a result, the elders and their structures were no longer recognised,” she said.

Trócaire went about rebuilding the aforementioned community structures using the technical expertise provided by its local partners.

Githinji explained: “So we started to bring the elders together to teach them practical conflict-resolution techniques in relation to how to manage their rivers and grazing resources, as well as the young warriors who must be held to account for their illegal actions”.

The programme also has good governance, human rights, and legal components to ensure elders are aware of which cases they can take on board, and which must be referred to the government’s criminal legal system for resolution.

To date the efforts made by government, civil society and faith-based organisations to foster peace between the Turkana and the Pokot has been largely successful. While there are still a number of incidents of livestock theft and banditry annually between the two tribes, they are greatly reduced. 

Shalom program manager Peterlinus Ouma said that the role of non-government organisations in conflict resolution should be to try and transform society and individuals via education. 

“Our stand must be non-partisan; we must practice what we preach; we must be brave to hold duty bearers accountable,” he maintained, “but also we should not exaggerate the communities’ capacity to solve the issue: we must know the strengths and weaknesses of the situation and the participants”. 

Ouma concluded that civil society has begun working much closer together in Kenya over the past decade to try and achieve peace, and this had had a positive impact generally. “They {NGOs} understand they cannot achieve much on their own,” he said.

See the full 'We are Kenya' photo exhibit on flickr