A Peacebuilder Comes to Washington
By Cassidy Regan on 10/25/2012 @ 06:00 PM
We do not want the U.S. government to come in and say, ‘These are our problems.’ Rather, we want them to know that there are grassroots leaders all over Kenya building peace – and that the U.S. can do more to work with and support them.”
Last week, the Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT)’s Getry Agizah headed back to Kenya from Washington, DC, after sharing her experience and insight with U.S. policymakers and local Friends for a second time. In meetings that ranged from congressional offices to the White House, she urged preventive action and meaningful partnerships with Kenyan communities.
Over the past few months, Getry’s organization has been finalizing the details of a grassroots citizen reporting system, which uses local participants trained in Alternatives to Violence and mediation to monitor their areas for signs of trouble. When a worrisome situation occurs, citizen reporters send a text message to a database checked by FCPT staff. Staff then send the information to another group from the area in which the incident occurred, known as the “watchdog unit.” The watchdog unit’s first job is to verify the details received, making sure that no rumors are causing undue alarm. Through speaking with the parties involved, neighbors, and others, they piece together facts and, if something has occurred, eventually brainstorm different methods of non-violent intervention.
This way,” Getry says, “the solutions are actually coming from members of the community rather than the FCPT staff. If they’d like us to offer tools, resources, a mediator from outside, we will – but first, we want to be sure that they use their knowledge of the area to find the right response.”
The system has already been used to help prevent further conflict in two tense situations: one in which a farmer’s crops were burned and another in which someone was killed. Both communities are undergoing mediation, and no violence has occurred since.
As Getry described this process to U.S. policymakers, the impact of her words was clear. She offered congressional staff a concrete example of how community-based violence prevention and peacebuilding can look, and she’ll be connecting with staff from U.S. conflict prevention programs like the Office of Transition Initiatives and the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to further share her work once she returns to Kenya.
In the meantime, she encouraged the U.S. government to take some important steps, including:
- Create a clear, comprehensive U.S. strategy on violence prevention in Kenya and make strong, early statements on how the U.S. will respond to violent incitement, electoral fraud, etc.
- Establish a long-term, international monitoring team to complement domestic observers, demonstrating the international community's commitment to supporting peace.
- Increase investment in civic education and grassroots violence prevention efforts.
- Halt U.S. security assistance until meaningful steps have been taken toward security sector and police reform, to help ensure that Kenyan officers protect, rather than harm, civilians around the elections.
Getry’s voice for peace is one that we always need more of here in Washington, and FCNL is grateful that she once again shared her story of peaceful prevention – and reminded our policymakers that war is not the answer.