A Tipping Point for Peace?
By Diane Randall on 04/29/2012 @ 03:00 PM
Turbo, Kenya April 27, 2012
Several of us who were at the World Gathering have taken the opportunity to travel to Turbo, Kenya with David Zarembka of the African Great Lakes Peace Initiative (AGLI) to learn about and participate in civilian peacemaking trainings. Located about 8 hours from Nairobi, Turbo, along with El Doret and Mt. Elgon saw some of the greatest conflict following the last presidential election in 2007 when over 1100 people were killed and thousands of people were displaced from their homes that were burned.
As the next presidential election approaches here in Kenya—either at the end of this year or in March, 2013, a number of organizations are ramping up their training programs to try to prevent a recurrence of deadly conflict.
For over a decade, the Alternatives to Violence program has offered a variety of workshops in Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda to help participants directly learn how they can remain non-violent in the face of conflict. Today I spoke with Douglas, Killen and Caleb, three Kenyan men participating in the transformative conflict program, who told me that people in this region are anxious to participate in these programs that will help mitigate or resolve grievances that often have deep roots. They recognize that the presidential election cycles here seem to be the time that people turn to violence to settle these long-standing conflicts. Often the violence, which usually follows tribal lines, is encouraged by political parties, seeking to gain support in the presidential campaign.
These programs of reconciliation and conflict resolution can have a transformational impact on the lives of the individuals who have been victims and perpetrators of violence. I have been asking participants and trainers if they expect to see changes on a community level or even what implications the programs of reconciliation, mediation and peacemaking might have on public policy. What is the tipping point that creates a culture of peaceful transition at the time of elections here in Kenya? Or how does every community create the culture that assures grievances are resolved peacefully—without weapons or wanton destruction?
The effect of peacemaking is cumulative, often starting with the individual and family relations and moving out to neighbors and beyond. Although several people I have spoken to over the past week say it is difficult to imagine this Kenyan election will occur without any violence, many expect it will be mitigated in this region—because these programs have changed hearts and minds.
Moreover, the systems change that will occur with the implementation of the new Kenyan constitution is huge progress for reform. Many people I speak with talk about the need for civic education to help people understand what is in the constitution, including the devolution of power from the presidency and gender equality as critical steps in advancing political and economic conditions in Kenya.
Kenyans in this area recognize that violence isn’t resolving problems; these programs which have been initiated by Quakers but now involve interfaith participation are vital teaching tools for transformation.