Setting the Stage for Peace in Kenya
By Diane Randall on 05/04/2012 @ 03:00 PM
Nairobi, Kenya, April 30, 2012
After seeing the work of peacemaking at the grassroots level in the Turbo Division and hearing stories of how healing and reconciliation had changed peoples’ lives, I had the opportunity to learn of the institutional side of peacemaking in Nairobi before I left Kenya with the help of Anna Crumley-Effinger of AFSC’s Africa program.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) sits on a sprawling campus opposite the US Embassy in Nairobi. Anna and I met with three key staff who are providing coordination with the Kenyan government and among development partners to assure free, fair and peaceful presidential elections in Kenya. For all the criticism of the United Nations that we hear from some in Congress who want to defund the UN, they would reconsider if they had the opportunity to talk with these professional staff on the ground who, with their colleagues, have the soft power skills to bolster and backstop efforts underway by the Kenyan government.
Noting that violence around the next presidential election in Kenya could have a major impact on the entire region of East Africa, UNDP explained that following the 2008 violence, they began systematically working to develop infrastructure for peace. This includes education, advocacy and technical assistance with government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). From efforts to reduce crowd incitement through crowd sourcing to working on the early notification system with police for possible violence related to elections, UNDP works through the Kenya Partnership for Peace.
UNDP spoke of the flow of small arms into the rural areas of Kenya is a heightened cause of concern. They work with the Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons to monitor and educate about this growing source of potential deadly violence that is being acquired by organized criminal gangs.
The next brief stop on Monday was the AFSC Regional Office for Africa. Based in Nairobi, AFSC operates programs in the Dadaab refugee camp (which now counts as the third largest city in Kenya), Somalia, Burundi and Zimbabwe. It was encouraging to visit with Dereje Wordofa, the director of that office, to hear his hopeful assessment that violence in Africa has lessened over the past 25 years. The concerns of economic and educational opportunity in regions that have experienced war and depravation are a key priority for AFSC.
Oliver Kisaka Simiyu, Deputy General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), explained their organization’s humanitarian assistance following post-election violence in 2008 and their ongoing work in the Somali refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma. A large institution that includes 26 Kenyan churches and 12 “para-churches” among its membership, NCCK can count 15 million Kenyans through its member institutions. In addition to serving their member churches through technical assistance and direct aid for community development, NCCK is pursuing efforts to address the economic hardships of people who are poor.
Oliver explained to me the criticism NCCK has experienced as a result of their opposition to the new constitution that was approved by referendum in August, 2010 by 67%. NCCK is concerned about the inclusion of Islamic codes in the new constitution that would allow Islamic family courts to be used to settle grievances among Muslims. While I didn’t have the opportunity to fully explore this objection due to the time constraints of having to catch my flight home, it is clear that the institutional body of NCCK doesn’t necessarily reflect what is happening in communities. In Turbo, an Interfaith Coalition for Peace that includes the imam from the local mosque meets regularly and plans local events, including the celebration of International Peace Day.
Nonetheless, the ethnic tensions between tribes and between religions simmers through the goading of provocateurs and is often fueled by the politicians themselves. News reports included coverage of arrests for hate speech and the anticipated next steps in the International Criminal Court’s indictment of four leaders, including presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Civil society in Kenya is robust and is closely monitoring their political leaders in efforts to reform the concentrations of power that have contributed to corruption.
I made a point to talk with taxi drivers and shop keepers about their sense of what is happening in the country. (It was pretty easy to get into a conversation about politics when I told them I was from Washington DC—where President Obama lives—that brought a big smile to everyone’s faces. They are very proud of Obama’s Kenyan lineage.) From these brief conversations, I would say the average Kenyan wants what the average American wants—a good education for their children, a job where they earn a living and securing that comes with peace.