Quaker Life Article on Preventing Deadly Conflict in Kenya
The following article on Friends' efforts to prevent deadly conflict in Kenya appeared in the October/November 2011 issue of Quaker Life magazine. See the recommendations below to learn more about what Friends in the United States can do to support this work.
Collaboration across Continents: Friends Building Peace in Kenya
Since the violent crisis that followed Kenya’s most recent presidential election, Quaker churches and organizations around the world have worked to support the country’s fragile peace. Groups including the Friends Church Peace Teams (FCPT), African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW), Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), and Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) have held monthly conference calls to share updates and develop joint efforts to prevent renewed violence. The collaboration connects Friends who advocate at a policy level to those who work within Kenyan communities, using approaches to peace that are both local and international.
After months of phone calls across continents, Friends from the Kenya collaboration met in person during the FUM Triennial in Wilmington, Ohio. The gathering not only allowed members to connect voices to faces, but also provided time to discuss plans for the upcoming year, including strategies for building peace in volatile communities and opportunities for advocacy in Kenya, the United States, and elsewhere.
Though the conversation was wide-reaching, one take-away was clear: when it comes to preventing renewed violence before Kenya’s next national elections – scheduled for August of 2012 – there is much more work to be done.
Potential for Violence Renewed
Following its disputed election in December of 2007, Kenya erupted into violence that left over 1,000 people dead and 500,000 displaced. While many in the country have since worked tirelessly to prevent further conflict, the potential for renewed crisis around the next national election remains high. Many of the factors that motivated past conflict – including high rates of youth unemployment and tension over land distribution– remain potential catalysts. Though Kenyans peacefully passed a new constitution in 2010 that contains many of the reforms necessary to long-term peace, the slow pace of implementation has caused widespread frustration.
With this in mind, the Kenya collaboration agreed that further efforts to prevent deadly conflict – before it starts – are needed.
Friends Building Peace in Kenyan Communities
As violence spread in late 2007, Friends in Kenya responded quickly. Through a consultation led by the FUM-Africa Ministries, Quakers formed what became FCPT, a group which provided immediate humanitarian relief and, following the crisis, shifted its focus to building lasting peace.
Since 2008, FCPT has conducted hundreds of Alternatives to Violence workshops with youth in the volatile Turbo Division of Rift Valley. FCPT has also led an Inter-Religious Peace Task Force, including representatives from 22 denominations.
FCPT’s efforts have been complemented by those of other Kenyan organizations now part of the collaboration group – one example being Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI). CAPI is a Nairobi-based organization – started as a program of Quaker Service Norway – that runs a number of peacebuilding projects, including, through collaboration with QPSW, Turning the Tide trainings that empower participants in Kenya to use non-violence for social change.
But while community peacebuilding is an essential aspect of preventing renewed conflict, Kenyan Friends at FUM emphasized that pressure must also be placed on the high-level politicians likely to incite violence. To this end, Quaker advocacy organizations outside Kenya are also working to sustain peace.
Friends Advocating in the International Community
As Kenyan civil society responded to the 2007/2008 crisis, the international community – including the United States – supported their efforts with rapid and coordinated diplomacy. While diplomats across the globe applied pressure to the Kenyan government, an African Union mediation team led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan negotiated a peace accord that put an end to the immediate violence.
The prevention of full-fledged civil war demonstrated how diplomacy and international cooperation can help to avert mass atrocities. Since then, Quaker advocacy organizations including FCNL and QUNO have promoted these and other peacebuilding tools as means of preventing violence.
The groups have also worked to raise awareness of Kenya’s elections and, in one example, hosted Getry Agizah of FCPT earlier this year. Getry met with policymakers in the United Nations, U.S. Agency for International Development, State Department, and Congress, using her experiences to illustrate the importance of grassroots peacebuilding and violence prevention. As the next national elections approach, she said, the international community should again demonstrate its support for a peaceful Kenya.
What Can Friends outside Kenya Do?
Though lasting peace will only come from the continued dedication of Kenyans themselves, the policies and actions of the United States and international community directly affect their efforts. As Friends in Kenya work to build peace, Friends outside Kenya can advocate for policies that will complement and support their actions.
Here are some steps Friends can take to help prevent renewed violence:
1.) Raise awareness among legislators and political officials of the need to help prevent deadly conflict in Kenya and advocate for foreign policy that is conductive to and supportive of a peaceful election. Some recommendations include:
• Fund grassroots peacebuilding and civic education
• Apply political pressure for implementation of Kenya’s new constitution
• Urge increased accountability for perpetrators of violence, including through the International Criminal Court
2.) Stay updated on efforts to prevent deadly conflict in Kenya as the national election approaches.
• Sign up to receive Kenya peacebuilding updates from FCNL and request a copy of our new Kenya policy brief.
• Share news and advocacy opportunities with your church or meeting.
3.) Continue to support those who are building peace in Kenyan communities.
As Getry Agizah stated: "Kenyans working to build peace before the 2012 elections must find allies both in our country and outside it. Efforts by the international community to provide robust support to grassroots peacebuilding and civic education, to encourage a government accountable to its people, and to respond rapidly to any future outbreaks of violence will help ensure that our work succeeds."
In anticipation of the election, the collaboration group will continue to build on the conversations of the FUM Triennial, reminding ourselves and our communities that peace is indeed possible.
To learn more about the collaboration group, opportunities to advocate for peace in Kenya, or FCNL's work on preventing deadly conflict, contact Bridget Moix at Bridget@fcnl.org.
- Cassidy Regan, Scoville Peace Fellow at FCNL