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Can Peacemaking Prevent Violence?
By David Zarembka, Coordinator, African Great Lakes Initiative and Chairman, FCPT Counseling Coordinating Committee

The African Great Lakes Initiative and the Friends Church Peace Teams has an ambitious goal for the 2012 Kenyan election: To prevent election violence in Turbo Division, a violent hot-spot during the prior elections of 1992, 1997, and 2007.

The problem in 2008
When the results of the December 27, 2007 Kenyan national elections were announced, indicating that Mwai Kibaki had won re-election, the losing side felt that the election had been stolen from them. Conflict, violence, and rioting immediately erupted in the strongholds of the losing side including western Kenya where most of the 200,000 Kenyan Quakers live. About 1,300 people were killed and up to 650,000 displaced. Because the police responded with live bullets, forty percent of those who died were killed by the police.

Formation of FCPT
Quakers in Kenya were alarmed and within a month of the outbreak of the violence, the Friends United Meeting (FUM)-Africa Ministries spearheaded a consultation for Quaker leaders in Kenya. Held in Kakamega the goal was to consider a Quaker response to the violence and crisis. The consultation began Thursday evening and continued through Sunday; an opportunity for Kenyan Quaker leaders to assert themselves as a peace church. I hoped that they would grab the opportunity. They did.

The consultation was well attended by fifty-seven Quaker leaders. Fifteen yearly meetings plus all the major Quaker organizations were present. People were very serious and focused. By the end of the consultation, they had decided to form what was later named the “Friends Church Peace Teams” (FCPT) and appointed a coordinating committee of thirteen at-large representatives plus the heads of the six major Quaker organizations.

Quaker Response
After conducting a number of humanitarian relief distributions in February and March, FCPT decided to turn to peacebuilding efforts. The Counseling Team chose to concentrate on Turbo Division in Rift Valley Province with about 200,000 people. I estimate that at least 10% of the population in Turbo Division was displaced during the 2008 post election violence. This was my comment when I first visited Turbo town after the violence:

Turbo town is about four blocks long with three gas stations, a post office, a section of small wooden shops, and a block of substantial concrete shops. I had heard that Turbo had experienced a rough time during the violence, but it was another thing to actually see an entire block of large shops burned out. Most of the wooden shops and one of the gas stations, because it was managed by a Kikuyu, had also been burned. I was horrified at this destruction since it made no rational sense.

Our first step was to train forty counselors to visit the Turbo IDP camp. The counselors, a self-selected group of Quakers from western Kenya, were average Kenyan Quakers, some were AVP facilitators, several had basic peace training, but many were retired teachers or government officials. We held a two-day training session to teach the counselors how to conduct a listening session. Teams of two, one to ask questions and the other to record answers, were assigned to listen to various groups — women, elders, youth, and children. We expected each team to listen to about five people per group. When we went to the Turbo internally displaced person’s (IDP) camp, the counselors were overwhelmed when about a thousand IDPs attended this listening session and were most willing to give their viewpoints on the events that drove them from their homes and the possibilities for future return.

We then held a debriefing session where team members reported. They had heard how people fled from their homes in terror as soon as they heard the election results. Most escaped with only what they had on their backs. The Kikuyu were angry, feeling they had been victimized solely because they were of the same tribe as Kibaki. While they were now in the IDP camp, they were perplexed as to what would come next. Most wanted to return home, but feared to do so unless there were guarantees of their security. My feeling was that many of the counselors were shocked when they heard the stories of the IDPs first hand.

Since we had now listened to the victims of the violence, we decided that our next step was to be fair and listen to those who perpetrated the violence. Again, we did a training session, emphasizing how to listen without reacting negatively to things that were heard and how to remain unbiased. One interesting issue arose. Most of the Quakers, and therefore the counselors, were Luhya. Should the counselors introduce themselves by only their Christian name so that people would not know from which group they came? In Kenya, if a person is Christian, he or she is given a Christian name such as Gladys., my wife. Then the person is also given a tribal name usually based on one of her grandparents or great-grandparents. Gladys’ Luhya name is “Kamonya” who was one of her great-grandmothers. The counselors agreed that they could not hide who they were and it was better to be upfront giving their whole name, which would indicate that they were Luhya rather than try to keep people guessing. I was pleased with this resolution of the group indicating that we could not hid who we were. We also did not want to use negative terminology so we decided to call the IDPs “the returning community” and those who pushed them out as “the receiving community.” At first it was hard to use this new terminology, but as time went on we got used to it.

FCPT held six listening sessions in Turbo Division of Uasin Gishu District and one in nearby Lugari District. We heard some truths, many stereotypes, some self-justification, and some outright falsehoods. As listeners, we tried not to respond. For example, one person said that he had stolen the door from the house of an IDP and he did not want the IDP to return because he would reclaim the door that was now on his house. We also heard comments that, if Raila had won the election, the same violence reaction would have occurred. In other words, the election results were only a pretext, a spark that ignited the violence. In the end, both IDPs and those who remained were appreciative of the fact that someone had come to listen to their stories and concerns. The purpose of listening sessions is solely to listen to people, to allow them to speak their feelings, thoughts, and fears. It is not truly a “listening session” if there is an ulterior motive. At the beginning of each session, the listening group was usually viewed with suspicion. One group at a listening session accused the group being in the pay of the government in wanting to force the IDPs back. In another place, fifty youth with rocks were hiding behind a church where the meeting was being held outdoors, but as the people began to express their concerns, these youth joined the group and expressed their feelings. They complained that they had no future, that politicians and other Kenyans didn’t really care about their improvement, and that promises made to them were usually broken.

I think this was a very important peacemaking effort as peacemakers should intervene as soon as possible even during the violence. This keeps the violence from escalating. Pent up frustration can be a cause of violence and listening is a good method of releasing that frustration.

In May, the Kenyan government announced the Rudi Nyumbani [Return Home] campaign for the IDPs to leave the camps and return home. The Kenyan government wanted the international community including the business community to think that Kenya had returned to its normal, peaceful self. Neither the IDPs nor the receiving communities were ready for this.
As truckloads of IDPs with their few possessions returned to those communities where FCPT had done listening sessions, FCPT escorted the returnees. Again, FCPT first held a training session for our forty counselors to prepare for this exercise. In one case, when FCPT was not asked to escort the returnees, they were stoned and returned to the Turbo IDP camp. The local District Office then asked FCPT to accompany the returnees on the next try. This attempt was successful. In another case returnees just picked up their pole and plastic tarp huts and rebuilt them on an open field near Eldoret with no amenities including water, electricity, or latrines. FCPT interceded and supplied these items. The returnees had no houses to return to since they had been destroyed. Moreover, they were afraid to return to their individual homes so they constructed plastic huts close together in what became known as “satellite camps.”

In November 2008, FCPT decided to conduct a follow up survey of the six communities in Turbo Division to see how resettlement was progressing. FCPT developed the survey and again did a training session on how to conduct a survey. FCPT completed six hundred and forty three interviews, some with multiple respondents. FCPT then tallied the responses. The conclusion was that there was much cause for concern. While people had returned, tensions were still high. With the appropriate trigger, fears were expressed about another round of violence. There were rumors of secret meetings and the arming of both camps with guns – if true, an ominous development.

Another surprising result was that many Nandi, the local group responsible for much of the violence in Turbo Division, were attacked by their tribesmen or forced to pay for “cleansing” by giving a sheep or goat or some funds so that they would not be attacked. Clearly this was just extortion by the youth making the demands. They targeted those who had a friend who was Kikuyu, were settling old grievances, refused to participate in the violence, or similar “infractions.” I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the Nandi respondents opposed the initial violence but felt helpless about how to respond. In other words, ethnic solidarity was a myth.

Right before Christmas, FCPT took the results of this survey to the District Officer (DO), the local government official responsible for Turbo Division. In Kenya, like all the countries in this region, a person cannot hold a meeting, seminar, or workshop without the approval of the local government officials. The FCPT later published an advertisement in the Daily Nation, the largest newspaper in Kenya with a circulation of over one million copies per day, expressing our findings and our concerns that, given the right spark, violence could erupt again at any time. This did not please the DO and he called us to a meeting with his chiefs and asked us to place another advertisement withdrawing our findings about Turbo Division. We held another meeting to discuss this and the conclusion was that FCPT was reporting the truth as we heard it from the respondents and there was no reason to back away from the truth.

Prevention for the 2012 Election
In the Kenyan context, a tremendous amount of peacebuilding work needs to be done. The tendency, as occurred after the violence in the Rift Valley following the 1992 and 1997 elections, is to proclaim that “peace has been restored and all is well” without any of the underlying causes and hostilities being addressed. Peacemaking is an ongoing, continuous process. This period of calm is not the time to relax and forget about the past violence, but the time to work on healing and reconciliation to prevent a further round of violence, which many respondents in our Turbo survey expect during the 2012 election.

With this foundation in the Turbo Division, Friends Church Peace Teams has continued to work toward the goal of making the 2012 election violence-free in Turbo Division. FCPT has already formed the Turbo Division Inter-Religious Peace Task Force with twenty-two denominations including the Muslim community. Under the guidance of Quaker Peace Network, during the 2010 referendum on the new constitution, eight election observers, including myself, were placed at polls in the division. FCPT and AGLI have done AVP workshops in each of the seven locations in the Division with youth in the division, the Inter-religious Peace Task Force, and with the local government peace committee members. On September 21, 2010, the International Day of Peace, FCPT and the Inter-religious Peace Task Force held a peace parade down Uganda Road, the main highway through Kenya to Uganda and beyond, to indicate to people in the community that there is a contingent of people concerned about peace.

Plans for the future
In order to ensure a violence-free election in 2012, preventive measures have begun. In addition to the development of the Inter-Religious Peace Task Force, FCPT has begun Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops with one hundred youth in each of the seven locations within the district. The most energetic participants will attend advanced AVP workshops; the best will be trained as AVP apprentice facilitators. Then, these apprentice facilitators teamed with experienced facilitators, will conduct as many more AVP workshops with youth in their location as funds allow. In this way each location will have hundreds of youth who will have had non-violence training. These will then be formed into associations which will work on election violence prevention. Some will be trained to do election sensitization. Other will become “citizen reporters” who will phone the FCPT election call-in center to report any suspicious, illegal, or violent activities.

Through the Inter-Religious Peace Task Force others in the community will be trained as citizen reporters and sufficient election observers will be recruited and trained to observe every polling station in the division. Non-violence workshops will be given to members of the government sponsored Peace Committee members. The Sunday before the election, peace prayers will be organized in churches and mosques of all denominations.

We do not know if this activity will curtail or stop the violence in Turbo Division. We will let you know the results in the Fall 2012 issue of PeaceWays.