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Preventing Violence
Kathy Ossmann, Extended Service Volunteer.

I had the opportunity to interview Benter Obonyo as we traveled to Uganda on a mini-bus to facilitate Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops. In addition to being a highly-skilled facilitator she is also an FCPT/AGLI citizen reporter and part of Turning the Tide, a project of Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI).

I knew that Benter spent six months in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in 2008 after the house in which she and her sister lived was burned down. I asked her how she changed from violence victim to peace-maker. She explained that while in the camp she attended AVP workshops and learned about forgiveness. “When I forgive, I feel so happy.” I asked her if she thought our efforts would bring about peaceful elections. “I am very hopeful. We have done our best, teaching women and youth -- some of whom were directly involved in previous violence -- about their rights and devolution [of the government]. They are not going to vote blindly because we really showed them what they need to do. I believe there is hope.”

During the recent party nominations, she observed voting in Turbo, a site of significant post-election violence in 2008. On February 17th she reported to the polling station at 7:00 am and found a long line of people waiting for the doors to open. As time went on the crowd grew increasingly tense and angry fearing that they might not be given an opportunity to vote. Concerned that this anger could turn to violence, Benter got out her cell phone and texted a report to the FCPT/AGLI Call-in Center. Then she made a call to find out what was causing the wait. Addressing the crowd she explained, “There is a delay in delivering the ballots. Please be patient and give the process time to work.” This calmed the crowd. Benter, like several other citizen reporters, expanded her role from simply reporting to actively preventing violence.

On election day Benter once again calmed crowds of waiting voters this time as queuing clerk, an employee of the electoral commission. Although the polls were scheduled to open at 6:00 AM, voters began arriving at 4:00 AM. When the opening was delayed by problems with the electronic identification system, people in line grew angry and some were shouting. When the polling station opened at 6:30 AM, the crowd settled down. Benter was later assigned to identify voters from the manual register and cross them off to show they had voted.

By the end of the day 332 people had voted there and Benter felt the process was well run. The major challenges she identified were the high number of illiterate voters who needed assistance and voters who marked their ballots incorrectly causing them to be rejected. “We need to do even more voter education next time,” she reflected. When I asked if she would do it again she said, “Yes, because I want things to be done the right way, not for the money.”