Wednesday, 13 February 2013 11:00

Women form peace forums to mitigate against regional conflict

Written by Hussein Dido

Women from pastoralist communities are not usually peace negotiators but not so for Abdia Mohamed who has defied all odds to fit into the shoes of the late Dekha Ibrahim.

Abdia, 30, has kept the candle burning by preaching peace among the various communities in Northern Kenya. She received head of state commendation on peace issues late last year in recognition of her work in reconciling the communities.

In 2010, Abdia was awarded by the National Steering Committee on Peace Building under the Ministry of Internal Security and Provincial Administration. Abdia started peace work in 1998 after she completed her secretarial studies.

Inspiration

This was due to the incessant conflicts over pasture, water and inter-tribal attacks between the warring Turkana, Somali and Samburu communities had inspired her into peace work.

“I was determined to ensure that pastoralist communities in Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu counties live in peace in the region,” says Abdia.

Abdia is among a group of women who formed the Women Peace Forum which sought to mediate among the warring communities and step up women’s empowerment in the county.

She says change starts somewhere and that is why women in the region  have partnered under the Isiolo Working Group, funded by the Safer World International.

The project is being implemented in Isiolo, West Pokot, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kisumu and Trans Nzoia with the aim of ensuring peace is maintained during and after the elections.

Safer World started working in Isiolo in 2004 when Community Based Policing (CBP) was launched in Kibera slums within Nairobi and Bulapesa in Isiolo. The organisation has now partnered with women’s groups, youth, peace and conflict resolution committees and the Government to implement a project towards mitigating the effects of the election.

Safer World is also keen on reviving community based policing, an approach which brings together police, civil society and local communities to address security concerns.

 

Achievement

{jb_quoteleft}“I was determined to ensure that pastoralist communities in Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu counties live in peace in the region.” — Abdia Mohamed“I was determined to ensure that pastoralist communities in Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu counties live in peace in the region.” — Abdia Mohamed {/jb_quoteleft}

A notable achievement of the approach is improved relations and confidence between communities and police, dissemination of early warning information, reduction in crime and general profound shift in police and communities in thinking about policing.

PeaceNet Upper Eastern coordinator Hussein Mursal says his organisation in partnership with Safer World trained District Peace Committees and supported local intra and interpeace dialogues in Isiolo, addressed issues of small arms and light weapons, supported women peace forums and trained on conflict management. “People’s peace-making perspective is a joint programme by Safer World and Conciliation Resources which has documented opinions and experiences of local people in a range of countries and helped to reduce cases of conflict in the region,” explains Mursal.

Isiolo is among the regions which provided European Union with an analysis and programme recommendations based on local people’s opinion and experiences. Mursal intimated that since the inception of Towards Peaceful and Secure Election Project, there have been numerous engagements between community and local security actors, community dialogues/mediation and reconciliations, youth trainings on civic and voter education, joint peace events and media training on conflict sensitive reporting among others.

 

Relevance

The initiative comes in handy to address conflicts in the area. Isiolo County is still ranked among key hotspots as the country gears up for the General Election despite the fact that killings and raids have drastically gone down.

In Isiolo trade, religion, cultural identity and tradition all blend together to create a fascinating mix. While the conflict that rocked the area in 2012 remains unclear, fear and intimidation have been fanned along tribal lines, creating despondency in the once well integrated society.

The town has become increasingly segmented along tribal and to some extent religious lines. Neighbours from different tribes who have coexisted harmoniously in the past have become enemies with those considered as minority being forced to move to areas where their tribe is dominant.

While tribal identity is important to some, it is not a cause of conflict in the area. Swahili is the dominant language here. Tribal languages are only spoken at home but when conflict erupts it is not safe for members of certain tribes to pass through areas belonging to others. If they do, they risk being stoned or lynched as the people (though predominantly young men) of the area vent their fear and frustration on someone perceived to be from the ‘enemy’ tribe. Retaliatory killings or intimidation has resulted in robbery, rape, arson and more arbitrary killings. Arson is particularly used in areas where people have fled their homes in fear of attack.

The people who bear the brunt of the conflict are not the perpetrators of the violence but families with no connection to the conflict. These are normal families struggling to survive in the tough conditions of the underdeveloped county. Their children go to poorly equipped schools in the hope of a better future than their parents present. As the new wave of conflict  spreads in the area, the women and children flee their homes for fear of what will happen to them if they are caught by their attackers. They end up in churches, mosques, at sympathetic police posts or squashed into the too small houses of friends and relatives in safer areas.

 

Refuge

These are not aid camps; there are no facilities for all these extra people in the places they have descended upon. They can only stay for a few days before they are forced to return home, hoping the worst has passed. Many go back to find their houses looted or burnt to the ground, losing everything and not  knowing how to begin again, but having nothing else to fall back to, no state or organized support.

As at 2012, over 3,000 people were left homeless due to arson attacks. Thousands more have been permanently or intermittently displaced and majority of their children have dropped out of school.

Some of the factors motivating the clashes between the communities may  include competition for grazing land, water and politically instigated violence. However, according to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission  (NCIC), the ethnic violence being experienced in these parts of Northern  Kenya are directly linked to the general election.

NCIC Chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia has warned that unless communities  in the region are integrated on time, we are likely to witness the worst violence in the region later this year. However, Safer World has begun initiatives to restore peace and justice in the county and find solutions to recurrent  insecurity. Negligence by the Government, scramble for resources, marginalization in leadership, livestock  raids, presence of illegal arms and poor infrastructures have been listed among factors that fan conflict in the area.

 

Committees

The organisation has also helped to form district peace committees (DPCs). Spearheaded by the National Steering Committee on Peace and Conflict Transformation since early 2000, the district peace committees are expected to provide local mechanisms for identifying, monitoring, reporting and dealing with conflict in affected areas.

They have received substantial support and endorsement from both state and non-state actors. Although the district peace committees have had certain successes in dealing with situations of conflict, their efficacy as long-term solutions to conflict is strongly brought into doubt by recurrent conflicts, especially in places such as Isiolo.

The district peace committees and other local mechanisms of conflict resolution have not been effective in dealing with such ethnic conflicts due  to two main principles underlying their work.

First, the district peace committees operate from the principle of communal crime and punishment. Under this principle, communities shoulder the burden of punishment for crimes committed by its individual members.

This totally contravenes the liberal regime of justice which, through the Bill of Rights, individualises crime and  punishment, just as ownership of private property.

The second principle limits the efficacy of district peace committees as an alternative mechanism of justice and thus guarantors of long-term peace emanates from their composition. Such committees are chaired by district commissioners and rely on the provincial administration for their survival.

 


This article was originally published in the Reject Online Issue 76

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