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Postcard from Kenya #3: Nevertheless: Communities Build Peace

11 months ago

Over the last two weeks here in Kenya, we have been meeting with people who have been at the receiving end of both the violence of poverty and systemic oppression, from hunger to assassination. The work of Turning the Tide, our partner here, is to train them in the skills of non-violence – that is, how to keep everyday issues of conflict igniting into overt violence. It is also about civic engagement, training them in the skills of organising their communities in order to call their politicians to account – to fulfill their mandate as government to provide clean water, housing, health care and education. And beyond that, to care for them as their people rather than robbing them of their public goods. My head and heart of filled to overflowing with horror stories of suffering and violence. And my heart is filled with the joy of watching and being a part of trainings where people in counties across the Western and Northern Rift Valley are experiencing the empowering sense of success! In the most advanced TTT community groups that have been established, they have been successful in several campaigns, getting their land back from their MP, reclaiming a water source and dam that another politician had privatised for his own purposes, claiming the rights of widows to hold onto and stay in the houses and on the properties owned by their late husbands. Though the law protects the rights, traditional practices of the villages are ignorant of those laws, are uneducated in them or violate them in order to seize their dead brother’s land for themselves. Mothers who have their children back after their father sold them into an early marriage in order to pay for the basics of life. I could go on, there are so many more.

And all of this is taking place in a context of political violence, protests met by the violence of police and government militia. Even after the post-election violence in which militia were going into opposition neighbourhoods where the marginalised tribes that typically support the opposition live, dragging people out of their houses and killing and dismembering them. It is in these communities where we are working. The Western and North Rift Valley are home to tribes who support opposition leader, Raila Odinga, and have also been the subject of violence and assassination. TTT is building resilience in these communities, training them to respond non-violently to the violations of their politicians and the goon squads. As we travelled with them throughout the Rift Valley, Lance, my Zimbabwean colleague and I had the opportunity to add our comments, to share some of the tools and exercises that we typically use in our training in conflict transformation and non-violence.

The result has been a preliminary agreement to return to Kenya to fill in what we and they believe are critical gaps in the training of their Community Resource Persons (as they call their trained trainers). I have learned a lot about their tactics in civic engagement and campaign organising and implementation; they are learning from us the skills of experiential, play-based/adventure-based learning that are so important in building consciousness across volatile tribal lines. I have had significant experience in areas where tribal lines remain strong; here it is extremely problematic, driving into violence issues that are, at root, all about nepotism – favouring one group over another, corruption and the failure on the part of the government to redistribute the incredible wealth created in this country.

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