On his visit to Kenya prior to the repeat presidential election, Mr. Fergal Keane, BBC Africa Editor, lauded the efforts that Shalom was putting in place to respond to the electoral violence that was facing Kenya following the highly contested presidential elections in 2017. “Let me give you a Kenyan example that gladdens my heart. It has a strong Irish connection too. On the eve of the election I went to the Nairobi offices of the group Shalom, where two Irish priests, Fr Patrick Devine from Roscommon, and Fr Oliver Noonan of Cork city, work with a team of conflict preventers from across the country’s tribal patchwork. Every day they are busy in the flashpoint areas their phones ringing constantly…” In his account, Fergal Keane noted a statement by Fr. Patrick Devine PhD, SCCRR International Chairman who observed that it’s only by being consistent and having highly trained people, and by developing relationships on the ground, that one can succeed in transforming the social milieu within societies that have been troubled with interethnic conflicts such as the ones that Kenya faces in the wake of every election.
The professionalism of Shalom’s team, coupled with their focus, calmness, objectivity and more so their strong investment in transforming the social milieu, have been the major reasons for progress towards post-conflict reconciliation in the Kisumu/Nandi borderline. This area was probably the worst hit by the 2017 post-election skirmishes. As governance devolution continues taking root in Kenya, boundary disputes have been on the rise. Inter-county border areas have been increasingly being prone to inter-ethnic violence occasioned by improperly marked boundaries and claims of ownership rights of real or perceived ancestral lands (International Crisis Group 2017 report on Devolution in Kenya).
Members of the Luo and Nandi tribes living along the border of Kisumu and Nandi counties have suffered the consequences of devolution which has manifested itself in the protracted conflict between them due to contests over land ownership in this agriculturally rich borderline. The interethnic conflict that ensued along this borderline in the aftermath of the 2017 elections prompted Shalom-SCCRR to put in place a robust mediation intervention. Since then these ethnically diverse residents from different counties have embraced SHALOM-SCCRR’s enhanced path towards reconciliation and greater mutual concern for the wellbeing and development of each other.
The intervention which started in October 2017 began by an in-depth analysis of the conflict so as to create a distinction between the proximate conflict drivers from the structural and underlying root causes. Even though the conflict was largely manifesting itself in the form of demonstrations, blocking of roads, killings and destruction of people’s property, SCCRR’s analysis established that such incidents were just manifestations of longer and deeper conflict grievances. The discordant relationships are rooted in historical experiences of marginalization connected to land ownership and partiality in the administration of political and economic power. The identification of the conflict drivers enabled SCCRR to plan for an intervention that focusses a lot on capacity building trainings on inter-ethnic negotiation, relationship building activities and mediation forums enhancing reconciliation processes as the basis for collaboration in jumpstarting development activities. One of the major peace dividends that has since been realized due to the prevailing peace is the opening of Chemelil Sugar factory. This is a major sugar factory in Kenya which was rendered inoperable but is now providing ready market for cane farmers from both the Luo and the Nandi tribes.
The notable progress in the peacebuilding interventions has come due to SCCRR working in close collaboration with the government, local interreligious institutions and other ethnic groups’ influencers. This collaboration has led to the establishment of 2 local peace committees, abetted by SHALOM-SCCRR, each having 40 influential ethnic/tribal leaders. The 2 committees from both Nandi and Kisumu sides of the conflict divide have the mandate of initiating peaceful means of conflict resolution and working closely with ethnic groups to facilitate mediation and negotiation interventions.
Mediation has provided the ethnic groups with the opportunity to come together to negotiate about the underlying causes of their conflict and under-development. It has enabled them to arrive at options for resolution and plan for and implement actions for change. In this sense, the tribal groups that were once fierce rivals are steadily becoming architects of the change they would like to see and the development that they desire for themselves and their future generations.
Worth noting is that the SCCRR-initiated peacebuilding activities have the full support of the government operatives in the area as well as the ethnic groups at large. This support and endorsement has provided a good opportunity for steady progress towards peace with less interruption from any ‘negatively oriented conflict entrepreneurs’. There is always the danger of spoilers and dissidents who want to profit from conflict to deal with! The peace process currently has the participation of the Deputy County Commissioners and the Assistant County Commissioners from both Tinderet and Muhoroni Sub-Counties, 7 chiefs and 12 assistant chiefs from both sub-counties. The participation of these key government leaders is further evidence of the legitimacy of the post-conflict reconciliation activities that Shalom has involved the ethnic groups in.
Other than working towards transforming the attitudes and perceptions of the members of the affected tribes, SCCRR has significantly encouraged their participation in conflict prevention initiatives. This has been achieved through the establishment of a mechanism for supporting interethnic/tribal schooling along the border. These schools have provided a conducive learning environment for the young generation and helped inculcate a culture of peace through enhancing ethnic tolerance.
A needs assessment conducted in October 2018 led to the identification of over 10 primary schools from both Nandi and Kisumu Counties. These are schools located in the conflict line and which have suffered various effects from the prevailing conflicts. These effects range from destruction of learning materials, closure and even reduction in the number of pupils from particular ethnic groups depending on the political affiliation of the pre-dominant group in the village where a school is located. According to a discussion forum held with the Peace Committee leaders from both Kisumu and Nandi in September 2018, the current ratio of the Pupils from Nandi to the Luo communities in 4 of the 10 primary schools is 8:2. On the other hand, the ratio of the pupils from the Luo to the Nandi communities in the remaining 6 schools is 9:1.
Through its peace education and development programs, Shalom-SCCRR has invested in improving the ethnic balance in these schools. It has engaged with the teachers and pupils from the identified schools and the responsible ethnic members to implement peace education training curriculum to the pupils. Furthermore, SCCRR is supporting them with learning materials as well as reconstruction of appropriate facilities so as to provide conducive learning environments to restore their confidence in appreciating the benefits that they acquire from studying together.
SCCRR’s methodology of intervention in the border of Kisumu and Nandi counties is one of the greatest hopes for the local ethnic groups of the end to the inter-ethnic conflict that has remained protracted in the area since 1992’s onset of multi-party politics in Kenya. One of the greatest assets that has supported Shalom’s progress in this intervention has been the diversity in the composition of the project team composed of among other Ms. Roseline Serem, Mr. Godfrey Okoth, Mrs. Joyce Wamae and Mr. Arthur Magero. Despite their ethnic and gender diversity, this team has exercised great collaboration in executing the project’s mandate. Their collaboration has been an example of unity in ethnic, religious and gender diversity for the communities to see and emulate. SCCRR chairman Fr. Patrick Devine and Country Director Fr. Oliver Noonan remain emphatic about the implementation of the project activities as the hope for significant progress towards the realization of positive peace.
In the words of world-renowned BBC correspondent Mr. Fergal Keane, “Kenya needs Shalom in its slums and beleaguered western villages where tension is rising by the day. What Shalom does in Kenya matters to all of Africa” (Fergal Keane).
By Kisumu/Nandi Project Team:
Mr. Godfrey Okoth, MA, Director of Programs
Mrs. Joyce Wamae, MA, Program Manager
Ms. Roseline Serem, MBA, Director-Consultant
Mr. Arthur Magero, MA, Project Officer