By: Mrs. Judith Akedi Ouma MA: Program Officer.
“We are extremely grateful to shalom SCCRR for their immense contributions in the promotion of peace in the informal settlements” (Mr. Mwangi Wahihia Assistant County Commissioner in Nairobi, and Mr. Patrick Weru Chief Kariobangi Location)
Peace and stability remains precarious in many parts of Kenya as the Country continues healing after the 2017 General Elections. Politics and voting in Kenya largely aligns with ethnic dynamics and interests. It has also seen control of political power being considered an opportunity for elites to win ethnic blocs in order to control wealth and economic opportunities. Issue-based politics and electioneering are very rare, instead identity politics dominate. This combined with unaddressed historical injustices and marginalization, inflammatory political rhetoric and entrenched division, can easily trigger widespread violence. Overall, ideology is secondary to ethnic mathematics when it comes to elections in Kenya.
Mathare and Kariobangi are an amalgamation of diverse ethnic groups whose differences emanate from issues such as land, ethnicity and political affiliations. Political tensions are often heightened by negative influence which emanates from the political class and those with interests in political activities. The political class often plays on the people’s ignorance and exploit ethnic divisions to incite communities into hating each other. Growing demand over limited resources generates competition and causes conflicts within the villages. This poses considerable social and physical risks to the poor who are without adequate representation in the government’s decision-making circles.
Often, dialogue across communities is lacking and ethnic groups perceive each other in adversarial terms. A clear characteristic of the conflict in Mathare and Kariobangi is that it involves many un-employed or under-employed youth, with election-related violence fanned by issues concerning access to political and economic power at the community level.
Since January 2018, Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR) has been training key influential opinion shapers and youth in Mathare and Kariobangi. The training has primarily been on conflict management and resolution. The intent of these series of workshops is to build the capacity of the residents in managing impending and even ongoing conflicts in their places of residence. These skills have been timely especially due to the concluded 2017 general elections that were very divisive and characterized by political tensions. The series of trainings laid the foundation for the inter-community dialogue sessions, reconciliation, and transformation of the conflict negatives in the social milieu.
The community dialogue sessions took place on different dates in October, where the Mathare Senior Chief Kamwara Julia, Kariobangi Chief Patrick Weru and Assistant County Commissioner Mwangi Wahihia were in attendance. The meetings sought to deliberate on the conflict issues identified by the participants earlier in the year. Key to note is the fact that the dialogue sessions elicited positive reactions from various stakeholders. The questions of political incitement, conflict between the youth and community leaders over resource access, job opportunities and distribution were brought to the fore. SCCRR believes the dialogue sessions were a good starting point for conflict resolution efforts as the unreserved involvement of various key stakeholders in peace building are crucial in attaining sustainable peaceful co-existence in Mathare and Kariobangi.
Speaking to Kevin Otieno, a Youth leader in Mathare who has been part of the SCCRR conflict transformation efforts, he underlined that the frontline participation of youth in violent conflict has been blamed on unemployment, the need for survival in a harsh urban setting and lack of education. Kevin sees himself as an agent of change and a leader of the new post-conflict generation eager to change the narrative present in the country and contribute to peace building in his community.
In Mathare and Kariobangi, lack of institutions and/or weak institutions have prevented communities from meeting the fundamental human needs. One of SCCRR’s objectives is to cultivate conflict resolution between conflicting groups in our areas of work. Through our training program this year in Nairobi, we aimed to train various actors in Mathare and Kariobangi on how best to transform conflict to a place of positive peace. Kevin’s evident acceptance and support of conflict resolution initiatives marks a realization on the need to involve the Youth in conflict resolution efforts. In his concluding remarks, Chief Patrick Weru thanked SCCRR for the tireless efforts to bring communities divided by conflict into reconciliation forums where communities talk freely to address grievances.