“The powers that third-party non-official actors have in the complicated task of preventing and resolving conflict, or in helping post-conflict societies reach reconciliation are fairly considerable from providing information to acting as a primary mediator” Crocker C. et al., 2018, p. 118
Shalom-SCCRR, for more than a decade has been transforming through mediation inter-ethnic conflicts in Eastern Africa, particularly in Northern Kenya, along the border interfaces of South Sudan, Ilemi Triangle, Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia, and in many urban slum settlements. Inter-ethnic rivalry in Kenya, especially among pastoralist groups has a long history dating back to pre-colonial times. Attempts by different governmental, faith based organizations and non-governmental organizations etc., have never provided long lasting solutions for a variety of reasons, one of which was the lack of qualified proficiency. To transform and mediate a conflict it is essential to have expertise in respect to applied theoretical analysis, technical mastery, appreciation of history, and visionary attainable post-conflict reconstructions policies. Otherwise you might as well be looking in a mirror talking to yourself!
Shalom’s unique approach to peacebuilding through mediation among these communities is slowly bringing peace. Shalom in its intervention goes beyond the manifestations of the conflict and tries to address the root causes of the conflict. It is only by addressing the root causes that a durable solution can be attained. Most of the communities that Shalom work with are marginalized communities that on a day to day basis fight over available natural resources needed to exist, in harsh arid environments where socio-economic inequality in the distribution of national institutional support is very evident. The government through its devolution of governance is also trying to address this situation. Shalom’s interventions in inter-tribal conflict give significant prominence to changing perceptions, attitudes and the strengthening of socio-political systems to improve education, health and security infrastructure.
One of the key methods of conflict resolution that Shalom SCCRR uses in its intervention is that of mediation where it acts as a trusted third party. Its approach and record of being invited by numerous parties to resolve their conflicts is second to none. Its main approach is that of training influential community leaders or in other words community opinion shapers including the youths and women leaders whose voices are often not heard. These community leaders are equipped with skills on conflict transformation and techniques in peacebuilding and they in turn go to their communities to train others for peace. They are empowered to be the architects of their peaceful, progressive and interdependent future. The training and community activities culminate into a problem solving workshop where the representatives of ethnic communities in conflict have joint meetings to plan on sustainable amicable solutions to their conflict problems. Community facilitators are selected from the community representatives so that a local solution may be reached and guarded. The process plans and tangible joint development projects must be ‘owned’ by the parties.
Although protracted conflicts are hard to mediate, shalom experience of success in mediating in conflict is in line with the conditions outlined by Crocker at al., 2018, p. 47:
1. The conflict parties know that they need help and are ready at least to explore alternatives to continued fighting:
Intractable conflicts defy settlement because leaders believe their objectives are fundamentally irreconcilable and they have a greater interest in maintaining the violent status quo than considering potential political alternatives. Shalom’s training empowers community leaders to recalculate the costs and benefits of continuing the fight and to explore alternative ways to achieve their goals instead of fighting.
2. The mediator is “ready” and has significant links to or history with the conflict and relevant assets of leverage or influence:
Shalom has established strong relationship with the local communities and is determined to maintain a long-term presence until a lasting solution is found. Shalom also has the capacity to intervene and to mediate inter-ethnic conflicts in Kenya and within the East African Region because of its qualified personnel in conflict resolution and their commitment to peace and reconciliation among communities.
Shalom enjoys a framework of working for and with Religious Institutions and Faith Based Organizations (FBOs). These institutions when highly trusted by the locals provide a viable avenue for Shalom’s mediation insertions into conflict environments. FBOs and Religious Institutions in these areas greatly appreciate the capacity building that Shalom provides to their own well-meaning personnel in terms of analytical skills and peace-building techniques. One of the big challenges to Religious Institutions is to improve the capacity of their organizations in peacebuilding. Many dioceses/zones in conflict environments have no personnel with even a bare minimum of a degree in these disciplines. It’s not too sufficient to proclaim that Jesus, Mohamed etc., want peace, without having qualified personnel in organizations who ‘know what makes for peace’!
3. The mediator and his or her institution are prepared to commit to a substantive engagement in order to shape events:
The intervention of Shalom-SCCRR is accompanied with development projects in view of bringing together the opposing communities to work together and in the process they come to dialogue and work for a common goal. Shalom supports interethnic schools with learning materials such as books and desks, and also by building classrooms and dormitories. Some of the beneficiaries of Shalom’s educational projects include Turkwel Gorge Mixed Secondary School at the border between West Pokot County and Turkana County, and Sarima Primary School in Samburu County. Through peace clubs and sharing of school facilities provided by Shalom, Children from rival communities are able to dialogue among themselves. Shalom SCCRR believes that interaction among children from different ethnic identities helps to shape their perceptions towards each-others.
4. A change of circumstances within the conflict or its environs offers the prospect of gaining entry and subsequent traction within the parties:
An appropriate time to engage mediation in a conflict is when conflict transformation interventions have at least succeeded in generating a pause/ceasefire/a form of negative peace to begin with, between the parties. This means that the conflict has to be deescalated before intervention takes place. Shalom does continuous monitoring of conflict situation so that it can take advantage of opportunities for intervention as they emerge. Assessing the ‘ripe-moment’ is critical and demands expertise in analysis and perception.
Cultural and structural factors that justify and normalize violent behaviors and attitudes are addressed throughout the process of mediation.
5. Mediation offers a possible method of containing or managing a conflict that might otherwise escalate or spread geographically:
In situations where there is no enforcement of law and order, communities organize revenge attacks against each other as a way of looking for justice for an offence done against them by the “enemy” community. Stealing of livestock among Pastoralist communities is so common and this acts as a trigger to violent conflict between ethnic communities. Mediation by Shalom-SCCRR for example among the ethnic communities of Turkana and Samburu has helped to not only contain the conflict in certain regions but mediated opportunities for sustainable peace and development evident in roads opening, joint markets, and inter-ethnic/interreligious schools developing. The contagion effect of this peace and development progression cannot be underestimated as it impacts on adjacent areas.
In conclusion, third-party interventions in intractable conflicts need to take seriously expertly led mediation interventions. Well-meaning altruistic attempts by unqualified officials, FBO’s and Religious Institutions, rarely make any long term positive-peace impact- “if only today you would know what makes for peace”! This process requires a huge commitment in terms of time, patience, energy, resources and human capital. While the chances of success are not at all certain there is not better alternative methodology. War, manifest and structural violence, and negative peace must be transformed and overcome society.
By Fr. Julius Chelanga, MA, Program Assistant