By Mary Keoch
Ending the cycle of violence and war, predominantly in Eastern Africa, through peace-building, development and reconciliation is the main goal of Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Another step towards the achievement of this goal was taken on September 15, 2015 when ten representatives, each from the Pokot and Turkana ethnic groups were brought together for a peace-building workshop in Eldoret, Uasin-Gishu County. Led by the Country Director, Fr. Oliver Noonan, facilitated by the Programme Manager, Perterlinus Ouma and Program Officer Mary Keoch, the workshop aimed at opening up avenues for dialogue and building trust between the two communities. The importance of building trust arises from the realization that we all depend on each other and most of the time our interests are entwined. The approach used allowed for the participants to interact freely and share experiences, discuss the peace work that they are involved in within their communities and focus on the major problems that are an obstacle to peace between the two communities.
The genesis of this coming together was as a result of Shalom’s program of training and research in this conflict environment since 2012. The preparation and planning took place with the communities at recent workshops that were held in the month of August in Kainuk, Turkana County and September in Sigor, West Pokot County. The facilitators from Shalom equipped the participants with the analytical skills on Conflict Resolution and Conflict Mapping that would prepare them for the exercise. After the workshop the two groups selected people to meet with members of the other community for dialogue.
The participants from the Pokot Community were led by David Domongura who is involved in various peace initiatives in his community and also has reformed a number of warriors who used to engage in highway robbery and raids. The participants from the Turkana community were led by Ali Lobeker who is a former Councillor in his village and has been involved in various dialogue forums in and outside the county, that have addressed the conflict between the two communities. The other participants included women leaders involved in community peace-building programmes, community elders, Catholic Justice and Peace Commissioners (CJPC), catechists and reformed warriors. Also present for the workshop were the Parish Priests of Sigor, West-Pokot County, Fr. Alfred Okoko and Fr. Daniel Ng’ang’a; and from Kainuk-Turkana County, Fr. Javier Gonzalez. The workshop began with a session of introductions where each individual said where they come from, the peace-work that they are involved in and what achievements they have been part of in peace-building in their communities.
Randomly placed into three discussion groups, the participants delved deep into the various sources of conflict in their communities. Some of the sources mentioned included cultural practices like payment of bride price that require cattle, availability of guns, resources like pasture and water, among other reasons. One of the major problems highlighted by the participants was the availability of arms and that if this problem was dealt with then attacks would be significantly reduced. As the day progressed, the participants spoke about what has already been done to address the conflict between their communities and went ahead to suggest additional solutions including: starting projects like irrigation programmes for farming as sources of alternative livelihoods, those found raiding to be caught and punished lawfully, and more deployment of the army and police at the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The two pastoralist communities are known to have had long-standing rivalry. They have also had various periods of peace. The conflicts have resulted in the loss of many lives, destruction of property and displacement of members of the communities. Almost all of the participants have been a victim or perpetrator of conflict.
This crucial workshop marked the first step towards sustainable peace-building and reconciliation, and the participants were highly motivated. As highlighted by one of the participants, “We really thank Shalom for bringing us together. I have never attended a peace-workshop between our community (Turkana) and our brothers and sisters (Pokot) that has not ended up in a conflict itself. This (workshop) has been peaceful, and we ask Shalom to continue walking with us in this journey,” stated David Domongura towards the end of the workshop.
Dorcas Epusiye, a women peace leader involved in various peace initiatives in Turkana added, “We shall take what we have learned here today to our community, beginning with our family. This forum has been peaceful and fundamental. Shalom has helped us and are instrumental in supporting our peace initiatives. Let us not give up.” The workshop was a monumental step in trust building, reconciliation and long lasting peace among the Pokot and Turkana communities.
Participants committed themselves to pass on what they learned from the workshop to their community members either in their Small Christian Communities, Chief Meetings, Women and Youth Peace Groups, kraals (village) meetings and families. They also urged each other to keep in touch and inform each other of peace-progress. This showed the sincerity and commitment to mending damaged relationship and thus build trust in each other. A date has been set for the month of November where another workshop will be held to continue the journey towards sustainable and positive peace.