Saturday, February 16, 2008

From politics to peace: people are key

As Kofi Annan attempts to gain a peace agreement that will satisfy Kenya's government and "opposition", many ordinary people in Kenya are building peace in their own way - providing assistance to those who have lost homes and family members, creating space for dialogue, and planning longterm trauma healing and community re-building processes.

While I was staying at Lubao, I read the memoirs of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her book gave me a vivid picture not only of her own political journey - a roller coaster of hopeful anticipation for a new and better government and the disappointment of election promises unfulfilled - but also of the complicated interconnectedness of cultural, colonial and international factors affecting the country's ability to thrive as a new democratic nation.

As part of my work in evaluating the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in Kenya, I interviewed a number of people who reflected on the factors contributing to violence in the country and the impact of AVP in addressing that violence. Some people saw democratic elections, and therefore election monitoring, as the key to future peace. Others saw inequality between tribes and the disempowerment of women as contributing factors in the country's then-current levels of violence, both domestic and national. Others talked about reconciliation and justice as necessary roads to peace. Interestingly, security and governance, social and economic wellbeing and justice and reconciliation were all identified by the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission as being important elements of sustainable peacebuilding strategies.

I've now been receiving regular updates from friends in Kenya explaining the factors contributing to the current violence, and letting me know how people are coping. I've heard via text message or email that the people I was connected to are safe, but extremely busy responding to the needs of others. For example, the Quakers in Kenya recently held a three day conference to determine strategies for working collaboratively towards peacebuilding in the country. This was the first time that all the diverse Quaker communities had come together with a common purpose. They agreed to facilitate dialogue amongst political actors, provide relief to those personally affected, and strengthen their AVP work, which now includes trauma healing and "rebuilding our community" activities. This confirms for me that, while the UN certainly has a role and responsibility in assisting in the building of peace in Kenya, the contribution of local actors is vital to creating a sustainable peace.
(Photos: Relief work, Jan 08 and Quaker Peace Conference, Jan 08 Credit: Eden Grace)

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