“I don’t sew clothes for tribes, I sew clothes for Kenyans.”

This week we were able to travel to Nakuru, a city northwest of Nairobi, to attend a workshop regarding women and peacebuilding in an area that was heavily affected by post-election violence. From Nakuru, we travelled to the village of Molo with fellow members of Initiatives of Change. The workshop largely dealt with poor, uneducated women and how they can help in preventing further violence in 2013, during the next election. The primary focus of the workshop dealt with how women can create a more peaceful Kenya by advocating peace in their home environment. Women in Kenya have a lot of influence regarding their husbands and children, as well as being witnesses to most of the violence that takes place (one woman told a story of picking up her children and running while people were being killed in her village). This influence gives women the chance to support peaceful, nonviolent elections in ways that others cannot. These women create peace in their homes, diffuse tensions, and weaken tribalism in their own homes, and that spreads outward to the rest of the country. Security alone cannot bring about peace, it requires the people to actually want peace, and women are in an excellent position to encourage positive grassroots and cultural change.

“You cannot give what you do not have.”

One of the primary problems with official events such as peace talks, signed treaties, and negotiations, is that they only deal with the surface tensions, or end direct violence. What they do not do is resolve the underlying issues and emotions of the populace. Unless something is done to end tribalism (or any group identity –ism), violence will always be just about to happen. War is a symptom, not a disease. The workshop focused on creating peace within ones’ self, on the power of forgiveness, and how forgiving others is the first step towards creating a more peaceful world. No matter how much someone prays to end violence, or talks about how important peace and loving thy neighbor is, if they carry around the heavy burdens of bitterness in their hearts, only fear and danger will come from the work. Forgiveness is the first step in relieving ourselves and others of these burdens, without doing so, the cycle of violence will only continue. We may talk about peace, but at the end of the day, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the solution, or simply part of the problem.

“The Kenya I want has to start with me.”

Peace cannot simply be brought down from on high, as promulgation from politicians or encouragements from outsiders, peace must come from within. Unless the individual is able to really and truly care about making things better, violence will always exist. Peace requires that the people themselves stand up to the opportunists, grifters, and demagogues who incite violence for their own personal gain. When that fear and hatred is purged from the individual, they become walking “denial zones” that are able to influence those close to them merely by their presence. Taking from the popular Gandhi quote “Be the change you want to see in the world,” the workshop pushed people to understand that we cannot expect others to be the leaders in the movement to create peace; we must be willing to do so ourselves if there is to be a more peaceful Kenya.

“My God, the devils have come, let me save my children!”

Some of the most important questions for people doing CR work are asking about just how effective our efforts are. A big concern is that people who go to peace and reconciliation meetings are not the ones who need to be going. Participants of these events already believe in peace, and want the violence to stop. The ones we need however are those who have picked up the gun, or incited violence, or promote hatred. The workshop here had proved something: that many of the people who get drawn into conflicts, and support the incitement against other identities, are not necessarily hardcore extremists. Many of the women who participated in the workshop admitted to being prejudice and hating members of other tribes when they entered the room. When they left, they were hugging, singing, and dancing with one another, admitting how wrong they were previously. This sort of phenomenon, which the majorities of the people involved don’t desperately cling to their discriminatory beliefs and can be swayed, bears some resemblance to David Kilcullen’s “Accidental Guerilla” theory. Dr. Kilcullen had written on his experiences in dealing with insurgent and terrorist groups. One of his primary discoveries was that many of the “terrorists” fighting Western interventions weren’t actually terrorists, but were swept up into the conflict. It seems that much of the violence and conflict that many CR professionals deal with are the same, many of the participants have been forced into a situation they could not control, and use violence as a perceived means to defend themselves. This is not to say that all violence participants can be swayed, but that by affecting what we would consider moderates and “average people,” we can make a huge difference.

(The quotes were said by women attending the workshop)

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Comment by Abdirashid Hussein on June 10, 2012 at 1:41am
Joshua,
This is a great piece. In Kenya, Like in many Fragile democracies, conflicts are started by the political class using incitments as their major tool to pit one group against another so as to get as many votes as it is possible. It is even more dangerous if the voters can easily be manipulatable! Good observation.
Comment by stanley mwaura nderitu on June 9, 2012 at 12:09am

Joshua,

Thanks for the update, sounds very transforming. Hope the women will sustain the spirit and influence the larger community, for effect. Good work you and Deboreh are doing

Comment by Rose Gordon on June 8, 2012 at 11:07pm

Thanks for posting this Joshua. My experience is that Restorative Justice is a process that brings together people who are harmed and have harmed. Really listening, and understanding another human being as being human:) is a step towards forgiveness. Forgiveness needs depth. It is a process. As you said, " Many of the women who participated in the workshop admitted to being prejudice and hating members of other tribes when they entered the room. When they left, they were hugging, singing, and dancing with one another, admitting how wrong they were previously." When we truly see and hear each other something happens...I have 2 friends who truly forgave the village women who murdered their just born babies in Cambodia during Pol Pots regime. They saw those women as trapped in hellish circumstances. They knew how the oppressors trapped people into committing horrible acts, or die themselves, or see their own babies die. Their forgiveness was based, it seems, on an understanding of the tragedy and the human condition. They have not forgotten the horror of it all, but used it to deepen their compassion as human beings. They transformed horror into wisdom. I am awed by that and i have seen it in others. Every time our prejudices are shaken up a bit, like the women you speak of, we become different, and can pass that awareness on. It may be in small ways, with our relatives, close friends, who we allow in the house, how we treat others...but it all matters, cause our children see it, our friends and relatives see it, and something shifts. Best wishes on all your work and on this particular work. Thank you, thank you.

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