“We are seeing a new generation, a generation that are not sitting quietly any more, a generation who are coming together to resist injustice. We are also seeing a generation that want to make informed decisions.”
– Benard L Agona, field co-ordinator of Turning the Tide Programme in Kenya
As Kenyans prepare to go to the polls next week for the first time since widespread violence after the 12/2007 elections, Quakers are at the forefront of an initiative to promote peace and nonviolence across the country. Fears of a repeat of the 2007-8 violence, in which around 1,200 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, have inspired an unprecedented multi-track election violence prevention effort.
Three Kenyan based organisations, Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), Friends Church Peace Teams (FCPT) and the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) have mobilised together. FCPT and AGLI are leading on the plan to train citizen reporters and manage community conflict resolution. CAPI is leading on promotion of the ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign, demanding justice and building a mass nonviolent witness for peaceful, transparent, free and fair elections. They have reached over 20,000 people nationwide.
At least 1,200 people have become citizen reporters, prepared to call in an alert when they see the warning signs of violence.
Another 660 people will serve as domestic election observers. Each election observer receives a baseball cap saying “Peace Teams” and a T-shirt with the FCPT logo on the front with “FCPT in Collaboration with AGLI” and “2013 Kenya, Election Observer, Vote Peacefully” on the back. They receive the official Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) badge with their picture on it, the IEBC booklet “Guidelines and Code of Conduct for Election Observers,” and a four page “Election Observer Report Form” to fill out on the polling at their assigned station.
All of these programmes have enabled community groups and individuals to take the initiative in their own communities. In Nairobi and Lugari, they have convinced candidates to participate in public debates – unusual in Kenya until now – and developed vetting mechanisms to hold local candidates to account. In Kenya, politics has been about ethnic affiliation, loyalty, bribery, poverty, inequality and intimidation. Now Kenyans are demanding that all candidates give clear policy commitments.
In Langas, near Eldoret, where pamphlets and hate speech were threatening inter-ethnic violence, women from different communities came together to organise a Women’s Peace Procession and made a public peace proclamation.
And in Mount Elgon, when citizen reporters sent news that four people had been murdered and then a fifth was assassinated, community peacebuilders delivered a message of peace at the funeral of one of the victims and followed up with trauma healing and listening workshops in an ongoing effort to interrupt the cycle of revenge.
The problems in Mount Elgon continue though and eight people are understood to have died in the area so far. David Zarembka, writing on www.kenyaelections2013.org reports: “Whenever a candidate’s agent arrived to hand out bribes – there are, for example, fourteen candidates running for Member of Parliament (MP) in the Mt Elgon constituency – the participants would run out to get their 50 shillings ($.59) bribe. One of the MP candidates, in his stronghold, would send ‘visitors’ at night to talk with anyone who had said something bad about him or positive about some other candidate.”
Quakers in Britain have given support to Quakers in Kenya through Quaker Peace & Social Witness, their campaigns and actions department. Their approach combines civic education and dialogue, citizen reporting, and local peacebuilding responses, resulting in numerous community-driven initiatives to defuse tensions, challenge hate speech and hold political aspirants to account. Based in part on a Quaker programme called Turning the Tide, this initiative does not avoid conflict but rather challenges the causes of violence and helps Kenyans to build a just and peaceful future from the grassroots.
Laura Shipler Chico, of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain, said: “These efforts are rooted in local communities. That is their strength. They are a long-term effort not only to prevent election violence but to challenge the systems and structures that give rise to violence to begin with. People have mobilised their own communities and the response has not come from outside but from deep within. This is a testimony to the Quaker notion that there is that of God in everyone; the answers lie within each of us.”
Quakers from around the world are praying for peace in Kenya and praying to support their fellow Quakers who are working for peace during the election period.
You can read regular updates about Quaker work to prepare for the elections at http://kenyanelections2013.org/ and you can read more about QSPW-supported peacework in Kenya in this article in The Friend.