Through its Kenyan Initiative, Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) is unrelentingly supporting indigenous Kenyan communities in leading the charge for attaining and retaining their own peace. It is actively pursuing this goal throughout its peace efforts in that East African country by providing the framework for peace, not prescriptive models for what peace is or ought to be. This is an excellent example of MBBI’s solid commitment to collaborating with local communities through its capacity building and coaching initiatives to achieve more sustainable peace.
In 2012, pastoralist peacebuilders invited MBBI to join the local ongoing efforts directed at fostering social cohesion and peaceful coexistence among these tribal communities. Byron Nabaala, one of MBBI’s Kenyan trainers, revealed during a recent interview: We invited MBBI because:
- Its mission transcends all political, cultural and traditional borders.
- It is mediation and peace-focused, whereas other organizations are more concerned with development works. You can’t have development in the absence of peace. We didn’t want wells. We wanted peace above all,”
Over the last six years, the Kenyan team has partnered with, trained, and mentored multiple ethnic groups in Kenya’s Baringo, Laikipia, and Samburu counties. This is transforming a protracted resource-based and ethnic-oriented conflict that lingers in these areas where predominantly pastoralist communities continue to struggle with conflicts rooted in cattle rustling—their sole source of livelihood. Today, though the guns have mostly fallen silent, these communities are yet to attain sustainable peace.
Gail (MBBI-Kenya Proj team leader) and Mama Amani
Gail (MBBI-Kenya Proj team leader) with Kisumu Peace Committee
Building Peace from the Roots
The team’s initial response was to work to bring together existing organizations and fund local peacebuilding efforts using a peace caravan model. However, after struggling to fund such efforts based on a lack of empirical evidence of peace caravan success, an intensive participatory action research project was designed to exclusively focus on gaining an accurate and deeper understanding of the conflict dynamics as well as unearthing possible factors critical to mission success. This effort revealed that strong community engagement was critical to effective project implementation, in addition to transparency and accountability.
Serving as catalysts who support the brilliant people in their own communities, is the best approach to grassroots peacebuilding as opposed to coming in with a ‘better way of doing things.’ [Granted], we have things to contribute. But it must always be elicitive, a fundamental value of MBBI—to partner with locals on the ground, to support and catalyze. It is the best way forward. – Gail Ervin, Kenya Project team leader
Thus, the Kenya Project team functions as catalysts, providing organizational structure, grant writing, training, and mentoring, while Kenyans lead their own conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes. The work done on the ground is by Kenyans for Kenyans. “It is the communities themselves who decide who their peace leaders are,” Gail stated.
The MBBI Kenya Project team is committed to gender mainstreaming in all its activities. It encourages communities to ensure active women participation. Fortunately, the women are responding well to this new role; they feel recognized and empowered to stand up and speak for peace.
I was among the first of Kenyans that were trained by MBBI and sent back into our communities to multiply the knowledge gained. We incorporated what we learned with our own traditional peacebuilding methods and mobilized 60 people from three communities (Pokot, Tugen, and Ilchamus), 20 each. The group was a mixture of elders, men, women, and youths. We trained them on intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic mediation and peacebuilding. – Mary-Anne Lechoe, a local team leader and a trainer
Byron shares similar sentiments as it relates to gender mainstreaming: “In Africa, the elders are the ones called upon to broker peace deals. But we felt the youths and women needed to be given a voice in finding a solution to a conflict that affected everyone. We wanted diversity in our work. The women were very happy to have been presented with a chance to have a say.”
Collaborating for Peace
The Kenya Project team comprises seven MBBI members from the United States, Northern Ireland, Europe, and Kenya including one Kenyan pastoralist from the Pokot tribe. Its local team includes five Peace Guardian Core Members representing four pastoralist ethnic communities: Samburu, Tugen, Ilchamus, and Pokot.
Lisa Rose, a training developer, is enthusiastic about the group’s dynamics and the opportunity to interact and learn from the various tribes. “We do a lot of co-sharing and co-creating with our Kenyan colleagues during the design and implementation of training materials,”’ she said.
We try to avoid any attempt that will make our Kenyan team members look at us as the experts because nobody is an expert on someone else’s world. We are not there to prescribe formulas, we’re there to support their peace process. – Lisa Rose, Kenya Project team member
Language Bridging Peace
The Kenyan team is currently implementing its Warriors to Peace Guardians framework, a systemic approach to peacebuilding in pastoralist lands. A key component of this framework is the Peace Guardians initiatives, a program that trains cadres of women, youth and elders as community-selected peace leaders, and connects them to a network of peace guardians across county lines. Warriors and warmongering are traditionally celebrated as protectors of their communities. However, the Kenya Project is supporting communities into shifting the roles of Warriors from violence to peace; instead of protecting their communities with weapons, they are now doing so with the language of peace.
Gail recalls that “when the peace caravan came to Laikipia, Sikukuu’s people designated him as their fiercest warrior for peace—a new role he humbly accepted.” Sikukuu is now protecting his community by waging peace, not war. He sold his cattle and bought a motorcycle to travel around the county to promote peace. This is now one key element of success and sustainability now integrated into the Peace Guardian program.
The Warriors to Peace Guardians framework was successfully implemented in Baringo County, where 60 Peace Guardians remain active today. A program primarily focused on women Peace Guardians will start soon in Samburu County, and a Rotary Global grant to train the next cadre of Peace Guardians in Laikipia will kick off in early 2019.
Collaboration with Rotary
MBBI’s Kenyan team is thrilled about its collaboration with Rotary International on this Global Grant and is already receiving donations to expand the program into new areas of Baringo. The team believes that this is an opportunity for both sides to learn from each other. Here’s how Gail, a Rotary Peace Fellow herself, sums it:
One thing that we feel we can provide to Rotary is a deeper understanding of how communities can be empowered to sustain their own peace and development. Empowerment does not mean coming in, training, and leaving [the scene]. It is [about] building their own ownership by creating the environment for locals to voice their needs and to provide them with the tools to implement such. When people generate solutions out of their own thought processes, it is theirs. Ownership in this context is so critical.
MBBI-Kenya Project Team
with local partners- Laikipia, Kenya
MBBI-Kenya Project Team
with Baringo County Governor Stanley Kiptis
With Rotary’s partnership, the MBBI’s Kenya Project hopes to accomplish the following within five years:
- Launch its first Rotary project focused on training peace guardians and creating sustainable access to “peace dividends” in Laikipia, and expand this program through new global grants into Baringo and Samburu counties
- Train communities on inter-ethnic collaboration through grant writing for development projects to proactively seek available grants
- Work with communities to improve the genetics and environmental sustainability of their livestock economy
- Expand projects beyond the current service areas
- Explore the area of combating violent extremism
Meanwhile, like any charitable project, funding remains a critical factor to MBBI-Kenya’s mission success. Desirable funding will enable the team to further expand its efforts across other conflict-prone communities. Also, with funding, the team is poised to further strengthen its presence on the ground by establishing a local office to sustain the ongoing work and maintain momentum. In a nutshell, additional financial resources will empower MBBI-Kenya to further fulfill its objectives. Consider investing in the Kenya Project by donating as an individual or organization.
An article by Fatoumata Bility, MBBI Writer