Sellah King’oro is a mediator, advocate, researcher and agent of peace, based in Kenya, who is devoted to resolving communal conflicts and advancing women’s leadership. Guided by an unwavering belief that with empathy, courage and wisdom, a more just future is possible, Sellah exemplifies how mediators can cultivate peace interpersonally, while transforming unequal social systems that engender conflict.
Sellah’s journey into peacebuilding began in childhood, when she witnessed violent conflict rage between neighboring communities over land and resources in Western Kenya. During a raid, her family was forced to flee in the night and hide by the river in fear of an attack. Sellah was deeply troubled to see adults inflicting such trauma, rather than resolving differences through nonviolent means. Sellah was struck by the unique harms inflicted on women and children, and was thus driven to understand the root causes of discord. This early experience ignited a lifelong passion for elevating marginalized groups and empowering divided communities to resolve differences through nonviolent means.
After completing university studies in education, Sellah was awarded a scholarship to pursue formal training in conflict resolution in the UK. When she returned to Kenya, she worked for a national peace and reconciliation commission, responsible for mediating inter-community disputes. Sellah went on to facilitate negotiations and mediations across Kenya between communities locked in cycles of cattle rustling and retributive violence, including in the North Rift region. Sellah has also worked on peace processes in Cameroon and South Sudan, leveraging her expertise in conflict analysis, dialogue and trust-building. In her approach, Sellah stresses accepting participants’ perspectives without judgment, and bringing “spoilers” into the fold who may otherwise derail the process. She works carefully within cultural norms as an insider, while maintaining impartiality.
Elevating Women and Children’s Voices
In addition to her work as a practitioner, Sellah undertook a PhD which focused on women’s community peacebuilding roles in Kenya. Her research aimed to elevate women’s contributions, which are often overlooked and constrained by gendered cultural expectations that limit public leadership roles. Sellah explains how her own role as a peacebuilder helps to challenge and defy these norms, as she conducts sensitive negotiations into the late hours of the night with community elders, in settings traditionally forbidden to women.
One of Sellah’s recent initiatives is a Rotary-supported beadwork social enterprise in the North Rift region. Sellah describes how this project harnesses a traditional skill that many women possess as a means of economic empowerment. The program provides training and seed funding for women whose lives have been fractured by cattle raiding violence to produce unique beaded handicrafts. These products are then sold in wider markets, generating independent income for participants. The earnings allow women to cover basic necessities, pay school fees for children, and make strategic choices to lift themselves from poverty. Beyond financial benefits, the collaborative initiative fosters solidarity and hope. As Sellah shares, “Once we sell, we encourage them to actually enhance their businesses. So we also take them through basic entrepreneurship classes.” By interweaving traditional crafts, peacebuilding and business skills, Sellah’s project points to an inclusive model of conflict transformation and women’s empowerment. Sellah’s work to empower women has been so impactful that she was officially recognized for her work by the President of Kenya on International Women’s Day 2023.
Hope, courage, and strength in unity
Amidst the complexity of transforming entrenched conflicts, Sellah finds great motivation in the hope and resilience displayed by women and children. Although they disproportionately bear the burden of violence and upheaval, their perseverance and belief in a better future compels Sellah to continue to pursue peacebuilding efforts. Small moments of joy, safety and optimism expressed by these vulnerable groups reinforce Sellah’s sense of purpose. She explains how she is inspired by the smiles she sees on women and children’s faces when a mediation process provides even temporary respite from violence, and their persisting faith that reconciliation is possible. Their hope and courage strengthens her own commitment to secure durable peace and equality through dialogue.
Sellah perseveres in the challenging work of community mediation, guided by her belief in unity through diversity. She urges peacebuilders globally to persist, emphasizing that “if someone’s life changes because of a little sacrifice you’ve made, I think it’s really worth it,” even if large-scale change takes time. She reflects that “even if someone else doesn’t give you a tap on the back, or a pat on the back, always know that you contributed to change , however little. Just remember, kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba (Swahili for little little fills the pot).” The resilience of those most impacted reaffirms Sellah’s belief that with patience and people-centered peacebuilding, a more just future can emerge.
Sellah’s pioneering work embodies the belief that a more just world can be built through courage, wisdom and empathy. Her prevailing hope is that “the sun will shine,” and people will embrace their differences as a source of mutual understanding and strength rather than division realizing “that we are actually stronger together.”
Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer