The Kenya Initiative supports the application and development of indigenous processes in areas that have pastoralist (nomadic herder) communities in Kenya. We work with local partners in a multi-faceted, bottom up and top down approach to pastoralist peacebuilding intended to support our local partners build an extensive network of local peace guardians empowered to resolve their own conflicts and sustain their own peace.
Team Leader: Lisa Rose, Northern Ireland;
Team Members: Victoria Gray, USA; Dorina Prech, Kenya
Partners: Peace Guardians Core Group, Local Capacities for Peace International, Rotary International, SAIDIA, Tiaty Integrated Peace Initiative
Mediators Beyond Borders International was invited to Kenya by pastoralist peacebuilders to help them increase their conflict resolution skills and build peace between warring ethnic communities in rural areas. This resulted in the formation of the Mediators Beyond Borders International Kenya Initiative (MBBI-KI) team. MBBI conducted an in-depth assessment over four trips to Kenya, and established the Kenya Initiative in 2012.
We formed a unique partnership of Kenyan and US volunteer organizations, pastoralist communities, and Kenyan county government to implement the Warriors to Peace Guardians Framework—a systemic initiative to address deadly and intractable pastoralist violence. MBBI-KI participates as catalysts, mentors, trainers, and coordinators in supporting the development of a strong pastoralist network that can effectively manage conflict at the grassroots.
With a generous grant from the United States Institute of Peace, MBBI most recently supported its local partners in providing peace skills training and support to Baringo County pastoralist communities. The project offered assistance in the development of skills and leadership capacity to resolve inter-ethnic conflict and also established a network of inter-ethnic and inclusive community Peace Guardians. According to the projects Peace Guardians, the months following the programme have seen a sharp drop in violence and a notable increase in inter-ethnic cooperation as well as the formation of lasting new cross-community relationships. The project successfully provided tiered mediation skills training for new Peace Guardian leaders to act as trainers which have cascaded through communities as the project participants have in turn trained new in-county Baringo Peace Guardians and they continue to support the application of these skills through mentoring.
For pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, harsh conditions threaten lives and herds, often the sole source of livelihood. Warriors who traditionally kept the group safe and who rustled cattle when needed were celebrated, as their efforts often meant survival of communities. Modern conditions – easy access to weapons, arbitrary boundaries, disappearing water and grazing due to climate change – have impacted traditional warrior roles and escalated the violence within those traditional actions creating widespread death and destruction. While many agencies and organizations focus on Kenya’s urban areas and international borders, few resources are available for the interior pastoralist counties.
Shrinking resources disrupt cooperative grazing patterns and result in community competition and conflict to sustain herds for community survival. These conflicts trap communities in revenge cycles which result in violence and harm caused to all. The environmental changes also bring the pastoralists into closer contact and create conflict with farmers in villages. Pastoralist warriors are called to address their community’s desperation; their high mobility and skill with weapons make them easy targets for recruiting into the violent commercial rustling markets and they are often manipulated to act as agents of corrupt politicians who seek to accomplish political goals through community conflict and violence.
While Kenyan society, on the whole, is an emerging economic success story, this prosperity is not reaching the pastoralists. The pastoralists still face many challenges – access to water, sanitation, education, and health care remain urgent development issues for these communities. Access to commerce, employment, and services offered by towns and urban areas also remains a challenge with poor road conditions and transport.
Pastoralists communities also face prejudice and regularly face prejudice that they are violent and backward people. This prejudice often results in poor police response in times of conflict, creating a sense in the community that they must protect themselves as they believe they cannot depend on authorities, politicians or justice systems. Underlying the reality of their situation is the lack of consistent political action to address the urgent development needs in the traditional pastoralist areas of the country, locking the community in a cycle of scarcity and violence with little faith that there are any other options beyond the existing cycle of scarcity and violence.
Our Local Partners
Pastoralist professionals working in urban centers (called Professionals) – the ‘sons and daughters’ with families still living traditionally in remote rural Kenya – who recognize the promise of grassroots level mediation and facilitation of disputes which have been effectively building peace among pastoralists.
Community members living in urban centers understand the challenges in their community and, removed from the epicenter of rural conflicts, can build bridges and effective means for non-violent solutions. Using a lived model of co-existence, professionals can gather warring groups to deescalate conflicts and break revenge cycles through methods of dialogue and understanding. These interventions have created a multi-party decision making bodies; created early warning systems that result in concrete community interventions to prevent conflict; and offered a road map that offers a means for peaceful conflict resolution and justice for those who continue to rustle cattle.
Learning from the Grassroots
The MBB-KI team and Professionals participated in an extensive participatory action research project to examine the most successful of pastoralist peacebuilding efforts, the Laikipia Peace Caravan. The research identified key elements that made this effort successful which were incorporated into the project concept, approach and objectives.
The research identified key outcomes sustained as a result of the peace efforts, over five subsequent years:
- The number of conflict-related deaths has been almost zero
- Communities now help return lost or stolen livestock to other communities
- Weekly inter-ethnic peace committee meetings with women, elders, and youth – called peace guardians – discuss issues, share information, and largely use restorative justice processes to keep the peace and manage criminal activities
- Children are able to return to school and new schools have been built
- The communities are growing wealthier and economic activity has increased
- Peace guardians respond to early signs of conflict and have become peacebuilders for surrounding communities
These outcomes reflect a peacebuilders’ greatest goal, not just the absence of violent conflict, but conflicts that are managed and the creation of practical skills to ensure continued positive peace; a space where relationships are restored, social systems serve the entire inter-ethnic community, and there is a practiced constructive resolution of conflict within and between inter-ethnic communities. Using what we learned together, MBB-KI and our local partners designed a new Warriors to Peace Guardians Framework, which we are now implementing on several tracks. This Framework is a systemic approach to pastoralist peacebuilding which has created an extensive network of local peace guardians empowered to resolve their own conflicts and sustain their peace.
- Increase the skills and number of pastoralist peace guardians who prevent and manage violence in their communities and in turn teach these skills to other pastoralist groups
- Generate development and improve livelihoods for pastoralists to remove key conflict drivers and promote positive peace
- Create civil society focus on ensuring that governments are accountable for their commitment to peace infrastructure and that they function effectively and are coordinated with grassroots peace activity
- Improve police and security response to violence and crime in pastoralist communities
- Disseminate peace-sustaining practices from Laikipia West to areas of pastoralist violence in Baringo, Samburu and Isiolo counties
- Increase the capacity for the coordination of peace-sustaining practices across the four counties of Laikipia, Baringo, Samburu and Isiolo at the County government and grassroots levels
This initiative survives on carefully selected and applied for grants. In addition, the team strives to maintain a revolving fund for small grants as needed for KPN training and operations and to fill in gaps that the grants are unable to cover. Transportation to remote areas requires hiring expensive four-wheel-drive vehicles to reach the people on the ground. Many thanks to the support of the United States Institute of Peace for funding our work in Baringo County, which has already contributed to the cessation of violence in the area and is developing a cadre of local peace guardians to sustain the peace.
Funding allows us to support local peacebuilders in their work.
Please consider donating to this important cause to help save lives and support a proud indigenous people in generating their own sustainable peace. Your donations absolutely make a difference. For example, the local community chairman shared that our trauma training completely shifted the way he asks his community members questions, he now frames questions to ensure that residual trauma from the Kanampiu massacre is not triggered and causes no further harm to his people and communities. MBB-KI was the first to address the need for trauma-informed approaches training which was delivered 5 years after this significant and damaging event.