Kenya Friends Church Peace Teams: Resolving Conflict in Kenya After the 2007 Elections
On December 27th 2007, elections were held in Kenya. On December 30th, the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was sworn in. Many thought that the election results had been manipulated. Violence broke out, directed at Kikuyu people in many parts of Kenya. Many people were killed, or fled their homes to relative safety in refugee camps. They soon became known as ‘internally displaced people’ or IDPs. It was a very frightening time, and was in the news all over the world.
The worst affected part of Kenya was the west, where most Friends are concentrated. 61 Quaker leaders from all over Kenya met in January to plan and coordinate their response. They set up a ‘Friends Church Peace Team’ (FCPT Kenya) of 13 members, with Joseph Mamai and Rose Imbega as chair and deputy chair. Quaker meetings, Friends United Meeting (FUM) and the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) provided funding and support.
The immediate task was humanitarian relief for the IDPs. Large camps were getting assistance from various NGOs, but some small camps were being neglected. FCPT provided food, clothing, and water filters to 34 small camps.
The Kenyan authorities wanted to get back to normality as quickly as possible, and in April they instructed everyone to leave the camps and go elsewhere, preferably back to their homes. FCPT Kenya agreed with the long-term aim of rebuilding communities, but were very concerned about the safety of returning IDPs. They knew that they needed reassurance that they would not be attacked.
Joseph Mamai and others met with the district officers in the provincial administration, to discuss issues and to offer help. Turbo district responded immediately, and the FCPT began a careful and painstaking programme of community reconciliation. Much of Turbo town was burnt during the post-election violence: it had been a mixed community due to its position on the main road from Nairobi to Uganda, but in April 2008 most people there were Kalenjin, as its former Kikuyu residents were now IDPs.
The team began by talking to the Kalenjins living in Turbo, with support from the District Officer. Initially very few young people came forward to meet them, so they made a special effort to bring them in. FCPT knew that angry young people, often unemployed, had perpetrated much of the violence: it was essential to have them on side in any community rebuilding. Stereotypes soon emerged – they are arrogant, they push prices up, they take our jobs .…. Many were very resistant to the idea of Kikuyus returning, and once the Quakers came very close to being stoned by an angry crowd. There were stereotypes on the other side too – back in the IDP camp people said the Kalenjins were lazy, stupid, haters and killers, and poor because of lack of effort.
Gradually the FCPT team explained the stereotypes to the opposing sides, and they began to understand each other better. A key breakthrough was in the terms they used: they slowly began to refer to themselves and each other as ‘the receiving community’ and ‘the returning community’. Meetings were arranged between groups of receivers and returners, and trust began to be built. In June a group of receivers went to Turbo IDP camp, and identified about 50 potential returners. They offered them hospitality in their own homes until their houses were rebuilt, a quite remarkable gesture. Over the next few months the returners came back, and some receivers even helped with the rebuilding.
In November 2008, FCPT visited again to review progress. They found many tensions as well as good things, and wrote a report for the district officer. They recommended that community peace groups should be set up, and outlined the activites they could undertake. There was no response, so in January 2009 they publicised their report in a national newspaper, the Daily Nation, because they felt there was much work still to be done.
In February 2010, FCPT set up a community peace group in Turbo, involving people from several different faith traditions . A programme of activities is now in hand, including peace rallies, and AVP (Alternatives to Violence) training.
In March 2013, Kenya held the first elections since 2007. All passed remarkably peacefully, and FCPT's work must have conritubted to this happy outcome.
FCPT is now doing community peace-building work in other places with similar tensions and needs for reconciliation. One place is Mount Elgon, where it is helping to build peace in the context of a longstanding inter-ethnic confilict there. Another major focus is the Kakuma refugee camp in Northwest Kenya, home to people from many surrounding countries.