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Peace Dialogues in Kenya
From a report by Jared Nyagwoka,
UZIMA Field Officer, Nyanza Province

People of the Kisii ethnic group were considered supporters of President Mwai Kibaki by their neighbors who strongly supported Raila Odinga. When a Kisii policeman assassinated a Kalenjin Member of Parliament, the border between these two groups erupted into violence. At least thirty people were killed, over 500 houses, a school, and many businesses were torched. The African Great Lakes Initiative supported Jared Nyagwoka of UZIMA Foundation in the peace-making dialogue sessions reported here. Jared is a Kisii.

The year 2008 will go down in history as a unique year, especially for people who were
born after independence, like most UZIMA youth. “Kenya the island of peace” turned
into a battlefield after the announcement of the results of the presidential race in the December 27 general elections of 2007. Nyanza province was at the heart of the violence.

A once peaceful community turned violent and people killed each other and destroyed property that had taken hard work to build. The Kisii Community found themselves at the receiving end with the Kalenjin attacking them from one side, the Luo on the other side and Maasai on yet another side! We found ourselves surrounded by hostile forces. This was particularly painful for us at UZIMA because we had campaigned vigorously for the changes proposed on the ODM platform. Like many young Kenyans, we wanted change and we had managed to vote out some very long-standing politicians who we felt were not delivering. Now we were facing the wrath of so called ODM supporters.

It was so easy to become bitter and join the leaders who were mobilizing youth to join the
Militias; yet we chose to preach peace. My wife, Chebii, who is a nurse, is Kalenjin and
this made matters even more complicated with neighbors threatening to kill her or burn
our house. Her family, fearing for her life, was threatening to come and take her and our
children out to safety. How could I let that happen? At times when she felt really afraid
Chebii would join her brothers, who also live in the neighborhood, and think of fleeing to
safety. It was a difficult decision for me but I decided that if we had to die then we would
die together. I would not lose my family in this way. People at the hospital where she worked needed her since all the Kalenjin staff had run away. It was a very delicate balancing act, and it still is, because of the many lives that were lost.

On January 21, 2008 UZIMA Executive Director, Malesi Kinaro, visited the Nyanza Office for a staff meeting and briefing on what was happening nationally and how we as an organization were to respond. She then held a three hour meeting with the leaders of Matatu [mini-bus] conductors and touts from nearby and all the shoe-shiners. Twenty-nine participants attended including two older men who are members of local committees. We felt that while these youth could easily be lured into violence they could also be of great use in securing peace.

[On January 22 and 24, Jared and another staff member, George Ongubo, visited government officials in Sotik District (Kisii) and Borabu District (Kalenjin) to promote dialogue. Four meetings were subsequently held between the two communities.]

First Intertribal Dialogue Meeting, 29th January: The meeting was held for Sotik District leaders and 36 people attended. Our efforts to have a joint meeting between the leaders of Borabu and Sotik District were accepted and this took place on February 4th at Arokket Sotik recreational center.

Second Intertribal Dialogue Meeting, 4th February: Since UZIMA had been pushing for this meeting it was agreed that I chair the meetings as I was seen to be more neutral than the government officials.

The joint meeting was attended by 127 leaders from five Districts. Among the participants were the District Commissioners from the five Districts, their District Officers, Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, eleven Councilors and four Members of Parliament. The dialogue meeting lasted six tense hours with leaders expressing their anger and mistrust of each other. Each group blamed the other for fanning the fighting. The Provincial Administration promised to deal with the law breakers. There was confusion when it came to the session for drawing resolutions because there was a demand to redraw the boundaries between the provinces of Nyanza and Rift Valley. However, the following resolutions were agreed upon under the Chairmanship of the UZIMA Field Officer, Nyanza:

*Establish border security committees.
* Deploy more police at the borders.
* Political leaders to hold joint peace rallies.
* Livestock stolen from either side to be returned.
* Schools to reopen for learning.
* All illegal road blocks to be removed especially along the highway.
* Respect for personal properties..
* Government to act fast on reports of threats to life and property.
* Leaders especially politicians to check public utterance to avoid incitement.
* All political leaders to appear on local radio talk shows to preach peace.

Third Intertribal Dialogue Meeting, 18th February brought together 79 participants including 5 District Commissioners, 3 Members of Parliament, 5 District Officers, Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs and Church Leaders in what was now being referred to as Border Committees.

Fourth Intertribal Dialogue Meeting, 21st February brought together 103 participants including the same people as before except there were only 2 Members of Parliament. This was a follow up to the Border Peace Committee of 18th February. One of the decisions reached was that sports would be organized for youth across the borders. The first games took place on March 2nd. Nine Kalenjin and nine Kisii youth were mixed together creating two teams who then played against each other.

Malesi Kinaro commented on these dialogues: “The case of Nyanza is so fantastic that there is need for some public recognition of UZIMA. Jared Nyagwoka and his team have more on their plates than they can handle. They face danger daily yet they even dropped the police who used to guard them and chose to just venture into the “enemy” camp on their own. What they have achieved is something that I wish could be emulated by more Kenyan youths.”