Promoting Peace after a Painful Past

Judith Okongo
“I am from Kiambiu, and here I am sitting with people from Korogocho and Kibera. We exchange views and stories. I listen to them and they listen to me. Now I have removed their ethnicity from my mind.”                                       
                                                                —Judith Okongo

Judith Okongo, 28, is from the informal settlement of Kiambiu and experienced violence first-hand after the 2007 election. “The people of Global Communities came to us because they heard there was war in Kiambiu. I am a Luo and we were fighting with the Kikuyu. We were angry because our votes had been taken away. I had a business by the side of the road, and during the fighting it was burned to the ground. I had a small baby, only three months old, who was inside when they burned it. He died there.” After Judith lost her business and her child, she joined in on the fighting with full force. “I was in the front lines of the women fighting. I was a very bad woman and a leader. People knew me and would do what I say out of fear.”

With funding from USAID, Global Communities is implementing the Kenya Tuna Uwezo program (Kiswahili for “We have the power!”) to bringing together people from different ethnic groups to advocate for an end to violence and political strife in Nairobi's informal settlements. Kenya Tuna Uwezo staff came to hear of her story and sought her out to recruit her to the cause of peace. When she listened to them, she realized she wanted peace and could use her position of influence for good. When thinking back to 2007, Judith says, “I never want to see something like that again. It was so painful I don’t want to even remember it. If we don’t keep peace, it is going to happen again. If I tell people that we must have peace, they will listen to me.”

Now that she has received training along with other peace-builders from different tribes, she can see that the issue of tribal ethnicity must be put aside for Kenya to experience lasting peace. “I am from Kiambiu, and here I am sitting with people from Korogocho and Kibera. We exchange views and stories. I listen to them and they listen to me. Now I have removed their ethnicity from my mind.”

With her new skills, Judith plans to return to her village to work with the chief to break down the barriers across ethnic lines in their community. Within the area of Kiambiu there are different villages named for the segregated ethnicities within them. She intends to work with the chief to remove these names for the sake of cohesion and integration. She has learned through her training given by Kenya Tuna Uwezo that “Even though some of them have slaughtered members of my tribe, they are still my brother or sister. I cannot fight again. It is good to live together and share the resources that we have.”