Kenya Elections: Reducing Political Violence through Community Dialogue

peace marchAll eyes are on Kenya in today's general election – the first since 2007 when contested results caused an eruption of violence that led to the deaths of over a thousand people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. Since then, a new constitution has been created, providing a platform for free and fair elections and putting safeguards in place to prevent the kind of violence that was seen in 2007, which was largely politically motivated and ethnic in nature.

As part of the broader effort in Kenya to mitigate and prevent this kind of violence, Global Communities is implementing the United States Agency for International Development-funded Kenya Tuna Uwezo (KTU) program, which means "We Have the Power" in Kiswahili. The program focuses on the informal settlements of Nairobi, where Kenya's most vulnerable citizens are easy targets for political manipulation and where ethnic violence is common. KTU, which also includes Kenyan partners PeaceNet and Kituo Cha Sheria, is empowering these communities to resist political manipulation and building the capacity of community leaders and groups to resolve the sources of conflict and develop cooperation that leads to peace and stability. This process is built on Global Communities' 18 years of conflict mitigation experience around the world, and is outlined in a new issue brief entitled Community and Conflict Resolution  Partners for Peace.

One of the places where this approach has had the most success is in the informal settlement of Kiambiu. Historically, this community has been bitterly divided along ethnic lines, with two of the largest ethnic groups of Kenya – the Kikuyu and the Luo – on opposing sides. By the time post-election violence erupted in 2007 and 2008, neither group could safely cross into the other's territory. To help ease these tensions, in 2012 KTU staff entered the community, identified the main leaders on each side of the conflict, and sought to bring them together into dialogue. The process was challenging, but eventually both sides agreed to meet. (You can read about this process in the issue brief.)

The meeting marked the first time in more than a decade that these warring factions sat in the same room peacefully. Through the dialogue that took place, both sides agreed to pursue peace. To do so, many grievances had to be addressed. Many people who sat in the room had lost loved ones during the violence of 2007 and 2008, or had their homes and businesses burned to the ground. Many had been forcibly and illegally evicted from their homes, and those who forced them out were still living there without paying rent. Each side got to give their point of view, and over time grievances were forgiven and trust was built. Through the process, Global Communities helped them work to assign roles and responsibilities, manage expectations, develop and adhere to deadlines, and keep an open dialogue. In a significant show of progress, both groups decided to solidify their new bond by formalizing it. On Oct. 15, 2012, former warriors and gang members of the Kikuyu and Luo tribes joined together and established the Kiambiu Youth for Peace and Development.

Today, the group is addressing what they identified as their biggest obstacle to lasting peace: the dispute over the forceful evictions. Fortunately, through much dialogue based on the trust that has been built in the past year, the families still living in those particular houses agreed to vacate and let the rightful tenants return. The group is assisting those who vacated in finding alternative housing. While many challenges lie ahead, the cycle of violence has been stopped, and the group has made a commitment to working together through dialogue and openness.

Kiambiu demonstrates that when local partners act to resolve differences at the community level, they share ownership and accountability, which gives them a very tangible stake in their own success. As the world waits to see what the Kenyan elections will bring, we celebrate the tangible progress made by Kiambiu Youth for Peace and Development in reducing politically-charged violence and seeking to heal the wounds of a previously broken community. We hope other local governments, development groups, and concerned citizens will consider and apply this model of community-driven conflict mitigation in their efforts to ensure peace and stability. And, we hope for today's elections to be fair, free and peaceful.