KENYA: Communities forge their own peace in the Rift Valley

MAU NAROK, 26 October 2010 (IRIN) – A water well, serving two different ethnic groups in Kenya’s Rift Valley province, has done more to bring them together than government and civil society efforts, say locals.

“This well is an interaction point for the two communities, we always have a chance to meet as we fetch water for our households,” Ishmael Langat, a resident of Kirima village in Mau Narok, told IRIN.

Langat is a member of the Kalenjin community, which, in early 2008, was involved in violent clashes with members of other ethnic communities following disputed presidential elections.

The post-election violence killed more than 1,300 people and displaced half a million.

Three years later, communities such as Langat’s and their neighbours, the Kikuyu, are involved in initiatives aimed at ensuring lasting peace.

“We have almost given up on the government’s efforts to unite us; we have since discovered that it is us, not the top politicians, who incite us against each other, who lose when there is no peace,” Langat said.

Rift Valley, the most populous of Kenya’s eight provinces, is not only cosmopolitan but also rich in agriculture and considered the country’s bread-basket. Its voting population, estimated by the 2009 census at more than 10 million, makes the province a favourite for many politicians seeking election.

Ethnic clashes

The well in Kirima village was not always a focal point for peace; since 1992, when Kenya experienced its first tribal clashes with the introduction of multi-party politics, it has often witnessed violence.

Joseph Ndirangu, a resident of Deffo village, said: “I have lived in this area for the last 21 years and found this well still serving villagers, but every time war breaks out, it starts here when people are fetching water.”

Now the villagers have vowed to make the well a uniting factor and have put aside their political and ethnic differences to cultivate peace.

Langat said: “We now meet often near this well; this time to talk about peace rather than initiate violence. It is this well that has been the source of conflict and it shall now be a source of peace.”

Government initiatives

The government, through the provincial administration, has formed district-based peace committees whose officials, however, seem not to be reaching villages such as Kirima.

Where active, the peace committees involve village elders who, after being trained in conflict resolution, help transfer the knowledge to fellow villagers in a bid to create a lasting solution to violence.

Peter Waweru, a youth leader from Molo district, said: “But the elders [in the peace committees] were just picked by chiefs without the involvement of villagers; we do not know the criteria followed by the provincial administration.

“They just keep on attending meetings in big towns, maybe they are paid sitting allowances but they do not deliver the ‘peace education’ to their fellow villagers,” Waweru said. “Had they picked villagers’ choices, people would have come out openly to confess their deeds during the violence and this would have created relief and healing.”

An elderly man grazing his cows at the roadside near Deffo shopping centre, who declined to be named, said he was happy he could now take his cows to either side of the road without fear.

During the violence, the road – which connects Njoro and Narok towns, both within Rift Valley – marked the boundary between land owned by the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. Each community had named their side of the road in their language, and could not shop on the other group’s side.

“But we have cultivated our own peace; I can comfortably visit elderly Kalenjin men and share stories of our past,” the old man said.

Agenda Four

People in the villages such as Deffo and Kirima, where violence was intense, do not understand the provisions in Agenda Four of the peace deal, which ushered in the coalition government. This item addresses measures needed to foster lasting peace.

One was a new constitution, which has since been put to a referendum and was promulgated on 27 October. However, Langat complained: “Seemingly, parliament is slow in implementing the new laws.”

Mwangi Muraya, a Njoro resident, said: “Nobody has bothered to tell the people on the ground what Agenda Four is all about; given a chance I am ready to attend meetings and mobilize other youths so that they understand this vital agenda.”

Another villager said he felt government officials were concentrating much more on power-sharing than on fulfilling the issues addressed in the agenda item.

“In my view, the government has now put aside the thoughts of Agenda Four since the country got a new constitution; it seems the core issues may never be addressed after all,” he said.