“Peacebuilding Update” amid tensions in Kenya

I previously highlighted the work of the Quakers, through the Friends Church Peace Teams, in running a successful grassroots election monitoring effort in Western Kenya during the 2010 constitutional referendum.  Here is the latest information from the U.S. Friends Committee on National Legislation on the ongoing work in Kenya:

The Friends Church Peace Team reported on its continuing work toward a grassroots election monitoring system, which will allow Alternatives to Violence facilitators and others in Kenyan Friends’ peacebuilding networks to send text message updates on any incidences of violence in their communities.

Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), based in Nairobi, is responding to rising tension between Christians and Muslims in the city’s informal settlements. July’s attacks on churches in a town near Kenya’s border with Somalia have heightened divisions, and CAPI has worked to facilitate interfaith dialogue since.

Updates from Kenya

Last week, at least 48 Kenyans were killed in an attack on Reketa village in Tana River, southeastern Kenya. The violence was part of ethnic clashes between two tribes, and local residents have cited the approaching elections as a source of rising aggression. The deadly conflict underscores the immediate need for community-based violence prevention and peacebuilding, which will only increase as the polls draw nearer.

Unfortunately, Reketa is not the only area experiencing growing tension. Another is Kenya’s coast, where the recent death of a Muslim cleric has led to protests and conflicts with police. Tensions have also risen arounda growing secessionist movement, known as the Mombasa Republican Council, which seeks to address the decades of marginalization and inequity experienced by those living on the coast. The Kenyan government recently decided to lift its ban on the group, and some feel this will allow more space for non-violent paths forward. In the meantime, however, others are increasingly concerned about the impact the divide may have during the next polls.

While in Kenya earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted U.S. support for a peaceful, fair election. The visit was an important one, particularly as Kenyan experts have emphasized the need for vocal diplomatic engagement from the international community. The visit was also an important follow-up tothe resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Gen. Scott Gration, in late June. While the appointment of a new ambassador will likely be slow going, FCNL has joined others in advocating that the position be filled by someone with deep conflict prevention.

 

Having spent my time in Kenya on leave from a job in the U.S. defense industry and having retired from that role to be an independent lawyer only very recently, I have been pleased to get acquainted with the FCNL work and the Quaker perspective in Kenya, having been aware of the Quakers as a significant presence in the towns and villages of Western Province from my work there.

Growing up in the United States during the Cold War and the post-Vietnam period, I think we had a better ability then to express an appreciation for the value of peace as a goal and ideal than we have now after almost eleven years during which we have been continuously at war.  Partly it was the gravity of the nuclear standoff and “mutual assured destruction”; partly the proximity of the draft in a more egalitarian era in which we did not compartmentalize overseas “warfighting” in the way that we do now in this century, and in part just the tremendous cost in lives in Vietnam in recent memory.  I very much believe that the more recent reticence to speak of “peace” has had a lot to do with the success of people who were promoting the Iraq war in domestic American politics to mobilize key Christian spokespeople and constituencies to support, ironically, a war of choice–that was a distorting misadventure and I hope that we can put it behind us now that that war is finally over.

Regardless, we shouldn’t be squeamish about being explicitly for peace even if we don’t know or agree on the details of how to get it or keep it.  I do have to note that even the Romney campaign of late has revived the Ronald Reagan “peace through strength” slogan.  While the jury is probably very much out on how much similarity there is to what that would mean to a Romney Secretary of State or Defense next year versus what it would have meant to George Schultz in 1984, at least the word itself is being dusted off.

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