News from the Quakers in Kenya

I have been remiss in reporting on the peacekeeping efforts of the Quakers in western Kenya, so here is the full text of a new release from them this afternoon. The old Western Province is especially important to national politicians in this election because it contains most of the supporters of Deputy Prime Minister Mudavadi and his Amani coalition, which is the only major vote block associated with a “third party” campaign. Amani polls around 5% of the national vote total, whereas the CORD and Jubilee coalitions consistently poll in the mid-40s. Thus Amani supporters could be key in determining the winner of the expected runoff–alternatively, they are the one identifiable group that could move the first round to one of the two “horses” if they moved in lockstep.

Mudavadi is himself a Quaker.

March 1, 2013

Local Kenyans mobilize for active nonviolence ahead of elections

As fears of violence grow ahead of Kenya’s election on Monday (March 4th), thousands of people in the country are mobilizing to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence that shook Kenya in 2007 and left 1,200 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In a coordinated, grassroots effort, Quakers from Kenya, the United States, and Britain have been equipping Kenyans to nonviolently demand justice and build a mass nonviolent witness for peaceful, transparent, free and fair elections. The three-pronged approach that combines civic education and dialogue, citizen reporting, and local peace building responses has resulted in numerous community-driven initiatives to defuse tensions, challenge hate speech and hold political aspirants to account.

Based on Quaker-initiatied programs called Turning the Tide, Alternatives to Violence, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, and Transformative Mediation, this initiative does not avoid conflict but rather challenges the causes of violence and helps Kenyans to build a just and peaceful future from the grassroots.

This community-driven program is supported by Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in partnership with three Kenya based organizations, Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), Friends Church Peace Teams, and the African Great Lakes Initiative. Over 20,000 people in the country have received training in a massive “Know Your Rights’ campaign. At least 1,200 have become citizen reporters, raising the alarm when early warning signs of violence appear. Another 660 will serve as domestic election observers. A larger number has received voter education.

As a result, Kenyans are taking the initiative in their own communities. For example

* In Nairobi and Lugari, they have convinced candidates to participate in public debates – unusual in Kenya until now – and developed vetting mechanisms to hold local candidates to account. In Kenya, politics has been about ethnic affiliation, loyalty, bribery, poverty, inequality and intimidation. Now Kenyans are demanding that all candidates give clear policy commitments.
* In Langas (Eldoret), where pamphlets and hate speech were threatening inter-ethnic violence, women from different communities came together to organize a Women’s Peace Procession and made a public peace proclamation.
* In Mt. Elgon, when citizen reporters sent news that four people had been murdered there, and then a fifth was assassinated, community peace builders delivered a message of peace at the funeral of one of the victims and followed up with trauma healing and listening workshops in an ongoing effort to interrupt the cycle of revenge.

The work is based on Quakers’ trust in ordinary citizens to work out solutions and build peace for themselves. Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have been promoting active nonviolence for three and a half centuries.

Benard L. Agona, Field Co-ordinator of Turning the Tide Programme in Kenya, said:
“We are seeing a new generation, a generation that are not sitting quietly any more, a generation who are coming together to resist injustice. We are also seeing a generation that wants to make informed decisions.”

Laura Shipler Chico, of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain, said:
“These efforts are rooted in local communities. That is their strength. They are a long-term effort not only to prevent election violence but to challenge the systems and structures that give rise to violence to begin with. People have mobilized their own communities and the response has not come from outside but from deep within. This is a testimony to the Quaker notion that there is that of God in everyone; the answers lie within each of us.”

End

Notes to editor

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Kenya has the largest number of Quakers of any country in the world, with a total membership in the vicinity of 300,000. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.
See “KenyanElections2013.org”

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