Kenya: The Wajir Peace and Development Committee
During the early 1990s a highly destructive cycle of violent conflict raged in the district of Wajir in the Northeast region between different clans of Kenyan Somalis, leading to more than 1,200 deaths over a period of four years. The violent conflict had its roots in the centuries' old custom of livestock raiding by pastoralist groups. The situation became more violent because of an influx of refugees from neighboring Somalia and Ethiopia, increasing aridity, the ready availability of small arms and the very weak presence of government in the district, resulting in the failure of state institutions to regulate conflict and provide security. [I]
In 1993 a group of women met at the market place and started a discussion on ways to stop the violence. One of the women was Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, later to be honored as Kenyan Peacebuilder of the Year (2005). The discussions at the market place resulted in a process of peacemaking that is impressive by all accounts. The process entailed the formation of a group of civil society actors working together to sensitize the population to the need for peace. They engaged the elders of the different clans and set up a mediation process. After several meetings, the elders agreed to sign a code of conduct, which effectively stopped the violence. In this process civil society actors worked with representatives of formal authority, particularly the District Commissioner and Member of Parliament, but on a voluntary basis.
The initiative was homegrown and locally owned. It was soon realized, however, that the LPC would need some form of formalization to provide coordination to all peacebuilding activities. It was decided to integrate the peace initiatives into one structure that would bring government, NGOs and citizen groups together. This was done in May 1995, when the Wajir Peace and Development Committee was formed, with the District Commissioner as chairperson. Members included the heads of all government departments, representatives of the various peace groups, religious leaders, NGO representatives, traditional chiefs and security officers.
The success of the Wajir Peace and Development Committee in bringing peace to the district soon led to the spread of the model to other districts. International donors, NGOs and the National Council of Churches became involved in facilitating and supporting the establishment of local peace committees. In 2001 the government established the National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management with the objective to formulate a national policy on conflict management and to provide coordination to various peacebuilding initiatives, including the local peace committees.
Much of the success of the Wajir Peace and Development Committee was due to its ability to engage both traditional leadership and government and to facilitate greater government responsiveness to the needs of the population. During the post-election violence that wracked Kenya in late 2007/early 2008, the Northeastern region was quiet and stable. In the aftermath of the violence, the National Accord and Reconciliation Act of 2008 recommended the establishment of District Peace Committees everywhere. The infrastructure for peace that had been formalized by the National Accord and Reconciliation Act therefore acknowledged the impact of local peacebuilding and sought to build on it. Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, one of the driving forces behind the peace initiative in Wajir, became Chair of Concerned Citizens for Peace(established after the Post-Election Violence of 2007/2008). She died tragically in a car accident, in 2011. [II]
[I] - Janice Jenner and Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (2000); Voices of Local Peace Initiatives- Kenya Peace and Development Network, Wajir Peace and Development Committee, National Council of Churches of Kenya and Amani People's Theatre; Case study Reflecting on Peace Practice; CDA
- Women Take the Peace Lead in Pastoral Kenya: Back to the Future; (1999); in People Building Peace; 35 Inspiring Stories from Around the World; Edited by Paul van Tongeren; European Centre for Conflictprevention, Netherlands
- Also based on information from Andries Odendaal.
[II] On Concerned Citizens for Peace: George Wachira with Thomas Arendshorst & Simon Charles, Citizens in Action : Making Peace in the Post-Election Crisis in Kenya-2008; (2010), Concerned Citizens for Peace; NPI-Africa and GPPAC