Kenyan woman works for peace


Since Christine was a girl, she has watched violence tear apart communities in western Kenya. Now 30, with three children of her own and a job working in the fields and selling vegetables at the market, she is helping her neighbors avoid violence.

“Armed violence is everywhere, and it hits communities very hard,” she says. “The proliferation and use of illicit firearms, inter-ethnic rivalries, and competition for scarce resources mean that violence can flair up at any moment, and it often ends badly. Just recently, some livestock breeders put their cattle out to pasture in a field that belongs to a couple from another community. The situation quickly got out of hand: the owner was killed and his wife was raped.”

Handicap International encouraged dialogue between the two communities, and took steps to resolve the conflict. “If Handicap International community peace representatives hadn’t intervened, this incident could have led to a tribal war,” Christine says.

In September 2014, Christine took part in an awareness session conducted by Handicap International on reducing armed violence and sexual gender-based violence. Suddenly things clicked, she recalls. “I didn’t have to think twice about becoming a peace ambassador.” After taking a three-day training course run by Handicap International through its local partner Free Pentecostal fellowship, Christine began talking to members of her community in ad hoc meetings.

With sparkling eyes, she explains how “marriages, burials, and village celebrations are all opportunities for us to discuss the impact of armed violence with villagers. We encourage dialogue and conflict resolution.

“I talk to the women. Many have their first child at 13. I remind them of the importance of not becoming a mother too early, and of finishing school. I try to open their eyes. No, domestic violence isn’t normal. Nor is it normal for your husband to sleep with other women. Men are more reluctant; they ask me what my problem is. But I don’t care: I want women to know they have rights!”

Gorrety Odhiambo, Handicap International’s Armed Violence Reduction project manager in Kenya, explains how serious the armed violence problems in north-western Kenya are. “Over half of the population of Trans-Nzoia County possess an illicit firearm,” she says. “Why? ‘To feel protected’, they say. But the consequences of armed violence are very serious, including loss of human life and property, population displacement, and environmental degradation. Communities are the first to suffer. We want to reduce the factors that give rise to armed violence and support dialogue.

"Since August 2014, 100 community peace representatives, elected by their communities, have raised the awareness of more than 10,000 people, with support from Handicap International and its partners, and in conjunction with security operators. They address the impact of violence (particularly domestic abuse and gender-based violence[1]) and its psychological consequences. They also talk to young people and encourage them to control their energy, because violence has really dramatic effects. Some schools are closed for months. But we keep on reminding them that by using these arms, they’re delaying their country’s development.”

This project is funded by Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA).

[1] “Gender-based violence (GBV) is the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society.” (Bloom 2008).