Cautious optimism, silent guns

Finn Church Aid facilitated a mediation meeting between local political leaders, after dozens of people were killed in cattle raids and revenge attacks in northern Kenya. FCA country manager Merja Färm was present during the talks and writes about the process.

Seating the disagreeing politicians around one table is never easy. Only a few days after the brutal fighting between Turkana and Pokot warriors in Lomelo area, it took the Bishop Cornelius Korir of Eldoret Diocese and Finn Church Aid Kenya team some serious persistence to convince political leaders from both sides to arrive in Eldoret for an Emergency Meeting last Saturday.

The mobilization was complicated, but in the end, no one entered the conference room to pay lip service.  From the first minutes on, it was clear that the reluctance to face the opposing side was never about not being committed to bringing peace.  It took a little while, but once the talks started, everybody in the room meant business.

Though delegations brought the issues to the table, it has to be noted that Bishop Korir’s personal investment to the process played a big part in getting the discussion going. It was immediately clear that he is highly respected by both sides.  Korir’s mediation style encourages full disclosure of even the most radical opinions.  “Put it out there” he says. “So everybody will know where you are coming from, and it can be discussed.”

By Sunday morning the bishop’s style was working so well, that when he had to leave to administer mass, the delegations were able to discuss without outside mediation. The chair was handed over to Governor of Baringo, H.E. Benjamin Cheboi, who is neither Turkana or Pokot himself.  Under his chairmanship, the delegations banged out seven very precise joint commitments, starting with an urgent call for immediate cessation of hostilities to give space for nonviolent process to solve the issues.

The root causes of the violence are various and contested. These include disputes over exploitable resources, borders, grazing land and water sources, long developed distrust between the communities, lack of education and opportunities for young people.

The traditional practice of cattle rustling is tied to cultural concepts of honor, masculinity and loyalty to the community. It remains an encouraged career path for young people. In earlier times the practice rarely produced any human casualties, but the flow of small arms and light weapons from neighboring countries has made the practice more brutal.

For the sake of stopping the killing on the ground immediately, the leaders agreed to disagree on many issues at this point and called upon the Bishop Korir to convene all the relevant political leaders from four different counties for a structured and goal oriented peace discussions, once the guns have gone silent.

And for now, the guns remain silent. The front between Baringo – Turkana border is quiet, but those with a sense of history know, that there is no attack without revenge attack and before long the cycle will sustain itself as long as the issues are not discussed with the seriousness that they require.

The leaders called upon the national government to declare the rogue cattle rustling a national disaster.  Looking at the body count, but also the consequences of the violence such as school closures and disrupted livelihoods, it is easy to join their plea.

To make sure that the resolutions are followed through on the ground, both delegations are heading to the affected areas during the weekend to inform their constituencies about the demands for peace. They seek to talk to the warriors and other culprits, directly involved in the hostilities.

Bishop Korir will join the delegations and host elders meetings in various villages to discuss the process and to identify, if there are any obvious spoilers. FCA will join the visits if the security situation in the affected areas allows.

There is a buzz of urgency and cautious optimism in the air.

While a few key political actors were missing from the meeting, the leaders present decided that rather than wait for a perfect process, they would confirm their personal commitment by signing as individuals.

One of the delegation members and a former student of Finnish Missionary School in Kapedo promised to sing songs in Finnish, when the peace is achieved.  Hopefully he will burst into song sooner rather than later.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is implementing the peace component of a larger program “Resilience and Economic Growth in the Arid Lands – Improving Resilience” (REGAL-IR) by the consortium led by ADESO, African Development Solutions, and funded by USAID.