Community Mediation

John Katunga

Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI); also serves on the advisory board of Partners for Democratic Change

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

The movement was from the humanitarian assistance to the rehabilitation, but we didn't have much say in what they wanted to do in the rehabilitation components, which had a lot of other actions which were accompanied with like input for farming and things like that. When I say rehabilitating those kinds of institutions, houses, or people it brought other problems of suspicion and jealousy.

For instance, it was being said, "Those guys are now having better houses than us, and we are like the owner of this place," and things like that. Our advice was, "Can you focus on something that is common for both communities instead of looking at individual houses?" You give the material and then the person reconstructs, rebuilds the house, but using the grass, but you want to talk about schools and social amenities and things like that, then there we use the best material that we have because this is common for both communities. The rest, they can deal with in the traditional way, in the way that they had been dealing with it without rising out of suspicion and focus on the social amenities that has a pointed interest for both communities.

Q: So even the details of how you distribute humanitarian systems can be either a cause or a resolution to a certain extent?

A: That's really obvious, and you can see it from the ground. You can either produce more conflict or you can reduce the amount of conflict that people are having. There is this book by Mary Anderson Delohan, which has extensively looked at those aspects, but we have lived them. The rehabilitation fees ended, not to end, but we felt there was a need to go beyond rehabilitation, so we pushed the organization within the church to start thinking about reconciliation.

The first phase was reconciliation and what we did was to build on already settled, well-established trust, and start engaging people now in really deep dialogue amongst themselves and also redesigning the common vision. How do we live again together? This government is not here forever, this government will end one day, it will go, this regime will go and we will not have this kind of excitement. If we don't have this kind of political incitement, what will be the kind of relationship that we have? We engaged people in deep reflection on the future of their relationships and on what had happened. We were giving them ideas and also offering training, common vision, production, classification of perception, reduction of prejudices, things like that, as well offering space for that among the community and strengthening the organization from the church and the council of churches, in terms of skills.

Also training of the personnel of the people who would be intervening and then we go on the ground. We did community mediation between communities, and it's a lot of work with the several layers and several phases that we are following. What emerged, and what is very nice, is that we came to create what we called the Village Peace and Development Committees at Any Border of the Communities, really in villages. These people had been engaged in deep analysis and understanding and have started forming a vision of living together again. We said, "What is the framework in which we can materialize this vision so that we work on a daily basis, in maintaining peace in your own areas?" They came up with the village peace committees, they were not supervised, but had a structure that was slightly above them and that was dependence to that institution that we talked about with the churches. People were paid by the tax structure of the church from what we call the Area Peace and Development committees, who would be interacting directly with the Village Peace Committees, and basically what they were doing is organizing on a regular basis what we call the Good Neighborliness Seminars, those words were very strategically selected because the government is sensitive to anything that is pertaining to peace. They said that peace is the private property of the government! They continued that people could form the civil society, but churches keep away from anything that is peace because you are not doing politics , you should preach and civil society should do development.. The reason, you understand, is that they felt it was political, so if you raised the consciousness of the communities, they may turn against. They were very sensitive and so to bypass such a difficult position, we used the terminology of Good Neighborliness Seminars, and we were very happy and they were also happy saying, "Oh, it is development." No problem, they can do these Good Neighborliness Seminars in order to develop their own seminars.

What they were doing during those seminars was to start trying to find commonalities and redesigning the vision of living together, which in my view was very successful to a large extent. After intervening in the region for 5 years until 1997, there was sensible reduction of hatred among the communities. Some communities came back and resettled today and many of them started re-interacting. There are some indicators of this, people coming again to the market place, and the vehicles of some communities passing by another territory called Unfinada. Community is coming, Trade, business, marketplace, churches that started reopening and schools started reopening and they were all integrated. That was for us something was happening in the community. 1997 was the 2nd round of multi-party elections, so violence started roaming again around but this time around, it was reduced violence. In some areas, the people openly resisted incitement.

There was this one case where this member of Parliament went and started asking people to destroy again forcefully, and the people of the community left, especially the Kikuyu, to get rid of the Kikuyu. The opposition said, "They are coming again, they will not vote for us, they want are departure and you know how we protect you " and things like that, that kind of rhetoric. The people came and they responded. You know, Moshimiwa, means honorable, who is the MP, the member of the Parliament. They said, "Moshimiwa, we are ready to destroy the houses again, but we need your children to come and lead us and yourself." That was powerful. "Call you children and yourself and go ahead and we will follow you." They will never do that and his children are abroad, of course. Can you imagine? It's always the kids, but the people have been enlightened and they could see now the value.

When these conflicts happen, these guys go to Nairobi, live in palaces, they have body guards, their children are all abroad, they never experience the kind of suffering. There houses have never been attacked because they are in stone, and not in grass that can be easily bombed, so this indicates that we are the ones who suffer most. In order to ??? this other community, who was doing business in our own area, we don't have the basic commodities for our living, so this guy, we told him to come and be our leader and they resisted. There were many changes, and the magnitude of violence in the next election of 1997 had really been tremendously reduced. In 2002, we successfully conducted the election and the opposition won, peacefully.