Lessons Learned

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 ???).

You go through an induction first to understand the context very well, to see if you share the vision because you need to love the work that you are doing, it is very risky. I was in Mogadishu, Somalia last year, and I had 6 bodyguards, young people with guns, my driver had a gun, and the person just next to the driver was a sharp shooter. If you are ready to take risk, then next be ready to be frustrated because you don't see the results immediately. You can get really tired of saying, "I'm not making any impact here." You can get immediately discouraged, very easily discouraged, so people need to prepare their mindset first Secondly, you need to read the context from which you will intervene and have an answer point. You should not force your way to a place, but people should call you and give you legitimacy and mandate you to intervene in their situation because we strongly believe that we don't bring peace to people but that people find their own peace and they give their own definition of their own peace.

What you do is that you accompany the process. You help them frame strategies so you understand. That is why we say we do not intervene. We accompany the process and the end result I said, is to create peace infrastructures, which means then to give ownership of the process to the people themselves, those who were engaging in the situation of peace. You need to be very well informed about the context you want to enter into, you need to be invited to intervene, your entry point should come from the people themselves, and you need to know what you are coming to offer. If it is something that you can't, be honest enough to say instead of doing shadow and disappointing work. Leave that and say, I can draw from my network, I know somebody who can do this much better than I can and bring them in.

Avoid coming in with all your cultural baggage, say, I'm entering this room, there is no woman in this room. How can you do peace work without women? You're not spreading gender sensitivity. You'll get thrown away from that room because they are conscious that you don't allow the women. You have to understand that to bring women into the peace process is a slow process that you have to do carefully so that it is not done in a forceful way, but in a way that accepts and expands the space for accommodating women engagement. We need to be very culturally sensitive as you know. We are Africans, so to intervene in Africa it is easy for us to relate to because we are quite aware of the cultural nuances. Africa does not have a homogenous culture, that's somewhat of a perception I found here when I came. They say African's believe in this No! Africa is very diverse, there are several cultures, some are considered backwards, some are even more advanced then the European and the American cultures in terms of people's freedom.

There are also nuances within each culture and that creates a diversity within that homogeneity that people see from the outside. Being African, we generally have a good knowledge of the guttural sensitivity that you need to deal with when you intervene. For example with the chief, you remove your shoes, you kneel down, you bow, and things like that. A Christian would not do that. If you are longing to peace, you need to know how to deal with a situation and you need to read a lot and be updated a lot in the latest discovery in this very new field of peace. You are still framing the concept and trying to redefine the terrain, which means really everybody is just trying to find a way. The concept of restorative justice, of mediation and here it is advanced and in Africa we do it naturally, we are trying to frame it.

We need to be aware about all those nuances as you work in this field of peace, and you also need to be aware of the changes that are occurring such as moving away from the organization to the Africa Union or moving from the Lome Accords to the Cotonou Accords which regulate the relationships between the EU and the African and the Caribbean countries, you need to be aware of the changes that are occurring on our continent in terms of NEPAD, this is the New Partnership for African Development. You need to be aware of how you fit inside, and of the global changes that are occurring in terms of the civil society. We are working very hard to come to the UN with a possibility for resolution that will regulate the intervention of civil society matters but in peace and security matters in the world. We need to be aware of those and make your own rightful input as well as the local context and the changes that are occurring on the continent.