Kisumu and Nandi are neighboring counties in western Kenya. The ethnicity of the two men reflects the tribal background of the two leading candidates in this year’s presidential election. A mixture of historical injustices and sustained socio-economic pressures, the border region has been identified as a hotspot for election-related violence. Nationwide efforts are aimed at bringing about peaceful elections in the region and nationwide – ensuring that women’s voices are heard in these peace and security discussions.
“The tension is growing. There are a number of contributing factors, chief among them being poorly managed political processes and the unfair selection of candidates. [for the general election]says Dorothy Bonyo, 65, treasurer of the Muhoroni sub-county peace committee. “Our neighbors are indeed political opponents and in the marketplace we are starting to see hate speech. But my recommended approach has always been consistent dialogue – lots of meetings – to make it clear that there are other ways to resolve our differences. I spoke to local political leaders and made them understand that their actions must be measured so that people don’t die.”
But it’s not just a matter of politics. The region once thrived on a sugar industry that employed around 20,000 people until embezzlement of profits and corruption decimated the trade, leading to job losses and low cash flow for many families. Oscar Ochieng is the secretary of the Muhoroni sub-county peace committee as well as the Kisumu and Nandi cross-border peace committee. He explains that in addition to the socio-economic, there is historical disagreement over land:
“With low employment and little cash, children are dropping out of school and there are a large number of disengaged young people. This leads to the theft of inventory and ultimately violent conflict. border and much of the land is fallow. But it is also very fertile and both communities feel it belongs to them.”
Women’s power of peace
Community action – and in particular that of community women – is crucial to brokering peace. For Oscar, “our women’s contribution to the local peace infrastructure is what has contributed to the little peace we have enjoyed. For example, in 2014, a month-long conflict disrupted trade between the two communities. It was the women of the two camps who met. and negotiated peace. Women play a fundamental role in promoting peace in this region.
Community dialogues, called barazas, are effective platforms for discussing these concerns. At a recent meeting, the two communities came together and listened to each other with voices of young, old, men and women, with state security actors and religious leaders also present. One such voice was Marueen Omwiti, a single mother of three and owner of a bar in Muhoroni. For the past three years, she has also volunteered for a theater group that confronts the sensitive issues of the community through theatrical performances:
“After each performance, we give the audience time to talk and contribute. The first play was about politics and we heard a lot of people talking. We try to persuade people [ahead of the election] focus on manifestos, not personalities. Almsgiving is another big issue that creates tension and can lead to violence.”
Ethnic tensions in Muhoroni have been the source of intense trauma for Maureen and many others, but she is committed to showing her community that revenge is not the right answer:
“I think peace is the best option. Having that grudge won’t help. But you need support. As a peace ambassador, it starts with yourself. The community sees me and knows that I I was once a victim. It makes them think, think and it has an impact.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Women – Africa.