Grenoble, May 2009
Somali women, peacemakers in Wajir, Kenya
The power of inter-clan communication.
Keywords: | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Kenya
In the early ‘90’s a conflict broke out in the market place in Wajir, a region in Kenya where many Somali live. Women wouldn’t sell products to other women because they were from different clans. The Wajir’s Women Association for Peace was created in order to stop the conflict in the market area. This file will explain the context in which the disputed broke out and how they have been resolved. The example is especially interesting because it shows the important role women can play in conflict transformation, also in strongly patriarchal cultures.
In Kenya’s north western region, conflicts erupted between clans of the Wajir district triggered by the scarcity of the resources. Nomadic pastoralists in the region experienced a big drought in 1991-92, they lost 80% of their livestock and hundreds of people were displaced, searching for food. The arrival of Somalian and Ethiopian refugees along with weapons and soldiers exacerbated the situation. In December 1992, the outcome of the election changed the political balance in the district and fierce fighting erupted in the region, with destruction of houses, murder, rape, etc. By 1993 no part of the Wajir district was safe and the violence was escalating.
Even though women are not much represented in political decision-making, their role in Somali society is very important. One of the functions - key to any society - is the communication among its members in order to decrease tensions. Indeed some women realized the huge tension between the clans at the market: some of them were refusing to sell their products to the other women’s clans. In 1993, a group of women decided to create a committee to talk about the situation, “The Women Association for Peace”. The concept of these peace meetings was clear: to sit down together and talk about how they can solve the problem.
How did the Women association succeeded in developing peace construction? The women tried to make elders of each clan aware of the need to change the situation. The “Elder for Peace Group” was born. There was the election of a spokesman and several meetings were organised all over the province. Few times later, the “Youth for Peace Group” was created. The group decided to focus on two main objectives:
To act for a sustainable peace ;
To implement development projects.
In 1994, members of the peace committee needed to bring all the initiatives together. In 1995 the “Wajir Peace and Development Group” was born, which gathered women, elders, young people, members of NGOs and authorities. All together, they tried to create peace committees in the different clans.
When the conflict stopped, the women decided to go to speak with the elders who were involved in the conflict that existed between clans. There was a lot of suspicion from the elders from different clans at the beginning but after having chosen an elder to go to speak to them they accepted to go for peace and created the « Elder for peace group ». A meeting was organised by the local member of parliament and they created the « Al Fatah declaration », a declaration for return to peace. Investigating teams were created, made up of elders from each clan, in order to stop crimes and stock theft.
The Wajir peace group started to see other groups, like young people. The Wajir district being underdeveloped compared to the other region of Kenya, the unemployment of young people in very high and those young people were used for violence. The Youth for peace group created social activities in order to prevent young people to turn violent and participate to crimes.
In 1995, they decided to bring all the groups together and the « Wajir Peace and Development Committee » was created, formed with NGO community and members of parliament. Then, the Wajir Peace and Development Committee became part of the district security committee. Their main concern was to consolidate peace. They set up the Rapid response team formed with elders, religious leaders and security officers that intervened when a problem occurred in a region the team went to speak with all the parties. Intervening rapidly impeded the conflict to grow.
In order to keep the peace, an in-depth analysis of the situation was done. The effort brought peace inside the Wajir District but the challenge remains to expand the peace to other districts.
1. This file has been written within the framework of the course “Analysis of conflict” at the University of Stendhal in the Grenoble which is part of the master’s program “Coopération Internationale et Communication Multilingue”. Students who have contributed to the file are Sabrina Chebbi and Marina Miollany.
2. The above story has been filmed in a documentary with the title: The Wajir Story, Series: Mobile-Eyes: On Creating Peace, Produced: December 30, 2002, Producer: Responding to Conflict and Coalition for Peace in Africa. It can be viewed here [www.freespeech.org/videodb/index.php?action=detail&browse=1&video_id=10175]
3. More information about the case can be found at the website of the European Center for Conflict Prevention www.conflict-prevention.net/page.php?id=45&formid=72&action=show&articleid=83