Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI)
Topics: mediation, peacebuilding, dialogue
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
Listen/Read Selected Interview Segments on the Following Topics
- Nairobi Peace Initiative
- Community Mediation
- Grassroots Peacebuilding
- Evaluation of Efforts
- Global Network of Peacebuilding
- Scaling Up
- Individual Transformations
- Major Obstacles
- Lessons Learned
Q: So, John, please give me an overview of your work.
A: I work with an organization known as Nairobi Peace Initiative of Africa, the acronym is NPI-Africa. It is now a very old organization in terms of the lifetime of NGOs on the continent, especially NGOs who's primary goal and purpose is to deal with conflicts on the continent and to build peace. NPI was born in 1984, in Nairobi, and the reason that the name is Nairobi Peace Initiative is that, it is a misleading name, but it is embedded in the history of the organization.
It started in Nairobi because the whole region was in turmoil, although it was in neighboring countries of Kenya, that's man-made disasters, but the man-made disasters were coupled with drought in the whole region. The drought has affected so many countries, but the one who was most affected was Ethiopia, and you remember that at the time America generated a lot of compassion for Ethiopian people, in fact, it's still very embedded in the psyche for Americans. I was surprised when someone, introduced himself as Ethiopian, and a colleague from America asked, "Are people still hungry there?" So you see how the whole world was mobilized to go and support, and the people who were suffering from hunger during that time. That's one of the reasons for the formation of my organization, which then is the conflict that is surrounding us, and the way Africans were responding violently to issues of contradiction within the state.
Secondly, is how the rest of the world was generating compassion for people of Africa. So just imagine the images that were sent throughout the world to generate that compassion, people dying out of hunger, people with just skin on their bones, and children bare, who are naked with flies all over. Those are very degrading images and those kind of images have impacted how Africa is perceived. When we talk about Africa, it's always that kind of information and images that are sent out: wars, killings, genocide, and people dying of hunger. They don't pay attention to the other stories of Africa, of people striving and doing all sorts of things to develop themselves and deal with conflict in a more peaceful way and human development and improving the lives, these stories are not told. The organization has 2 objectives,
- One: How do you tell those stories, that portray Africa in a different manner; an Africa that is responsible, that is dealing accordingly to the situations that they are facing be them conflict or development problems, and
- Secondly: How do we deal with conflict in a more non-violent way, what are the alternatives for conflict resolution, and that we have available on the continent?
At that time, Nairobi was seen as a center, a hub for international assistance in the whole region. The communication system was good, so many international organizations settled their headquarters over there, and the middle agencies of the UN are headquartered in Nairobi. Nairobi became the hub of where you can raise the attention of the international community, but also from where you can start launching the different thoughts on how the conflicts in the region will be dealt with. Since those African countries send refugees to Nairobi, which is the hub of peace. Let's say Kenya which was the hub of peace, the access to stories, information, and deeper knowledge of what was happening in the countries was easy. People can see first hand the consequences of the conflicts in the region. The scholars who started the organization started it thinking from Nairobi, and actually called themselves at that time, Nairobi Peace Group. They are from Nairobi here, based in Nairobi, although they were not all Nairobians; some of them were Americans actually. They were all there intellectually thinking how best to deal, start thinking, and reflecting upon the situation that we are facing, and projecting what would be the best solution for the future. After 5 years of work, they realized that reflection was not enough, because it leads to analysis paralysis. You just reflect, but there is no action on the ground. They reflected and said, "We need to change and start doing something, so we don't need analysis. We need action."
The name of the group changed from Nairobi Peace Group to Nairobi Peace Initiative, so an expatriate was hired to come support the organization, and to lead the organization through action, that was Professor ???sefa. From 1989 when the name of the organization changed, and the agenda of the organization slightly changed in terms of approach, NPI started working in dealing directly with situations of conflict in Africa, but how were they doing it? They were doing it strategically, was not to go deep into a situation of violence and start dealing with the parties over there, but to deal with the people who had influence on the parties and for this case in this part of Africa, the churches had a huge influence on the parties. We worked through churches like the All Africa Council of Churches, and with NCCK for the case of Kenya. In Mozambique we've the council of bishops and ??? in the entry point. In the case of Angola, it was the ???incapela, the general secretary of AACC, was the entry point, and in Rwanda, during the signing of the Arusha Accord, which was then broken by the death of the president and part of the genocide in Rwanda; so a number of countries. The organization was working at what is widely known as Track II diplomacy level by working with the churches that have direct access to the parties.
What triggered NPI to go beyond Track II diplomacy was the event that occurred in Kenya where the organization was based in 1992. The KNU came to organize the first multi-party elections, and the president of the regime that was in place in Kenya at that time organized ethnic cleansing. There was conflict within ethnic groups who from the whole world were perceived as belonging to the opposition and wouldn't work for the ruling party. Certain communities were chased away from their farms and children were killed and houses were burned, and that whole scenario came to be known as ethnic clashes. This was happening in the backyard of the organization so we have to do something, but this is not ??? Tartou. We don't have the Rainbow Movement and the government fighting, but we have communities who are engaging in violence, while though instigated politically, the communities are the ones paying the price. We needed to engage ourselves in what is the best alternative to approach this conflict and we started working again with the NCCK again, the church, and the National Council of Churches. The National Council of Churches didn't know exactly how to approach the peace components of what would be the intervention of the churches. They showed compassion by delivering food, giving shelter to the needy people, and the displaced persons.
What we came in a team to augment is the dimension of how to be strategic when yes, we are delivering food, but we are also doing a sort of inquiry to see are people still willing to live together? We had started detecting among the people who were experiencing suffering those who are still keeping not only hate rate of what has just happened, but also keeping the vision of a common life in the future. Sometimes some of those are opinionated, "this will pass, one day we will live together." Those who think like that were identified as they were being helped, as food was being delivered, and when a team was built in impairing the people who are intervening from the peace dimension, from the peace envoy who are apart of the team who was delivering food and material assistance.
This was done by 2 communities, especially the Kalinge, the Kalinge community being the one that was perceived as being the instigator of the violence, because the president was a Kalinge, and then the Kikuyu were basically the ones that suffered a lot. Many communities suffered equally, but the Kikuyu, because of their number, it was perceived that they were the ones targeted simply because the leaders of the Kikuyu community were among the forefront of the oppositions. . The actual president was like the head of the opposition, M. Kobeki, who is now the president, and he is a Kikuyu and because of that the Kikuyu suffered more than other communities, although other also communities suffered. The leaders were Kikuyus and they were also Kalinge. There's a lady called Rosebama Masai who was a Kalinge who knew about the value of maintaining peace and who had in the same team my colleague, George Washita who also knew the value of building peace into ???. Both of them teamed together and were part and parcel of the team that was intervening and delivering food, but their work as I describe it was to look at how to build confidence and trust among the people in view of their relationships. The phase of food delivery and material assistance took a long time, 2 years, but at the same time workshops began being organized from the peace angle with members of each community. Of course, the hate rate and anger were still very fresh but as I said some voices of reason were emerging in that kind of a context. After 2 years, we started doing joint meeting and the outgrowth.
Q: I'm sorry, for 2 years you were doing just humanitarian assistance and looking for peace builders before you even did any dialogue or anything like that?
A: Of course, the dialogue is ongoing, but it is not structured in a manner that you can see, and holistically engaging the whole community, you are doing a series of dialogues, several actually, separately in separate communities that are affected differently.
Q: 2 years!
A: Yes, it took long and what happened is that while you are doing those dialogues and doing the humanitarian assistance, you are building trust with the communities and they saw you coming and being sympathetic for them on both sides, so when you come talk about peace, it's not theories. They have seen you in practice being sympathetic toward their case by really giving what they needed at that time, so they can listen to you with double attention because they know you are genuine. That was the purpose of building a peace team within the humanitarian aid itself, and building that trust. Then what happened was the emergence of an organization that wasn't totally depending upon the headquarters of the NCCK, it was like an independent organization that emerged with the sole purpose of dealing with this issue of conflict. This became very good for us to relate to as we had the commonality of vision and we provided as an organization that has been working long with the issue of peace, building a framework of intervention. The organization had changed it's phase from humanitarian assistance to rehabilitation. At that time we were thinking about rebuilding the destroyed schools and about rebuilding people's houses that were burned, but it's not a problem in the development but it is in the interim action of going on building people's houses. Some people originally had a house with grass on top and then got these nice hind sheets on the house. It brought a lot of friction with the Kalinge community because they were building the house of Kikuyu and they were better than what they were before, and they were saying, "We who have been here and with them don't have anything," It brought a lot of problems, so we [NPI] addressed
Q: You mean NPI?
A: Yes, we'll make a difference. We had NCCK, who has created the organization to deal with peace and conflict issues, which was very separate from NPI. NPI became like a technical advisor. I'm using that term with a lot of caution. It's not really a technical advisor but an accompanier.
Q: An active consultant.
A: Yes, but we are not paid by NCCK to do that job because we knew that it was a part of our purpose to do that mission. We had interest to see peace in Kenya, and they knew that we had these skills to help them so we teamed together. It was a team of purpose more than a team of monetary interests and material interests. As a team of purpose, our goal was to see the people come again together and live together, so that is how you should understand "we" as NPI coming to support that structure that was based in ??? city, in the Rift Valley. What we were doing at that time was to continuously reflect on what we have achieved and see how best we can promote this organization, and at the same time to promote the relationship of the communities. 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. Kenya often has the best elections that we have on the continent, in the world actually, not just the continent. It was a real peaceful handover of power, it was very, very smooth though of course people were very, very angry with Moi and ??? and ???.
Q: Is that the outgoing president?
A: Yes, but it went well. I put it in the framework of that work that was done extensively on the ground to raise the consciousness of the communities and say they have something in common, they will not change that land, and the land will remain. The relationship will be viewed in a way that humanizes the people that are living together on that land, that's to give you the case of Kenya.NPI went from the second track diplomacy to peace building, which as we see it, is to build peace from below and move up. It is an innovative aspect when you deal with high level mediation or high level intervention and you are dealing with community intervention. You have a wealth of information that you can get and what it did for us was to frame our lessons, our learning, and our community wisdom to frame them in front of learning in that we can also offer to other places in Africa. We designed what we called Regional Capacity Building training, it was covered in four sub-Saharan countries in the continent of Africa. We concluded that for central Africa countries, the francophone, the Yaound , in Cameroon Lasse N'Toba. We completed that to share the approach that we had been using, to show how it is relevant, to show that it is relevant from the ground, and it has had good results so people can try it in their own context, to make the analysis of their own context and to see how to adapt those kinds of frameworks that we came up with. I gave you the example of Kenya, but I can give you the example of Ghana within the same period, there was what we called the Guinifour war.
People in the 2 large communities in Northern Ghana, one has chieftain, the other one is without chiefs, known as a cephalous community. In addition whoever had the traditional chief, also had to run those who do not have chief. They might have been there for time???, but since they don't have chief, they can't own land. The perception of the kind of rapport that the chieftain group and the cephalous group had was one of denigration, because the chief looked down upon those who don't have a chief because they don't have land. Those who don't have a chief were largely, by coincidence, Muslim. Those that had chief were largely Christian. When the conflict sparked in the market place between a chieftain representative and a non-chieftain representative it sparked a huge war between the two groups and 2,000 people died and a lot of property was destroyed. Some of our partners in Europe called us and they said, "We have been doing a lot of development work here, and we know you are doing good work in peace. Can you come and help to establish people's relationships here and try to work on reconciliation?" So we intervened there from Nairobi, we moved to Ghana and started to do a lot of consultation, for about 6 months, in the same way, slow paced.
If you are looking for lessons, the peace process is not an event, you don't do it and things disappear, and you don't expect quick results. It's a long-term process. That s the first lesson you learn. If you're funding peace initiatives, you should prepare yourself for a long journey, not a 2 or3 years funding and you disappear. Don't say, "Oh that's enough, I do not see results, so I cut off my support." It doesn't work that way. You need a committed supporter or a company in the process. We work very hard for 9 months, working separately with 2 groups, doing the kinds of things I told you with NCCK, but this time we didn't deliver food, we were just talking. It emerged from the talking that people were willing to come again together, and then sub-?? organizing joint meetings for both parties. We go slow paced, we signed the first accord, allowing people to interact, the second accord, to allow them to cross over the land of the other community, 3rd accord is to allow the people to come and resettle on their property that was destroyed when they were chased away. The 3rd accord is to help each other rebuild and all that. I am saying in a nutshell how the community is bigger than that and any accord that we signed had several kind of clauses that were inside it, giving you the way that it is progressive accord, accumulative accord that is an expanded engagement from being just community centered, not one or two community centered, but larger. At the end of the day, the 2 communities had what they called, Youth Association. What they did during the war, was mobilizing for war. They asked for support abroad and they asked if various people would contribute money to buy guns so that they could continue fighting. The same associations were now working in peace.
Q: Same people, same numbers?
A: Some of them were the same leaders who were previously engaged, but you know the organization moves, there are new people coming in but the spirit is the same. They are now working for peace. These are the kinds of lessons that we share with others of our capacity building program. We have covered, about 24 countries.
Q: NPI? Wow
A: Yes, and we build strategic relationships with other organizations that can help you in the reflection and also in the reaction. We had been working with Eastern Mennonite University, and not by hazard, they match practice and theory, which we like very much, because it's very practical for us, that's another reason why I am there. We call upon the Eastern Mennonite University, we look at the situation, we know the context, they have some theories, we know our own theories, we match our engagement together, and we organize. There is another organization that has emerged, due to our engagement and that is WANAP, West African Network for Peacebuilding, which is doing tremendous work in West Africa. NPI was very ??? in the creation of WANAP. Now you can see some patterns emerging after looking at our capacity building program all over Africa in the countries where we intervened. There are structures that are emerging in those countries that are accommodating peace issues. They are working on a daily basis as the court for establishing people's relationships in their world context.
Our role has been that of helping the emergence of those structures, we call them the peace infrastructure. It is made with people and methodology approaches that is a mixture of what you receive all over, but you customize it with your context and the cultural dimension in which you work in, and it will work a lot better for you. It is working really well on this continent, in fact that's how we call ourselves a peace resource organization. We have helped people and institutions that have a vision and methodology to work on a daily basis, to regulate on a daily basis on conflict as they imagine. They are both done on the national level, any level, for example, in the case of NCCK, that I described, we'd be on the upper level. The village peace and development communities are working on a daily basis in accommodating and motivating people's concerns about their relationships and they are from those areas, so there is nobody who is coming from outside to command them on how to do things. They are already absorbed and understand the process. They have mastered the methodology and they are using it and they have been very successful. That's how we work broadly.
I have answered your questions of describing what NPI does, and I have also at the same time described what is the activities in the situation, and the last component is where do we lodge this kind of information that we've had, mostly in terms of capacity building and in terms of direct intervention. Our department of research is in charge of reflection documentation and dissemination of information. One of our themes that we have been working on, is how do we evaluate your work? I can understand how I am describing the success we have had and in the changes you can observe on the ground, the people resisting incitement and seeing people living together again, but are you sure that by your sole intervention that this has happened? You also have the Red Cross with that over there, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission on Human Rights has been working over there, and you have many other organizations with various themes, such as civic education, and we have also been working over there. How are you sure that by this peace engagement that you brought this type of result? The question is not just for practitioners like us, it is also broadly asked by the donors who have been putting money over there, who say how are we sure that we have been making a difference. Those communities may be having those structures, but that doesn't mean that they don't fight. They still fight--cattle stealing is still rampant, and this stealing is creating a lot of damage in the region.
The question is why do they still fight? Why is this kind of situation preventive and we have yet to have been intervening over there? In our organization we took that as a theme for research and the question is how do you value the peace work, because the parameters and indicators that are used to evaluate development are not fit in peace work. Working with the Eastern Mennonite University and with the churches of Kenya is a pilot program. We began looking back at our work, how did it come to be? What are those elements that we can pinpoint on and say this is a sign of progress in the work that we do? I'll show you one of the reflections, which is what we call strategic and responsive evaluation. It is like an enhanced logical frame. A logical framework is very limited, rigid. It makes a design for development work, not for assisting people's perception change, and people's internal transformation, you can obsess that by using the love frame. It is very easy, if you give me money and I construct bow holes, I'll show you bow holes after a certain time frame ie you will get your 10 bow holes and you can count the number of people who are coming to fetch whatever there. You have difficulty saying that this particular person has changed and he is more peaceful than he was before. To assess that change, it may not fit in the time frame that you design. That person might have a very slow pace in the change and that the change will only happen after a certain number of years and those years may be beyond your project time frame, so we redesign that kind of challenge and making a reflection around it.
Q: So how do you do it? Is it a longer time frame now for evaluation?
A: Yes, there are many lessons. We are now designing a website. Maybe we will put that one there, but we have a very small report, it's not even a book, and that report shows very well how we work, and the framework that we think in, and we call it learning model. We run away from failure and success. It hasn't been successful, but it has been promising. It hasn't been a failure, it has been challenging. It's not euphemism, but it s trusting the reality on the ground because if you put in the frame of success failure, then it is overloaded with a lot of judgment. I'm saying it might appear as a failure now, but transformation is taking place within people. After sometime, you will be amazed at looking at someone who was a failure, being successful in his action because the transformation is taking a slow pace in a long term basis, which goes most of the time beyond log frame. That's some of the reflection that we are making and we ask ourselves, why on the continent are people no longer mobilized for peace or when conflict erupts in a country, people are no longer as concerned as they was to for example, apartheid, or the struggle for independence. Civil society and communities in Africa, and abroad, are supporting peace efforts. With reflection like that, we will offer space for a professor like Professor Campbell of Syracuse University, we offered him space to articulate such dilemmas that we are talking about and he was looking at the framework of the Lusaka Peace accords in the Congo and reflection was also produced. So that's where we are at now.
Presently, we are looking at strategically where we make the highest impact in our intervention? We look at those people who have been marginalized in the peace that we need to promote, that now is our mission. We have focused on women in parliament, not just to raise awareness, but to bring women to participate in peace processes, to sit at the table of negotiation. They bring a different perspective. All the peace processes have been male dominated peace processes, and as you know, they can be frozen in their position and just block the whole process. Just imagine several decades of the conflicts in Sudan, women never participated at the table of negotiation. The peace processes going on in Somalia, women never participated in these processes. Peace processes in Congo, women were upset in the peace process. What we are doing is looking at how we promote women, and give them a rightful place to sit at the table of negotiation and bring a different perspective for conflict situations. These are critical areas that we are looking at these days. The other area is how do we lodge the information that we have in learning institutions? Now we are supporting the Institute of Peace that's from the continent, like the Mandela Ecumenical Center, which has the Africa Peace Building Institute in Zambia. We are supporting the West Africa Peace Building Institute, WAPPI, in West Africa. We go over there as ???s and we see together how to best design this so it can be done for the benefit for the continent.
Q: What other organizations do you partner with?
A: When we talk about our work, most of the questions we get from people is how many are you?
Q: Sure, 24 countries, that's a lot of work.
A: You'd be amazed that we have only 4 people in the program, we have the support group of 3 people which makes us 7, and we have a board that support us. That itself responds to your question. If you are small but you have ideas, then you have to be strategic with what you want to amplify for this kind of impact that you expect to have. We have strategic alliances. It is not a membership organization. Network is no longer a meaning for me because there are so many networks and they are nets that aren't working. We don't rush to network, you just identify a strategic partner and who shares your vision, who has the capacity, and the means so you share the vision. you share the means, and you have the infrastructure that can carry out peace work then your ??partner does?? Because we know for sure, the kind of idea we lodge, will be expandedbecause the people have that as a mission. Working with churches because they have peace as a mandate, and reconciliation as a mandate, is part of ???, they become our strategic partners and not ??? churches. It's like structures of the church, think about the justice and peace commission within the church, you think about National Council of Churches. Currently we are working with the NCCK, the Peace Corps National Conference of Tanzania, and also the Supreme Muslim Council, so these are Protestant, Muslim and Catholic who are working on peace in Tanzania. We support that group. They have the means, they have the vision, they have the capacities, , so what they need is to know how we go about it. We discuss together the design together the implementation process. They implement because we are too few to implement. We also set dates, we set a follow-up process, and also a time frame. Then we reassess what we have achieved, redesigned, restrategized, and then move ahead. We see our mission as that of accompaniment, this is our strategy. We over-see the process as it evolves with the objective of seeing the millions of structures that are informed, that we call the peace infrastructure.
It's very strategic. I can give you some of the people that we work with as members of our strategic network. In America, we work with the CWS, which is the Church World Service. We work closely with churches and their missions. We work closely with CRS, Catholic Relief Services, one of our strategic partners. We work with Eastern Mennonite University, another of our strategic partners. From afar, we work with Notre Dame, and I say from afar because some of the members of our organizations and colleagues have studied at Notre Dame. One of our close partners is a lecturer from Notre Damne John Paul Lederach. We partner also with Mennonite Central Community (MCC), so these are strategic partners from a continent afar, America.
In Europe, we have a large network, FEWER, a Forum of Early Warning and Early Response based in London who work with ECCP, which is European Convention for Conflict Prevention, those are our partners there. We have a concession of donors who support our work.
On the continent we have formed alliances with whom we work critically like the Catholic Church in the Congo, who would be one of our strategic partners, simply because they have infrastructure, they have the vision and they want to act, and they also have problems to deal with, huge problems. We work with the council churches of Sudan, Sudan Council of Churches and the Sudan New Council of Churches. We closely work with them. Last year we went to Khartoum, to support work for the Council of Churches. We work with the Africa Inter-Africa in the horn of Africa and we work with WANEPP in West Africa and CEPP, this is a center in Cameroon, in central Africa, so we have those critical partners to create our net, but our net that is working.
How we work maybe would be the question. They have a need that is getting bigger and they need support because they know the work will do, and so they call upon us and we go there and we support the work that they do. We might have a need in East Africa or the Horn of Africa or wherever we know there is a need. We know the competence we can get from WANEPP or from EMU or from other partners that we have and we draw from them, we call them and they support our work. The most recent example is that we are now engaging in terms of expanding the capacity building program, working on early warning and early response in terms of peacebuilding. We engage in a series of training of early warning and early response on the continent after peace building and conflict transformation. We come to deepen the conflict transformation processes by using the early warning, which refines the analysis of conflict intervention and also refines the strategies for intervention, because it gives scenarios that we can work with and reprocess them of the work that you do. We ask our West Africa brothers and sisters to come to East Africa and be part of us, to train the people of the Horn of Africa. I'll be going in September to West Africa and to support the work that WANEPP is doing in there. On several occasions we've gone even to ??? which is Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, in West Africa to support the work of women for peace.
That integration for me is key to create a whole movement on the continent that is moving towards peace. It's not sectorial peace that we want. We want a very integrative peace that allows the creation of an African consciousness about the problem, to know what is happening to others back there, how to live in solidarity with them, and they know what you are undergoing and will be in solidarity with you. That's how exactly you need to go. It is much in our tradition, as Africans that is more community oriented intervention which is deeply based on solidarity versus individual achievement.
Q: That's interesting. So you're looking beyond the borders of people's conflicts in hoping that they'll include other people's vision of conflicts in their vision of peace?
A: Absolutely. somewhat intervention, We need to have at least 2 nationalities as facilitators, and that has a ?mean part on the audience because they can see there is somebody from West Africa and another one from Central Africa coming to South Africa or coming to Central Africa or coming to East Africa to work on peace. It shows the concern of others about our problems and raises also the conscious of ourselves to be responsible because it is also that psychological impact that we also factoring on in our intervention. of course for the realization of those experiences, because it helps us all to see the different perspectives, it helps most of the time in those encounters, you hear people saying, "Oh! We thought our situation was worse, yours is really. So we should be working really hard to get out of this mess," so it raises that consciousness and it makes for better understanding on how to approach conflict situations on the continent. We have yet to assess what are the results of the process, as I said it is a long process, but it is still ongoing and we are still very hopeful.
Q: In Kenya, those processes of village dialogues, how's the time going? I'm wondering how you managed to get from individual transformation to communal transformation, how do you scale up from a person who recognizes that they have something common with the other side into the whole community is willing to make peace with the other side?
A: It's very difficult and maybe that is one of the challenges, but as we say and only if you are Christian, if you read the bible they know the metaphor that is used, that if somebody was just sowing the grains and you are going to a ?feeling? in sowing grains. Some of the grain went just outside, it didn't fall in the field, others went to the rocks, and others went to really fertile ground. The grains that went to the rocks were eaten, and they died because they didn't find the ground, they rotted, and they were finally eaten by insects. Those that went to the fertile ground grew and became plants that made more grains. It's the same metaphor that we use. We start with a large group of people, with the expectation that a few of them will change in the process, those few will be like the fertilizer that will pick up the process, and we are very, very sure that that happens because it has happened in the past. It has happened to us ourselves, it can also happen to other people, so we strongly believe in people's ability to change.
Those people who will be changed will be the ones who are now starting what I call the structures. You see them very passionate and working on the issues and if you are very successful, it might be somebody very highly positioned and you find huge amount of decision making powers and they make a difference globally, but that is not always the case. It is a slow process, but as slow as it is, it is transformative. There are those few people who will be working on a daily basis on those issues and people start seeing the value of the daring of such a new found ideology, or philosophy of peace. By the time you see a structure image, you know already that that structure has a vision and is working now on a larger scale. You need individuals' transformation for communities to transform because communities are built by individuals; that's how you make the linkage, but it's not mathematical, or mechanical, it's that person and that person. Sometimes very unexpected persons will bring about peace through changes. Sometimes the most radical are the less vocal, and sometimes it's both. It depends on circumstances, situations, and context, but there is that aspect of the work that is unpredictable.
We go with that metaphor, I will do the best that I can, I will deliver the best that I can, I am sure that somebody who listens to me if all hearted may be touched, and thus changed. The process of change can bring about the overall change of society, so that's how we work, but through intermittent levels. For example, if you are working with members of parliament, a few of them may change, but you also work with communities, where the members of the communities are coming from. If that person, who changed at the community level, meets the member of the parliament at the high level, the meeting point is fantastic, because there is a complete harmony of understanding and the ablufication of the results.
In the intermediary level, you also have people who you train and give them the spirit, impact the spirit in that dialogue, so they can pick up the spirit and integrate the spirit downwards and upwards and create this holistic change, for example the result of elections in Kenya. People can argue but it's the the tremendous work of the civil society at all levels, and nobody can pinpoint and say it is my work that created this, but everybody can be the father of the peace and success of elections. Everybody can say, yes, I did it. Humanitarian organizations, peace organizations, churches. Everybody worked together, it was a holistic endeavor that we have integrated all levels from community to middle class to leadership top level.
Q: You've mentioned a few inspiring moments. Is there another one that you can recall that has inspired you, maybe not a moment, but a process or a story that you find inspiring from your work?
A: It depends on what you mean by inspiring. I see my whole work as being very inspiring. So of course there are moments that I can't generalize, in form of theory, but personal moments where you feel, yes, something is happening here. Sometimes the moment doesn't depend on you. I call them magical moments, and I can recall 2 examples I was doing mediation, in one I was invited to help Congolese women to frame their agenda that they would take to the inter-Congolese dialogue in some city in South Africa. They came to Nairobi, and I was elected to be the one to carry out the process of coming up with a common agenda. As you know the country was divided then, I'm saying that because we are moving toward a unification. The Eastern side was invaded by Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi and then there was a rebel movement that they supported, and on the other side you have the government.
Women came to the same city in the framework in what was called the Lusaka Peace Accord, there was a design of inter-Congolese dialogues within the Lusaka Peace Accord.. You also had a clause that all would be called the French Force of Evil which means that the whole civil society should participate in the peace and negotiation, in the inter-Congolese dialogue, and those negotiations wanted the women to go over there with an agenda. One consort went to the eastern side to consult with all the women and another consort went to the rebel held area and consulted the women there. The 2 agendas I was ordered to harmonize but when they reached the place, there were ministers coming from the government side and officials from the government side and officials from the rebel side, all women, and political parties from all borders, and members from the civil society all in the same room, about 80 women. What I realized when I reached over there was that there was no agenda to harmonize because in the West there were 2 agendas. The government didn't recognize the agenda from the West, and from the Eastern side, the rebel representative didn't recognize the agenda that came from the rebel side so there was a harmonized agenda in the area that was held by the rebels, but that agenda was not recognized by the rebel structure. The authorities of the rebel group didn't recognize that because there was a lot of civil society input, and the civil society's against the rebels. On the other side, on the government's side the civil society is against the government because it's working on human rights and things like that and then the government didn't recognize that our views are reflected in this. I learned all that on the spot in the room.
Can you imagine! I have to give you that situation. As I was dealing with this other situation and it was very, very difficult, we reached a certain point where it became a stalemate. Now, how do we unblock this situation? I didn't know. Now, my colleague who I was facilitating with is a lady from Kenya, she speaks French and she accompanied me and respected the general balance that I shouldn't be the only male. She couldn't take it, and I could not predict her reaction. She broke down, started crying in front of these people, and she was talking as she was crying. Basically she was saying, "Can you lift up your perception in your mind and think about a common woman in the Congo who is suffering who is being whipped now? Who has a baby to feed but does not have food? You have got to think about those things. Who can't go to her farm, because the rebels will rape her or kill her, so can't you think of that instead of your comfort zones where you are right." So she spoke passionately, and she could not finish her speech and she broke down.
Then one of the women, one of the Congo leader women, she was a friend of a political party, she stood up and spoke in Linguala?, which is the Congolese language, one of the national languages so that the observers in the international community who were there could not listen. She really rebuked the women over there, the ministers from government and rebels, all alike she really rebuked them and said this lady is not a Congolese and yet she is crying on our fate, what about you? Why are you springing on the opposition, what got you to think that what she's saying about common women? Shame on you! She just abused them, but it was in Linguala, that was a turning point.
The whole room went quiet for a while, even as our presentation team didn't know how to react at that time so we let it pass, but I had this inspiration. I went to a lady who was like the griot of the group, all the time she was seeing and bringing jokes, so I went to her and I told her, do you have any inspiring songs? She came with a gospel song, the whole room started singing, half of the room stopped singing and started praying and very loudly, the whole room started crying, they cried and cried and cried.
When the ??? came back, it was time for break, from that moment up until the end, they came with an agenda, with a plan of action, with a recommendation and with a declaration, a consensual declaration and you could see caucuses after the workshop, rebel representatives, and the ministers drinking together and discussing. Many other agendas took place in the caucuses, and that for me was one of my magic moments. I see the value of engaging people and you can see this didn't depend on me, but I framed my intervention with them. It is strategic that you facilitate the process in a manner that brings people together How you capitalize on that moment is another way of seeing things. I was fearing they would not find the right place because people are polarized. I brought them now to the table and they could look at it more objectively because some of the perception that had been gained. You see those kind of despairing moments because they give you the sense that people can change, and people can see situations differently from the position. They can move from the positions to the needs and values of the people who are engaged in the situation and also they can accommodate the mutual interest. There are many of those stories.
I said I'd give you two, the other one was between the young raiders in Kenya, I told you there is cattle wrestling still going on, and they use sophisticated weapons so they kill each other, destroy everybody and steal the livestock, but this group came and got the youth because they are the most active in that time. They could not communicate at all because there was a particular mood that was countering everything that was constructed so they would come with a statement such as, we can't work with this kind of people, our enemies it is not from a memorial. We are wasting our time here, we always kick them, we always kill them and claim their property, he would openly say that in the room. You continue to work, saying maybe we respect your position but it's not maybe the views of everybody there. They need to understand each other, be patient, and listen to each other, so then we would have a credible attitude of saying, "I don't care, this is a waste of time." these women, speaking and talking, one person, a very illiterate person, who never went to school, could not speak ki-Swahili which is the common language, national language, spoke in his mother tongue and somebody translated and said, "What you have been talking about has touched me. I have been in the bush for 6 months, and I was firing every day to that person when I see him coming to the neighborhood, and he pointed to somebody in the room, on the other side in the room. That person was who he was shooting at. My intention was to kill him. I haven't take care of my livestock since I have been living in the bush, and I can't sleep in my house. I have taken my decision today, I will never again attack him. I have understood what you have said, we are wasting time and our development is going down because of that."
Here, the room went quiet because it was unexpected, the guy was among the extremist group on the other side, so on this side, the person who was pointed at also woke up. He was on the side of the guy who had that terrible attitude. He also woke up and said, "I agree with him, what he has said is true. I have been firing at him also, all the time and the intention was to kill him but really what you are saying is so constructive, that, brother," he called him that "I'll never again attack you, let's construct our lives together." Right in the room! That small group that was there started shaking, even the group that just got dismantled, the guy woke up and he also started listening and the meeting went so well, and they came up with all sorts of peaceful activities to create with support now of the structure we talked about, the NCCK structure, that is working on peace and reconciliation to support the process.
We called these, magic moments, they are unexpected but you create an environment for them to happen but you need absolutely to touch people in their inner belief, in their inner perception so they come up with such a statement. You never know who will come and talk and at what point.So I was saying, these are sports in the whole spectrum, for me the parting moment is part of the daily engagement when you think there is a possibility of bringing people to realize that they have a common agenda, they can live together, they can build their lives together, and they can create harmonious relationships that will foster reconciliation and also development in their area. The more you are peaceful, the more development you can get because a peaceful environment is conducive to development. All that engagement is inspiring for me and you see people that are dedicated, they give you hope and they give you the inspiration. There is also those magic moments that are giving you even more hope that is saying, "yes, transformation is possible and it can be done," and I have many examples of those, and other people have many example of those. in fact, I am willing to document the magic moments.
Q: What are the major obstacles to your work?
A: The major obstacles are that some of the issues are beyond the capacity of the people we deal with. How to engage those people to those particular issues that comes with the major obstacles? Let me clarify what I'm saying, take for example the case of Congo. You have 2 parts in Congo, you have the government side area and the rebel side area, the 2 groups are looked at as enemies. You are coming in as an intervener, you want to bring about peace, you want to bring about reconciliation. You start working with the partners. Who are the partners on this side who identify the government of Kinshasa? That's one group, who is the partner on this side. There are 3 rebel movements, you need to identify them, and bring them to the table of negotiation. Be happy that you have a mixed peace, that's our biggest challenge. All of these guys are not representative of the people, they're all elite. In the end, they're all talking on behalf of the people.
How do you bring the voices of the people to the table of negotiation becomes a challenge, because the kind of settlement these guys will arrive at is not the aspiration of the people, like you end up in Congo with a situation where you have a president, and 4 vice presidents that are all illegitimate. All can be tried in an international court, especially the Eastern rebels, 3.5 millions people have died since 1998, especially in the area where the so called rebels are. Now, you say, ok, I want to engage the rebels, so you pick Olusumba, you pick Whobewa, you pick Bemba and Ombadjawumba and others and you just realize that they are ???staples???. There is Rwanda behind, there is Uganda behind, Whose calling the shots? That's become the second challenge. How do you engage the right actors, because these are fictional actors, they are not responsible. Now, when you go to Rwanda and Uganda, and you want to engage Musevene and President Dgambe you realize that they are not totally responsible, because there are other force behind them who are calling the shots, then how do you engage the other forces in the process, so you realize it is a challenge. You understand?
Q: So, you sit 2000 people around the table, if they come at all?
A: No, there will never be 2000 people, at most 5 or 6 people, the most determined, but they are less visible, unfortunately. The most visible, are not the most legitimate. The visible are not the determinants and hence whatever decisions they take does not have any impact on the situation on the ground because those who have decision making powers will not make up their minds. For example ??? is a creation of Rwanda, completely a creation, they take orders from Dgambe I put it way because it's true. I can say it, anyway, it's our non-truth. If he does not want a peace process to take place in Congo, do you expect Congo to ever have peace?
For example, if Rwanda is enjoying taxes that are being collected from the eastern side of the country today Rwanda is having it's own military there, and extracting gold, diamonds, and cobalt that are used for mobile phones and high technology. Who buys those? At the end of the day, one is answerable to those who buys it and the rebels are answerable to Rwanda, because Rwanda is rebuilding it's country with the money coming from the Congo. They have new estates in Majing, and they have now created a new class, a new bourgeois of ??? creating a circle around the president that is exploiting everything, recently the President [of Rwanda] dismissed one of his generals, Kazimi, because he says he's been accused in plundering the Congolese resources as if he never knew that that was happening. The president is a very smart person because he knows how to manipulate the international community. He just fulfills the requirements from the international community, which basically works on pretense. You just pretend that you haven't been doing whatever you have been doing, and you continue happily doing whatever you feel like you want to do. If those countries have an interest in continuing to plunder Congolese resources and they are using this rebel group that is non-determinant in making decisions, So any decision that this group will take that goes against the interest of Rwanda will be rebuked. So the government can agree and think, it is another reason why the rebels are reluctant to go to Kinshasa. The government and are putting up all sorts of conditions, but the conditions are not rebel oriented conditions; they are Rwanda oriented conditions. Rwanda wants to have as many Rwandese playing an important role in the Congo so they can still keep some influence on Congo's matters.
In these circumstances, when will you talk about reconciliation? Wh