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 ???).
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.