By David Zarembka, Coordinator, African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams (USA) and Chairman, Friends Church Peace Teams’ (Kenya) Counselling Coordinating Committee
The Friends Church Peace Teams (FCPT) has an ambitious goal for the 2012 Kenyan election: To have no election violence in Turbo Division which had been a violent hot-spot during the elections of 1992, 1997, and 2007.
While it is perfectly satisfactory to have the AVP goal of teaching people how to solve conflicts non-violently, it is also important to use AVP as a tool to promote larger goals. In other words, rather than being an end in itself, it is the means to a larger end.
The Friends Church Peace Teams (Kenya) (FCPT) with support from the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), a program of the Friends Peace Teams (USA) (FPT) is using AVP workshops with youth as the basic building block for encouraging youth in the volatile Turbo Division not to resort to violence during the up-coming August 13, 2012 election. Since it was the youth (defined in Kenya as people between 18 and 35 years of age) who did most of the actual destruction during the post-election violence in 2008, we have decided to concentrate on this age group.
Turbo Division is in the western part of Kenya in the Rift Valley Province. It has about 160,000 people divided into seven locations. Since the main highway from the coast to Nairobi to Uganda and beyond is on the northern boundary of the division, people from many ethnic groups have settled along the road, many engaging in small scale enterprises to cater to the large truck traffic passing on the road. I estimate that at least 10% of the population of this division was displaced during the 2008 post-election violence. This is my comment when I first visited Turbo town after the violence:
Turbo town is about four blocks long with three gas stations, a post office, a section of small wooden shops, and a block of substantial concrete shops. I had heard that Turbo had experienced a rough time during the violence, but it was another thing to actually see an entire block of large shops burned out. Most of the wooden shops and one of the gas stations, because it was managed by a Kikuyu, had also been burned. I was horrified at this destruction since it made no rational sense.
In the Kenyan context, a tremendous amount of peace-building work needs to be done. The tendency, as occurred after the violence in the Rift Valley following the 1992, 1997and 2007 elections, is to proclaim that “peace has been restored and all is well” without any of the underlying causes and hostilities being addressed. Peacemaking is an ongoing, continuous process. The period of calm is not the time to relax and forget about the past violence, but the time to work on healing and reconciliation to prevent a further round of violence, which many people in Turbo Division expect during the 2012 election.
To begin, in each of the seven locations, we did two basic AVP workshops for a total of about 280 youth. Then in each location, we selected the best 20 participants to attend an advanced AVP workshop. Lastly we did a three day residential training for facilitators workshop for the best, most energetic youth. These youth apprentice facilitators, together with an experienced, lead facilitator will then do at least four more basic workshops in each location reaching an additional 560 youth. In July, we are in the process of doing these apprentice workshops.
Then with these youth, we will do a number of election prevention activities. First we will give them seminars on the new Kenyan Constitution and what it means for them. Then as the election cycle comes closer we will do one day seminars on the whole election process. Many of the youth either do not register to vote or fail to cast a ballot. So this will be a time of encouraging the youth to register to vote.
Elections in this part of the world are a time of fear, insecurity, and violence. This begins during the enrolment process, the campaign period, the election day itself, and then when the election results are announced. We are therefore going to train at least twenty of these AVP-trained youth in each location to be “citizen reporters.” Everyone, now in Kenya, has a cell phone and the youth are amazing adept at using them with text messaging. We will teach them the basics of reporting – for example, the difference between first hand observations and second hand reports. We will then develop a call-in centre which will receive the text messages from the citizen reporters. Then when there are problems, we will be able to alert other citizen reporters or, if necessary, the government authorities. Lastly on election day, we will train enough people as election observers so that we have at least two in each of the eighty or so polling stations.
Will this work? Will it stop or at least minimize the irregularities and violence during the election cycle? I don’t know. We are trying and we will inform you after the election how successful we are.