As fears of violence grow ahead of Kenya’s election on Monday (4 March), thousands of people in the country are mobilising to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence that shook Kenya in 2007 and left 1,200 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
In a co-ordinated, grassroots effort, Quakers from both Kenya and Britain have been equipping Kenyans to nonviolently demand justice and build a mass nonviolent witness for peaceful, transparent, free and fair elections.
The three-pronged approach combines civic education and dialogue, citizen reporting, and local peace-building responses. It has resulted in numerous community-driven initiatives to defuse tensions, challenge hate speech and hold political candidates to account.
Based in part on a Quaker programme called Turning the Tide, organisers say that the initiative does not avoid conflict but rather challenges the causes of violence and helps Kenyans to build a just and peaceful future from the grassroots.
This community-driven programme is supported by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) in partnership with three Kenya based organisations, Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), Friends Church Peace Teams and the African Great Lakes Initiative.
Over 20,000 people in the country have received training in a massive ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign. At least 1,200 have become citizen reporters, raising the alarm when early warning signs of violence appear. Another 660 will serve as domestic election observers.
As a result, Kenyans are taking the initiative in their own communities. Examples include public debates with candidates in Nairobi and Lugari. These are very unusual in Kenya and have been organised by local people.
Politics in Kenya has often been about ethnic affiliation, loyalty and bribery, but grassroots activists have developed inter-ethnic mechanisms for holding candidates to account. Now Kenyans are demanding that all candidates give clear policy commitments.
In Langas (Eldoret), where pamphlets and hate speech were threatening inter-ethnic violence, women from different communities came together to organise a Women’s Peace Procession and made a public peace proclamation.
In Mt Elgon, when citizen reporters sent news that five people had been murdered, community peacebuilders delivered a message of peace at the funeral of one of the victims and followed up with trauma healing and listening workshops in an ongoing effort to interrupt the cycle of revenge.
Quakers say the work is based on their trust in ordinary citizens to work out solutions and build peace for themselves. Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have been promoting peace and active nonviolence since their movement began in England in the seventeenth century.
Benard L. Agona, Field Co-ordinator of Turning the Tide Programme in Kenya, said the country is “seeing a new generation”.
He explained it is “a generation that are not sitting quietly any more, a generation who are coming together to resist injustice. We are also seeing a generation that want to make informed decisions.”
Laura Shipler Chico, of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain, said, “These efforts are rooted in local communities. That is their strength. They are a long-term effort not only to prevent election violence but to challenge the systems and structures that give rise to violence to begin with.”
She added, “People have mobilised their own communities and the response has not come from outside but from deep within. This is a testimony to the Quaker notion that there is that of God in everyone; the answers lie within each of us.”