When Elephants Fight, the Grass Below Suffers
Dr. Karambu Ringera discusses her efforts to foster peace dialogues among internally displaced women, as well as her vision for Kenya's future.
In the Camps
When I arrived at the IDP camp at Nakuru at the end of January nothing prepared me for the sight of the effects of war in my beloved Kenya. As I walked about to survey the violence, I watched as a woman sold her tomatoes, unbothered by the presence of a dead body near her stand. There was so much death throughout the streets. I am shocked at what we have become as a nation—we are so removed from our humanity, we are failing to see that the "other" we are butchering are Kenyans.
In the camps, my heart bled for the women and children I met. For food, they have a mug of porridge in the morning, no lunch, and a dinner so little "it is meant to keep the soul alive," as one old woman told me. Mothers have to share their food to feed their children. Girls in the camp are known to exchange food for sex.
Rapes occur regularly; women are told to watch over their girls, to not go to the toilets at night. At night the men scream, and as the women run away in panic, they chase the women and girls and rape them.
HIV and AIDS is spreading like wildfire throughout the camps—the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) medical team hands out condoms each day, and every morning used condoms are all over the camp. HIV-positive mothers have no food to feed their children; instead, they must breastfeed their babies to keep them from screaming out in hunger.
At Nakuru, there is no education for the children. Women begged for assistance in locating educational resources and materials for their children. They wanted to know where to take their children for schooling; how they could leave the camp and reach their relatives; how they could earn a living. Since I am from Meru, nine hours by car from Nakuru, and did not have the capacity to help, I directed the women to the KRCS. I can only hope that they went for assistance from the KRCS personnel.
I knew I needed to find another way to empower women, to encourage the development of peaceful leaders.
Peace Circle Dialogue
Today, Kenya—a nation that leads peace missions to other countries—is looking to outside peace mediators to quell the rising tide of anarchy. To date, few intervention strategists understand that women and children experience conflicts differently than men. In times of crisis, we must recognize that the assistance that meets the needs of men does not always meet the needs of women and children.
As I surveyed the IDP camp, I realized that I, as a peace and social change activist, could address the diverse needs of women and children by fostering discussions of peace. While many organizations are providing counseling to the displaced, women are left to wonder how they will live with those who destroyed their homes and businesses. I believe peace dialogues are the place to start addressing these issues, a place to start mending this pain.
One Friday, the women and I sat in a circle. I encouraged the women to share their stories. Some told me of painful family issues-husbands forcing wives to leave their home because they were from a different ethnic group; mothers forced to take their children elsewhere because they have the blood of an unwanted ethnic group. One woman told me of an elderly woman who was gang raped and then ripped open because the gangsters wanted to "see where they had been." The woman died.
Through the Peace Circle Dialogue, I used three statements to guide our dialogue: 1. I have peace when...; 2. Peace for me is...; and, 3. In the name of peace I commit to.....
The answers to these questions were varied. The women said they have peace when they pray and read the Bible; when they are able to provide food, shelter and health to their families; when they can provide education to their children.
A Way Forward
The violence in my beloved Kenya and the time I have spent at the camp has reaffirmed my desire to participate in healing the broken cord that joins me to my sisters and brothers, no matter their ethnic origin. This healing begins with women. Just as women have been absent in Kenyan politics since the 1963 independence, in the current initiative to end the political crisis in Kenya, women have been sidelined. We must make concerted efforts to include Kenyan women in peace-building initiatives if we are to see progress.
I believe that peace dialogues are the first step in a way forward. I have begun the process of creating a peace-training program under the Institute for Nonviolence and Peace (INPEACE), a program that was launched in 2005 at the Women's Congress held in Nairobi that same year. As a short-term response to the crisis, I plan to continue with peace trainings for women and youth in IDP camps. Furthermore, the training of leaders, and, in particular, politicians, in peace discussions is important so that they can share this knowledge with their constituents. I recently successfully appealed to Equity Bank and Safari-com, Kenya's largest cellular company, for finances to support my work both in the camps and among parliament leaders.
They also had varying definitions of peace: Peace is when the conflict and violence ends; peace is when all the children in the camp can return to school; peace is when there is help for those with HIV/AIDS, widows, single mothers and orphans. The women continuously told me that education is the only hope for their children because all of their property is gone and they can no longer support their families.
Finally, I asked the women to commit to praying for peace; to supporting those in need; to encouraging each other to hope in God.
There are, of course, many things that must happen to quell the violence. Currently, the former US Secretary General-led peace initiative has seven men and only two women, both of whom are politicians. Human rights organizations, civil societies, FBOs, CBOs and NGOs have no representation in this initiative at all. Although this is a political crisis said to need a political solution, other civil society entities have to be included in the mediation effort. Most importantly, women must be represented because they have unique experiences of violence that must be highlighted and recognized at the mediation table.
In lieu of the current events in Kenya, there is an urgent need to implement Resolution 1325, the 2000 UN Security Council resolution that urges a gender perspective in conflict prevention and conflict resolution. It also calls upon states and actors to ensure women's full participation in peace processes.
We must end the violence and strengthen our constitution, judiciary and regulatory agencies to protect our democracy from total annihilation. Strengthening our constitution and legal system will promote faith among Kenyans that democratic freedoms can be enjoyed by all, regardless of wealth or tribal affiliation.
Today's world needs leaders who inspire and empower others to step into their own power. Change can only come from within—we are all leaders, and if we endeavor to empower others, we can create strong partners for change in our communities.
PRAY FOR KENYA THAT PEACE MAY PREVAIL!!!