Working for peace and equality in Kenya
November 26, 2012 by The IRC
|Rhoda Mukamba (second from left) lost her husband and her home when mobs attacked her Kenyan village in January 2008 after a disputed presidential election. With new elections scheduled for this coming March, the IRC is working with partners and communities in Kenya to avert a repeat of the violence. Photo: Jo Offer/IRC|
By John Harrington Ndeta, media and peace coordinator, Peace Initiative Kenya
When violence broke out in Kenya after the disputed 2007 presidential elections, more than 1,300 people lost their lives and thousands were displaced. Many were women and girls who suffered extreme abuse and violence, mainly along tribal lines. Peace was brokered with the help of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan — President Mwai Kibaki remained in office while his rival, Raila Odinga, became prime minister — and a new constitution drawn up.
Four years later, more than 250,000 internally displaced persons continue to live in camps in Kenya (a figure that jumps to 550,000 when refugees and asylum-seekers from surrounding countries are included). The threat of violence against women and girls is never far from the surface.
With new elections scheduled for this coming March, Kenya is abuzz with campaigns, debates and lobbying. Stakes are high at both the county and national levels, with six key parliamentary seats hotly contested.
In an effort to avert a repeat of the recent past, the International Rescue Committee has partnered with seven Kenyan organizations to launch the Peace Initiative Kenya project, or PIK. The program will concentrate efforts in four of the most conflict-prone regions of Kenya — Coast, Nairobi, Rift Valley and Nyanza — working at the grassroots as well as national levels.
“The post-election violence was a crisis for Kenyans,” says Jerotich Seii Houlding, the IRC’s country director in Kenya. “Ethnic animosities are still rife and elections may be the spark that sets the country ablaze once again. When this happens, women and children are the most at risk because they are the most vulnerable.”
As its first initiative, the IRC is training 40,000 “Peace Advocates” on strategies to avert violence. “No one wants to see a repeat of what happened last time,” says Houlding. “To avoid this, communities are sharing information and knowledge on key issues such as the election process.”
Other PIK activities include awareness events during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, legal aid clinics for women and children who have experienced violence, and community training in conflict resolution.
Jebiwot Sumbeiywo, who heads up the IRC’s peace-building efforts, notes that PIK is an important step in a process of change that will require long-term investment and continuous engagement to break the cycle of violence.
“Violence against women, and the fact that women in Kenya are still treated unequally, affects entire communities,” says Sumbeiywo. “That’s why the IRC, through PIK, and with the support of the American people, aims to address violence against women not only during the 2013 elections but in the months afterward.”
Peace Initiative Kenya receives support from the U.S. Agency for International Development
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