By Patrick Devine
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 22 2024 (IPS)
Among East Africa’s dozens of pastoral tribes, major conflicts have erupted repeatedly, largely over land and water disputes.
Generational trauma and anger have built to create tensions and grievances that carry emotional weight even hundreds of years later.
Among some African tribes, warriors returning home from fighting are frequently greeted by women singing. And it is reported that some tribes have no name for an enemy tribe in their language; they simply substitute the word enemy.
These same people could tell you how many of their tribe had been killed by the other tribe, how much capital was stolen, and the exact day each event happened dating back as many as 60 years.
Such cultural and linguistic practices continually reinforce and perpetuate a lingering notion of otherness and violence. And they underline a key point: Each person involved and affected by conflict can contribute to its resolution and peacebuilding.
Founded in 2009 in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed elections of 2007-2008, Shalom-SCCRR is a non-governmental organization created to help mitigate conflicts in eastern Africa. To date, the organization has initiated about 1,000 interventions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda, among other countries.
Today, we confront religious ideological radicalization, extremism and conflict in both urban and rural environments and along the entire Kenyan coast. And the only answer to it is to truly empower local people.
SCCRR is committed to transforming conflict into social development and reconciliation, reflecting a belief that violence is fundamentally based on inadequately met human needs.
The aim of our team goes beyond the absence of physical violence to a deep-rooted positive peace where all parties are committed to each other’s well-being, uprooting the causes – not just addressing the symptoms – of conflict by creating transformative grassroot networks.
Trust in SCCRR is fostered in large part by our long term – 5 to 10 year – commitments to building local capacity for negotiation, mediation, and joint problem solving, and by involving community members who can then themselves build their own architectures of peace.
Our staff have, at minimum, masters level university qualifications. These highly-educated peacebuilding practitioners train local politicians and other key thought leaders – chiefs, elders, religious, education, women’s groups, youth and other community influencers.
SCCRR’s approach to reconciliation is based on four pillars:
- • Truth, with each side listening to the other, sharing perceptions on their conflicts
• Justice, which requires truthful people genuinely open to objective consideration. Sadly, conflict has a very robust, resilient memory, frequently distorted by erroneous historical narratives and mendacious media reporting
• Mercy: Without which, a negative situation will be entrenched forever in endless cycle
We also advocate on behalf of communities with governments to develop and upgrade institutions to meet, for example, medical, legal or education needs (particularly interethnic or interfaith schools, and education equality).
Over the years, SCCRR has successfully trained over 28,000 community leaders in conflict transformation skills, leading to over 600 local community development projects, to the benefit of over 200,000 school aged children and many others.
While SCCRR can provide bricks and mortar, communities must provide the site, water, and labor, for example. And it is essential to success that a community owns a project themselves.
In recent times, women have made up 60% of the main beneficiaries of SCCRR interventions.
Extreme, systemic, inter-ethnic conflict has left countless people killed, injured or displaced, and debilitated many communities in eastern Africa.
And it is impossible to promote sustained development in places where humanitarian institutions are periodically destroyed or incapacitated. That is why conflict transformation is fundamental to social development and reconciliation.
Rather than seeking new places to live, communities need practical tools for self-sustainability that empower them to thrive where they are.
And as the world grapples with a global migration crisis, the success of SCCRR’s work takes on heightened significance, offering helpful insights and a template for action.
*Rev. Dr. Patrick Devine is International Chairman and Founder of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (Shalom-SCCRR). In 2013, he received the International Caring Award, whose previous recipients include the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton, and Mother Teresa.
IPS UN Bureau