By Jane Wanjiru Kinyua
When I first set foot in Samburu County, I noticed that Longewan village was green and beautiful, but there seemed to hang a heavy cloud of fear and uncertainty. This was evident in the high concentration of manyattas (local name for a pastoralist hut) in one area and the unutilized surrounding land.
Besides that, the proximity of the kraals
to the main huts spoke volumes. Children seemed to have forgotten to play but rather congregated outside their mothers’ huts idly, while crowds of men sat under trees seemingly discussing significant issues. Women were moving about as mothers went on tendering for their families.
The land seemed fertile but totally untilled. The houses were all alike in make and shape with no sign of any semi-permanent housing. There was no road or trail connecting Longewan village with the next village, Amaiya. Instead, Longewan village seemed to be the end of the road and Amaiya seemed to be an independent beginning of a new life.
When we arrived, we were welcomed warmly by the representative of Justice and Peace at Caritas in Maralal. He gave us a detailed explanation of the situation of conflict in the area according to his experience and understanding of the dynamics on the ground. He explained all the peace efforts that had been made to counter the violent reprisals among the two warring neighboring communities and what seemed to threaten the possible intercommunity peace.
We spoke to the community gate keepers and opinioned leaders who were mainly elders, sharing our intention to promote peace through a cross-generational approach. The idea was well received given that such an approach had not been tried before. We spoke to the vocal women, who dared to risk their trust with a stranger explained the conflict situation from their perspective.
“We cannot till the land because we are not sure we will be able to harvest; not that our land is not fertile, but because we are always on the move seeking safety and peace of mind,” mourned one of the village women. They desperately needed peace, but it seemed elusive and unable to withstand the test of time. True to our observation, people had left their land and homestead to stay together to harness defense in case of enemy attacks. In their sharing you could feel the desperation of these women desiring to live a normal life. All community members were tired of conflict and wished for stable lives. Through the children peace building program, CPI Kenya seemed to bring a ray of hope in their dark tunnel of inter-community animosity. It became their transformative moment.
CPI Kenya started working with grade six children in selected schools within both neighboring communities in 2012. Children were and still are the protagonists of the friendship for peace program and they formed the main basis of entry point to the community. Intense, fun, child friendly and value based activities laid the foundation of a great intercommunity friendship. Without knowing it, the community members had began their transformation towards sustainable peace by allowing their children to partake in the peace program.
Five years down the line, every time I set my foot in Samburu County, I feel that the air is not the same! Homesteads are all over and the land is tilled ready for planting (the featured picture above shows a budding field in Longewan in June, 2017). The neighboring Pokot community offers available human labor to till the land. The farmers are confident to sow the seeds with assurance of abundant harvest given enough rain! There is no longer the fear and uncertainty that haunted their past. Shops have opened in the village and some permanent housing is already in place. Pastoralists now have the confidence to invest in businesses that can offer them an alternative livelihood to support their families. Children are enjoying their childhoods and not afraid of strangers visiting their village. Women endowed with their ornaments are free to engage in various form of entrepreneurship.
A wide road cuts through the beautiful landscape connecting the two villages. The security personnel can barely recount any recent violent criminal cases and the schools are chock-a-block with pupils. A good example is grade six of Longewan Primary School, which has one hundred and fifteen pupils! To culminate it all, in one of the program activities, parents offered their harvest (unhardened corn) as their contribution to cook for the children—a very rare gesture and a great sign of community ownership of the project.
The narratives of fearful nights, lost lives and stolen animals have become memories of the past. Fortunately, all young children will grow up without painful memories. given that in five years there hasn’t been any violent attack or conflict-related death!
Time has changed so much in Longewan. Time has healed the hearts of many community members and slowly replaced the cloud of uncertainty and fear with a sense of belonging in a community far away from home. Bright, blue skies now welcome visitors to Longewan. CPI Kenya remains confident that the sunset of animosity that paved way to intercommunity friendship will offer lasting peace for Longewan and Amaiya.