Nairobi Peace Initiative


John Katunga

Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI); also serves on the advisory board of Partners for Democratic Change

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

From 1989 when the name of the organization changed, and the agenda of the organization slightly changed in terms of approach, NPI started working in dealing directly with situations of conflict in Africa, but how were they doing it? They were doing it strategically, was not to go deep into a situation of violence and start dealing with the parties over there, but to deal with the people who had influence on the parties and for this case in this part of Africa, the churches had a huge influence on the parties. We worked through churches like the All Africa Council of Churches, and with NCCK for the case of Kenya. In Mozambique we've the council of bishops and ??? in the entry point. In the case of Angola, it was the ???incapela, the general secretary of AACC, was the entry point, and in Rwanda, during the signing of the Arusha Accord, which was then broken by the death of the president and part of the genocide in Rwanda; so a number of countries. The organization was working at what is widely known as Track II diplomacy level by working with the churches that have direct access to the parties.

What triggered NPI to go beyond Track II diplomacy was the event that occurred in Kenya where the organization was based in 1992. The KNU came to organize the first multi-party elections, and the president of the regime that was in place in Kenya at that time organized ethnic cleansing. There was conflict within ethnic groups who from the whole world were perceived as belonging to the opposition and wouldn't work for the ruling party. Certain communities were chased away from their farms and children were killed and houses were burned, and that whole scenario came to be known as ethnic clashes. This was happening in the backyard of the organization so we have to do something, but this is not ??? Tartou. We don't have the Rainbow Movement and the government fighting, but we have communities who are engaging in violence, while though instigated politically, the communities are the ones paying the price. We needed to engage ourselves in what is the best alternative to approach this conflict and we started working again with the NCCK again, the church, and the National Council of Churches. The National Council of Churches didn't know exactly how to approach the peace components of what would be the intervention of the churches. They showed compassion by delivering food, giving shelter to the needy people, and the displaced persons.

What we came in a team to augment is the dimension of how to be strategic when yes, we are delivering food, but we are also doing a sort of inquiry to see are people still willing to live together? We had started detecting among the people who were experiencing suffering those who are still keeping not only hate rate of what has just happened, but also keeping the vision of a common life in the future. Sometimes some of those are opinionated, "this will pass, one day we will live together." Those who think like that were identified as they were being helped, as food was being delivered, and when a team was built in impairing the people who are intervening from the peace dimension, from the peace envoy who are apart of the team who was delivering food and material assistance.

This was done by 2 communities, especially the Kalinge, the Kalinge community being the one that was perceived as being the instigator of the violence, because the president was a Kalinge, and then the Kikuyu were basically the ones that suffered a lot. Many communities suffered equally, but the Kikuyu, because of their number, it was perceived that they were the ones targeted simply because the leaders of the Kikuyu community were among the forefront of the oppositions. . The actual president was like the head of the opposition, M. Kobeki, who is now the president, and he is a Kikuyu and because of that the Kikuyu suffered more than other communities, although other also communities suffered. The leaders were Kikuyus and they were also Kalinge. There's a lady called Rosebama Masai who was a Kalinge who knew about the value of maintaining peace and who had in the same team my colleague, George Washita who also knew the value of building peace into ???. Both of them teamed together and were part and parcel of the team that was intervening and delivering food, but their work as I describe it was to look at how to build confidence and trust among the people in view of their relationships. The phase of food delivery and material assistance took a long time, 2 years, but at the same time workshops began being organized from the peace angle with members of each community. Of course, the hate rate and anger were still very fresh but as I said some voices of reason were emerging in that kind of a context. After 2 years, we started doing joint meeting and the outgrowth.

Q: I'm sorry, for 2 years you were doing just humanitarian assistance and looking for peace builders before you even did any dialogue or anything like that?

A: Of course, the dialogue is ongoing, but it is not structured in a manner that you can see, and holistically engaging the whole community, you are doing a series of dialogues, several actually, separately in separate communities that are affected differently.

Q: 2 years!

A: Yes, it took long and what happened is that while you are doing those dialogues and doing the humanitarian assistance, you are building trust with the communities and they saw you coming and being sympathetic for them on both sides, so when you come talk about peace, it's not theories. They have seen you in practice being sympathetic toward their case by really giving what they needed at that time, so they can listen to you with double attention because they know you are genuine. That was the purpose of building a peace team within the humanitarian aid itself, and building that trust. Then what happened was the emergence of an organization that wasn't totally depending upon the headquarters of the NCCK, it was like an independent organization that emerged with the sole purpose of dealing with this issue of conflict. This became very good for us to relate to as we had the commonality of vision and we provided as an organization that has been working long with the issue of peace, building a framework of intervention. The organization had changed it's phase from humanitarian assistance to rehabilitation. At that time we were thinking about rebuilding the destroyed schools and about rebuilding people's houses that were burned, but it's not a problem in the development but it is in the interim action of going on building people's houses. Some people originally had a house with grass on top and then got these nice hind sheets on the house. It brought a lot of friction with the Kalinge community because they were building the house of Kikuyu and they were better than what they were before, and they were saying, "We who have been here and with them don't have anything," It brought a lot of problems, so we [NPI] addressed

Q: You mean NPI?

A: Yes, we'll make a difference. We had NCCK, who has created the organization to deal with peace and conflict issues, which was very separate from NPI. NPI became like a technical advisor. I'm using that term with a lot of caution. It's not really a technical advisor but an accompanier.