“Peace is an action of transformed thinking”: A community change agent in Kenya makes peace her life's work
Asked what she does for a living, Elizabeth Kalany’s answer is an emphatic, “My work is peace.” It is this selfless pursuit of togetherness and harmony that drives Mama Amani, as she is known in her community, to set an example for others. She also draws conviction to the cause from a harrowing personal experience, in which her nephew was robbed and killed by Gabra youth while out herding goats.
“All my life,” Mama Amani shares, “I have watched the Gabra and Dassenach fight, be it stealing each other’s animals, or even going as far as killing each other. I have made it my life’s mission to work toward finally bringing these two communities together. For the last 20 years, I have been a beneficiary of many peace and conflict resolution trainings, from many organizations, which is why I say my work is peace.”
Elizabeth is among 200 community change agents who work with Pact’s SEEK project to mitigate conflicts and promote social cohesion along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. She credits recent progress to SEEK and its consortium partner Strategies for Northern Development (SND).
For one, Elizabeth recounts, women from the Gabra and Dassenach communities are coming together, meeting monthly to discuss how best to encourage peaceful habits at the household level. “We want to see our youth using their time and energy on positive activities, not instigating violence or stealing from others,” she says. “As the center of the home, we mothers have a lot of influence over our children. If your own home is in shambles, then there can be no expectation for the rest of the community to change. It is our hope that as women, we can contribute in our own way to teaching our youth the value of peaceful coexistence.”
Outside the home, peace activities involving the Dassenach and Gabra have mainly focused on promoting an environment for meaningful dialogue, from which it is hoped that past conflict between the two communities can be put to rest. SEEK, through SND, has had some success in fostering this dialogue, which in turn has led to a significant act of good faith. In December, boundary partners from the Dassenach community recovered donkeys belonging to the Gabra. They handed over the animals to the North Horr police in Marsabit, so that the donkeys could be returned to their owners. According to the police, this was the first time that the Dassenach voluntarily returned animals belonging to the Gabra community. This is proof that consistent inter- and intra-community dialogues facilitated by SEEK have borne fruit.
Elizabeth shares, “When we got word that donkeys from the Gabra had strayed into Illeret, we as Dassenach met internally – the women and elders – to discuss how best to handle the matter. Shortly after, the elders and I – the only woman – personally went out in search of the donkeys, found them and handed them over to the chief at Illeret. From that point, plans to return the animals to their rightful owners were initiated.”
The handover event took place in Dukana, considered “middle ground,” as it sits between Illeret (Dassenach territory) and North Horr (Gabra territory).
“What is striking about this event is that the Dassenach went out of their way to find these donkeys and return them to the Gabra without threats or conditions,” says Salat Wario, a program officer for SND. “At a time when drought is fast approaching, this action gives us hope that the two communities can come together to share resources without conflict. We’re also glad to see that community-police interaction has improved, as the donkeys were first delivered to the Illeret police station for custody, and then to the North Horr police, as plans to hand them over to their owners were underway.”
Elizabeth’s parting shot is as profound as it is true. She says, “I believe that lacking education and information really does contribute to backward thinking. If we can transform how we think or reason, then there is a better chance for our communities to change their ways, and value both human lives and the need to keep the peace.”
For the past three years, Pact’s SEEK project (Selam Ekisil), which is funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, has worked to mitigate potential conflict and foster peaceful coexistence along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. Through SEEK, Pact and its local partners are addressing root causes of violence and helping communities to the lead the way in building lasting conflict management systems and institutions.