Woman carves a niche in resolving armed conflict
For Zainab Ali persistence is an attribute that she has championed over the years and today she is reaping the dividends.
Fifty four year old Ali has spent many years trying to end clan conflicts in her native Garissa County, and her efforts are bearing fruit.
Tired of the numerous armed conflicts in Northern Kenya where youthful tribal militias roam; stealing, pillaging and disrupting movement of people and goods, she decided that this must come to a stop and is doing something about it.
Ali began her work by first mobilising women from the various clans in Garissa County and together they crafted a way of engaging the warring communities and bringing them to the negotiating table where issues that fanned conflicts were ironed out.
“It was difficult bringing them together because even the women were abusing and accusing each other. I decided to focus on the fact that their sons were dying like fleas in the armed zones and hence the need to stop the madness,” says Ali who is also the chairperson of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation in Garissa County. Ali also doubles up as the chairperson of the peace committee.
Before such interventions, there was no solution to the conflicts as each clan supported and armed its militia making peace-making efforts difficult, with elders playing the role of instigators rather than peace makers and mediators.
Activities in many trading centres came to a halt with schools and local markets closing and residents moving with their livestock to areas outside Garissa County in search of safety and security.
Once they were mobilised, the women from the warring clans decided they would be meeting once a day during which time they would come up with ideas that to bring the warring sides together. The women agreed to form an inter-communal women peace building committee with the task of community engagement and mobilisation and reaching out to the armed youths who were waging the bloody conflict.
“I knew that if I talked to the women from the various clans, we could find a solution despite the differences and grudges that were fuelling the violence,” explains Ali.
She managed to convince the women to help stop the violence by demobilizing armed youth and leave outstanding issues to a broader committee that would be formed by the two warring clans.
Ali was excited when she got any opportunity to participate in radio programmes meant to empower women and youth as well as improve their chances in leadership because she knew the influence held by the two constituencies who were marginalized by cultural systems.
“I know the potential held by women and youth. I participated in the radio programme and reminded the community how women came forward and brought a solution to conflict when elders were fanning violence and the youth were used in causing bloodbath,” explains Ali. She says: “This helped in shaping the public opinion and ensuring women and young people are engaged in political leadership both at county and National Assembly so that they can articulate issues affecting the community in Garissa.”
Ali notes that the cultural system ignored them when they were searching for peace and only came to accept to participate in peace talks when the Garissa community endorsed the peace process spearheaded by women.
“They despised us and said we were crazy but they were forced to join us and support the peace process after seeing immense community support toward the women led peace process,” says Ali. She notes: “I am happy today they have responded to our various campaigns and now women and young people are allowed to participate in Geedha gatherings.”
According to Ali, they should seize the opportunity although the battle is not yet over.
Ali says the organisation has supported and equipped many women with skills at village level to address triggers of armed conflict and use their power in influencing elders and men in fighting outdated cultural practices and abuses which demoralise women and deny them opportunity of seeking leadership and participating in local decision making process.
“We want women to learn from the women-led peace making process and know their potential as well as use it to engage men at village and border areas in fighting women rights violations,” she reiterates.
However, her efforts to bring peace may be undermined by the fact that some of the youth who are usually used as combatants during armed conflict cannot continue with their education due to lack of school fees.
For instance, Sheikh Abdi sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCP) examinations last year and was full of optimism. His ambition to proceed to high school and later train as an accountant hangs in the balance.
His poor parents have not been able to raise the required fee to enable him transit to secondary school despite scoring 350 marks in the exams.
“I have tried to help him access bursary but he has not been successful. The bursary committees are very corrupt. They are giving bursaries to able parents after being bribed,” says an agitated Ali.
She remembers a case where money meant for a needy girl was diverted to pay fee for a nephew of a local member of the county assembly. “No amount of protests would make them give the needy girl her allocation from the bursary kitty” Ali notes.
She says the bursaries are not reaching needy cases which undermine their purpose. A lot of poor but bright students are wasting away in the villages yet the government has provided money for such cases.
She has vowed to continue pestering the elected leadership to ensure only deserving cases get help.
“Those corrupt officials must be kicked out and replaced by honest people for things to change,” she says.
Only through social justice can some of the problems facing the region, such as armed conflicts, be eradicated.
Though she may not know, Ali is in actual fact implementing the landmark UN Security Resolution 1325 that calls for women to sit on peace negotiation tables as well as be allowed in peace building and post-conflict restoration.