How interfaith slums peace initiative saved lives

Kibera Inter Faith Peace Forum members after a peace workshop. Picture: Odhiambo Orlale
Kibera Inter Faith Peace Forum members after a peace workshop. Picture: Odhiambo Orlale

Community and inter-faith leaders in Nairobi’s informal settlements, like Kibera and Mathare, played a big role in promoting peace before, during and after the August 8 General Election.

The leaders, who were about 40 benefited from an inter-faith initiative to hold peace forums and workshops throughout the informal settlements, targeting the youth who remain vulnerable to being used to create mayhem.

The team was led by Reverend Lilian Kamau of Jamhuri Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), who was the chairperson of the Kibera Inter-faith Forum, and secretary Reverend Evan Mutamba of Nairobi Baptist Church (NBC), Kibera branch. The peace trainings and forums were conducted in Kibera, Mathare, Dandora, Mukuru, Kawangware, Kayole and Korogocho among other slums in Nairobi City County.

The 40 peace ambassadors later played a big role in their respective churches, mosques and neighbourhoods in convincing the residents to carry out their civic duty of casting their vote and maintaining peace after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) released the results which were later nullified by the Supreme Court.

Since then the peace ambassadors have hit the ground running, picking up from where they left off as the country braces for another fresh round of a presidential election scheduled for October 26.

In an earlier interview, Kamau recalled that the peace initiatives in Kibra started after the formation of Kibera Pastors’ Forum at the end of last year. The first meeting was convened by area Member of Parliament Kenneth Okoth, who has since been re-elected.

They later held several meetings to find ways in which leaders in Kibra could contribute meaningfully to the needs of the residents and the county as a whole.

The Forum took a non-partisan position to unite both the community and political players. Peace became evident in the area and pastors through Reverend Dr Moses Wangila volunteered to train fellow pastors in peace-building using the healing of wounds of ethnic conflict model that was used in Rwanda.

According to Kamau the experience had some high moments. She notes: “The high moments were noted during the healing of wounds of ethnic conflict trainings for pastors, community leaders (Nyumba Kumi), civil society representatives working in Kibera, chiefs and youths in Kibera came together.”

Another was seeing people embracing peace talks and willing to be involved peace building within the community.

A case in point was cited of Waweru and Mwangi, from Laini Saba village, who were part of the team to Rwanda. After they returned, the duo held several talks with the community members from their respective areas in an initiative that boosted peaceful co-existence in their area.

“This was evident in the way that their area responded calmly and with restrain after IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati announced the presidential election results,” says Kamau.

Another success was noted when Kibera pastors embraced the idea of supporting the initiative financially to enable other pastors from other slums to be trained.

According to Kamau, the post-election scenario in Kibera was a test of all the activities they had done in the sprawling settlements. “The fact that there were some skirmishes in Sarang’ombe Village almost discouraged some of the peace ambassadors but they were encouraged that it did not go on for long and peace was restored.”

Overall, the peace initiative was a success going by the prevailing general peace in Kibera, one of the five wards in Kibra Constituency. It was notable that four were very peaceful throughout the electioneering period.

According to Mutamba, May 2016 was very unique and heart-troubling time for him during the height of the controversial anti-Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) protests and demonstrations.

Says Mutamba: “That was the time I was brought to realise how dangerous violence can be. During that time several houses in Kibra were torched and a number of people died, besides those who were wounded and lost property.”

After normalcy and tranquillity had returned, Mutamba knew from deep within his heart that something had to be done. The perpetual violence and volatile state in Kibra and other informal settlement areas had to come to an end and somebody or institution had to lead the process.

The Nairobi Baptist Church Kibera pastor then joined his colleagues to address the problem by organising peace workshops from September to July 2017 with the full backing of Christian, Muslim and Government officials in Kibra before spreading it to 10 other informal settlements in Nairobi.

The programme was supported by Nairobi Baptist Church Ngong Road, Centre for Transformation Mission, Inawezekana, National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK) and the Kibera Pastors’ Forum among others.

Another high moment was during their meetings with Reverend Calisto Odede, Senior Pastor of Nairobi Baptist Church who fully supported and encouraged them fully.

Says Mutamba: “However, there were several moments of discouragement, the worst was when people made frantic calls at midnight on August 14 when Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner of the presidential elections which led to protest in parts of Kibera, Nairobi and Nyanza.” He added: “When I spoke to the Administration Police Commandant, he failed to assure me of any help. I felt helpless and completely devastated by the response I got from the security agencies.”

Mutamba says the other low moment was when some Sarang’ombe village residents called him crying for food as they were starving. “It was hard to believe how a mother and her children had locked themselves in the house for fear of being beaten or even shot at as they starved,” he says.

On the brighter side, the biggest success was when they were able to work with youth leaders and ensured that they moved away from the roads and stopped protesting.

All the other slums remained largely peaceful with the exception of Mathare Valley in Mathare constituency, where police were accused of high-handedness and killing a 10 year-old schoolgirl who was playing on the balcony of her parents’ home.

The peace initiative team later organised food donations from their congregants which were donated to victims of the violence through the Kenya Red Cross Society.

Meanwhile, plans by the Forum were in top gear to come up with another peace programme to address the youths living in informal settlements to shun violence and promote tolerance as well as peaceful co-existence no matter who wins the second round of the presidential elections.

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