IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail is currently in Kenya laying the groundwork for an election violence prevention project, with partner organization Cissta Kenya.
“Karibu Kenya!” announced the flight attendant as we landed on the tarmac at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. The air is cool and sticky as I make my way through the double doors of the arrival gate and see Jane, the director of our partner organization Cissta Kenya, standing in the very front with a warm, excited smile on her face. Cissta Kenya is a community-based, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization based in the Nairobi slum communities of Mathare, Korogocho and Kibera.
As we head to the hotel, Jane and Olouch (Cissta’s program officer) fill me in on the current political sensation caused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments of four of Kenya’s top political officials for crimes against humanity following elections in 2007. The post-election violence left over 1,000 people dead and an estimated 300,000 displaced.
The city is abuzz with furious debate, particularly about the charges against two presidential candidates — Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto — for crimes against humanity, and many of my first conversations center on this. Despite calls from civil society groups that Kenyatta and Ruto resign and not run in the elections, they have refused and appealed the ICC charges. On February 2, the constitutional court barred further discussion on the matter until February 17, when it will hear a case that could block them from running for the presidency.
We begin the week meeting with organizations and networks working on violence prevention and peacebuilding in Nairobi, both in and around the communities Cissta is working in. As we embark on our project, it is important to ensure that our efforts complement and work in concert with what is already being done in Kenya. At the community level there is essential work going on, and we are connecting with those groups so that Cissta Kenya can work with them and share resources in their sister communities. The IPJ was invited to partner with Cissta Kenya to build the capacity of local volunteers — in the particularly vulnerable slum communities mentioned above — in community conflict resolution, violence prevention and mobilization, especially in the lead up to the next presidential elections.
While continuing our meetings with local organizations and groups, we undertook a baseline survey in Mathare, Korogocho and Kibera to gain an understanding of community perceptions of violence, safety and the role they see for the community in keeping themselves safe. These assessments will enable the Cissta teams to focus their training and mobilization on the particular needs of each community. I had the opportunity to sit in on some of the focus groups and am astounded by the energy and passion of participants. Some of the discussions continued entire afternoons as participants discussed the struggles for trust in their communities, and the frustration of young people who are faced with unemployment, thus remaining idle and easy prey for vigilante groups.
Motivated by the expressed desire of the baseline survey participants for continued dialogue like the forums, I head into this next week excited to see how the Cissta volunteers respond to the training of trainers — and how it will help them take this forward and accompany their communities in the journey toward stability, accountability and peace in Kenya.