Category Archives: Kenya

Longing for Justice

Report from IPJ Editor Emiko Noma


When I first caught up with IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Luz Méndez at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, I gave her a hug and admired her scarf (we really like scarves around the always-chilly IPJ). It was purple, black and white, and matched beautifully with her outfit — she was distinguished as always. An hour later as I watched a film on the work she has been involved in lately, I realized her accessory was the same worn by one of the 15 indigenous women in Guatemala who made history in September of last year. More on that in a moment.


There is an urgency to this year’s CSW. Perhaps because of the theme: the elimination and prevention of violence against women — a topic which has finally received much more glare from the media as of late. As many as one in three women worldwide will be victims of violence in their lifetimes — an alarming statistic. The chair of the opening session we attended, hosted by UNDP and the Huariou Commission, called attention to the “unprecedented participation” in this year’s commission, including over 6,000 NGOs and their representatives in attendance. There is the urgent sense that this is the time to make change.


But the pressing need for change has been tempered in session after session by a longer view. All week, a quote made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr. kept ringing in my mind: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”


Take the recent timeline of Guatemala and the work of Luz, who spoke on numerous panels, including the IPJ’s, throughout the week:


1960: A brutal internal armed conflict begins, hastened by the CIA-backed overthrow of a democratically elected government. Sexual violence is used as a tactic of war.


1996: Peace accords are signed.


1997: Luz leads the revival of the Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas (UNAMG).


Luz protesting violence against women, along with members of UNAMG

1999: The Historical Clarification Commission documents that 89 percent of the rapes committed during the internal armed conflict were against Mayan women.


2004: Several women’s organizations, including UNAMG, begin to identify and work with women survivors of sexual violence during the war. Soon, the Alianza Rompiendo el Silencío y la Impunidad is formed by UNAMG in partnership with two other organizations.[1] The alliance seeks to strengthen women’s agency through gender awareness raising and psychosocial support, as well as developing litigation strategies and providing technical support in court.


2009: A three-year research project aimed at building historical memory results in the first book of its kind, Tejidos que lleva el alma: Memorias de las mujeres mayas sobrevivientes de violencia sexual durante el conflicto armado,[2] or “Weavings of the Soul: Memories of Maya Women Survivors of Sexual Violence During the Armed Conflict.”


2010: UNAMG and partner organizations hold the Court of Conscience for Women Survivors of Sexual Violence During the Armed Conflict, a strategy to offer its participants access to “symbolic justice.”


And finally, in 2012, the long arc of history for 15 indigenous women kept bending toward justice. The women testified in a pre-trial hearing before the national court in Guatemala, charging that the military held them at a base and kept them for their “recreation.” The women were sexual slaves for six years. These were the first testimonies of their kind to be heard in a national court — an historic moment for the women of Guatemala and an initial step to end impunity for these kinds of crimes, but one that was years in the making.


For those whose lives are now being destroyed by rampant sexual violence, however, the King quote offers little consolation. As one participant remarked in a session on grassroots communities accessing justice, “If you want to make a quick change, make a law.” There is no guarantee that law will be implemented. How can these women get justice now? Is the hope of justice in the long arc of the moral universe enough?


(l-r) Elisabeth Rehn of Finland, IPJ Interim Executive Director Dee Aker, Luz Méndez, and IPJ Program Officer Jennifer Freeman at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

Throughout the week, our minds were also in Kenya, where ICC-indicted politicians were leading in the polls, where our colleague and our peacemaker from Sierra Leone monitored the election and count, and where three of our peacemakers were doing their part to keep the peace. For the victims of the 2007-8 electoral violence — and for those who experienced sexual abuse and rape as part of that period of violence — have they found any justice? When can they expect it? Can they assume they will get it if their next president and his running mate are wanted for crimes against humanity by the ICC?


And what does justice even mean for those survivors? “For many years sexual violence against women was the hidden dimension of the war in Guatemala,” Luz explained. “When we began to break the silence on those crimes, the group of 15 indigenous women courageously stressed, ‘We don’t want to die without getting justice.’” Justice for the indigenous women who testified was two-fold: that they could speak publicly about the crimes committed against them, and that the crimes would never happen again.
Justice means different things to different survivors, but just as long as the arc may be will be the longing for that justice. As Luz reiterates, “We all know that we still have a hard road to walk. However, it is the survivors’ tenacity, together with the alliance’s strong determination to achieve gender justice and gender equality, that is the source of our hope and strength” — which is why Luz wore the scarf of the indigenous women all week long.

[1] Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP) and Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM).

[2] Fulchiron, A., et al (2009). Tejidos que lleva el alma: Memorias de las mujeres mayas sobrevivientes de violencia sexual durante el conflicto armado. Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial, Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas. Guatemala: F&G Editores.

Police-Youth Forum in Kenya Bridges Fears and Marks Next Steps Toward Peaceful Elections

By Zahra Ismail, IPJ Program Officer


“I’ve never been in the same room as a police officer — and it’s terrifying,” confided a youth participant as our police-youth forum began.


The moment had finally arrived for bringing the young people involved in our electoral violence prevention project together with police, two key groups who fought pitched battles following the 2007 elections. The IPJ, in partnership with Cissta Kenya and Chemchemi Ya Ukweli, organized the forum on November 20 and 21. Youth from Korogocho, Kibera and Mathare had the opportunity to build bridges and collaborate with civil society organizations, high-level government officials and, most importantly, the police.


My arrival in Kenya was accompanied by an explosion of violence and escalating tensions between citizens and the police. The gruesome extrajudicial killing of a young man in one of Nairobi’s slum communities by two police officers came on the heels of a massacre of 42 police officers in the northwest of the country during a raid on a gang of cattle rustlers. In the same week, the vetting of officers for the top two posts in the Kenyan police force commenced, with recommendations heading to the president and prime minister’s offices for a final decision. Commentators on all fronts noted the importance of this selection, pointing to the dysfunction of the national police force in countering violence in recent months. The press was full of allegations of corruption, human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, failed inquiries and lost public trust.


Our forum opened with inspirational words from 2012 IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Alice Nderitu, a commissioner in Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). “As the politicians build their alliances, we need to build ours,” she noted, urging the youth to come together and organize rather than antagonize. “We must not get caught up in messages of hate but speak up for each other and organize for a peaceful future together.”


Youth present their proposed activites to address the fear of the police

This message carried on throughout the two days as participants voiced their fears, anger and frustration, while also being asked to challenge their views and think about their own biases.


“Heal the Nation,” a documentary developed by the group Picha Mtaani (whose curated photography exhibit is currently on display at the IPJ), was screened during the forum, providing an eyewitness account of the violence that erupted after the December 2007 elections. Participants reflected on where they were at the time — and what they were doing. Many spoke of the fear they felt, while others shared how they had participated in the violence. Others voiced the need to be prepared for the upcoming elections.


Asked by Picha Mtaani facilitator Peter Mudamba how many of them thought there would be violence on March 4, 2013, the date of the next elections, more than half raised their hands. In the silence that followed, Mudamba quietly asked, “Who suffers if we engage in violence amongst ourselves? Who pays the price?”


Officer Ngumo addresses the participants

The day continued with a panel, including Administrative Police Officer Richard Ngumo, who explained in detail the community policing process designed to respond to the tensions of the prior polls. He later replied to some of the issues raised by youth participants, promising to speak with others to address the specific challenges they identified. “This is really good by the way, what we have started here today,” he noted. “Young people must find ways to work with the police. We need to do much more of this.”His sentiments were echoed by speaker after speaker, including Tom Kagwe from the Independent Police Oversight Authority, Caleb Wauga from Usalama Reforms Forum, and Guyo Liban from the NCIC. Liban appealed to youth to get involved in ensuring free and fair elections — but moreover, peaceful elections. “No single institution can prevent violence in 2013,” he shared. “It is a collaborative work, and it is up to each and every Kenyan — including those of you in this room — to take action for peaceful elections.”


As is typical for such events, there was much sharing of what the other side should be doing. However, at this forum, each speaker acknowledged the faults and challenges of its own side. “It is not enough to point fingers,” Wauga told those gathered. “We must recognize that we don’t always understand the appropriate processes, and what is going on for the other.”


As the forum came to a close, one of the youth participants rose to share his thoughts from the two days. “We need more opportunities to interact with the people we fear,” he said. “This forum was very unique in providing such an opportunity, and we need to take that and build on it.”


Coming together was only the beginning. Plans for further collaboration between police and youth at the local level were developed during the two days, with a commitment and request from the youth to implement them over the next few months. Intended activities include police-youth soccer matches, trainings by youth for the police on nonviolence, joint peace walks and facilitated dialogue sessions between the youth and police.


As we move toward the March 2013 elections, the commitment and resolve of those willing to come together and take action will be tested. But only by communities and security agencies working with one another can attitudes change, behaviors shift and violence be prevented.


Update: Zahra Ismail, program officer, is in Kenya from February 28 to March 7 as a short-term election observer with the Carter Center’s International Election Observation Mission. Ismail heads the IPJ’s Kenya Violence Prevention Project, which builds community capacity in violence prevention in three vulnerable communities in Nairobi. Elections take place on March 4.

Violence Prevention Workshops Continue in Kenya

By IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail


I arrived in Nairobi excited to see and hear what transpired since my previous trip, when we conducted the training of trainers (ToT) in February in the communities of Mathare, Korogocho and Kibera. Meeting the Cissta volunteers who participated in the ToT, I found a group transformed, now confident in their role as facilitators, eager to move forward with the project and ready to take the reigns as leaders in their communities.


Cissta facilitator explaining the importance of thinking through responses to situations of violence

Enthusiastically, they shared the details of the trainings they facilitated over the month of March, introducing community members to conflict resolution and violence prevention skills. Recounting how well participants responded to the training, they relayed how many came forward wanting to know when they could attend further training. Building on that momentum, Cissta volunteers and I facilitated three workshops in each community, focused specifically on learning and practicing tools for preventing and responding to situations of violence.


Each workshop started with a mock scenario of a tense situation in which participants might find themselves. The scenarios highlighted how much feelings influence responses, and how having procedures in place can help us effectively respond to situations — especially dangerous ones — when they occur. In the debrief sessions which followed, participants shared the fear, anger or shock that arose, and in many cases expressed that they were ready for a fight, ready to jump right in. Others recounted their internal dialogue as they processed what was transpiring, and their desire to remain calm despite rising anger, knowing how quickly the situation could turn violent.


A participant shares the threats facing the community of Mathare

In the three communities where Cissta and the IPJ are working, day-to-day threats of violence include police brutality, murder, tribal conflict, theft, rape and drug abuse, many of which intensified following Kenya’s last elections. As the clock ticks toward the next presidential elections, set for March 4, 2013, tribal hostilities, armed gangs and politically charged rumors are already increasing tensions. Through our violence prevention project, we are supporting each community to develop procedures for preventing and responding to some of these issues before they spiral out of control.


As I leave Nairobi this second time, I am humbled by the challenges ahead, but also excited for what is to come. Seeing the participants shift from feeling helpless in the face of the violence to devising strategies and procedures for responding to it — and eagerly planning to do these same exercises with their own groups — left me holding my breath, anxious for what will transpire over the next months.

Laying Groundwork for Violence Prevention in Kenya

IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail is currently in Kenya laying the groundwork for an election violence prevention project, with partner organization Cissta Kenya.


IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail (center) walking from Mathare with Cissta volunteer Wakasa Barasa (left) and a community participant


“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.


Ismail in Kibera meeting with the director of Citizens Against Violence

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.




Program Officer Karla Alvarez Reports from Kenya

Alvarez is program officer for the IPJ’s WorldLink Program.


Karibu! Hello, my name is Mercy. Welcome to Daraja.”


Then came Faith, Joan, Molly, Everlyn, Hadija … until 77 warm hugs and bright smiles greeted me and the delegation of USD students and staff to the Daraja Academy in Nanyuki, Kenya. In partnership with USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), the IPJ’s WorldLink Program was invited to lead a series of workshops on leadership, gender, school success and global education at the secondary school.


Daraja, Swahili for “bridge,” was founded by educator and USD and WorldLink alum Jason Doherty, who wanted to provide an education for girls with limited means in Kenya. Three years ago, he and his wife Jenni selected the first 26 academically accomplished girls from across Kenya to comprise Form 1, the equivalent of freshman level in high school. Now, the campus thrives with 77 girls and 11 dedicated teachers.


It takes only a few hours to understand why these young women are referred to as WISH – Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope. Many of the Daraja students come from broken homes and extreme poverty. Were it not for Daraja’s free high school education – including meals, school supplies and room and board – they would likely remain in their hometowns not attending school and forced to work.


“There is a real hunger for education here,” shares one of the teachers. And it is visible everywhere on campus. A highly structured schedule means the girls begin with daily chores at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast at 7 and school for eight hours. An hour is provided for physical activity, followed by dinner and three hours of study hall. By 10 p.m., lights are turned off and the students return to their dorms.


Despite the long days, the girls are genuinely appreciative of a Daraja education. They enthusiastically wash clothes by hand, sort beans and clean the dining halls. They do not complain, or yearn for leisure time. Their limited spare time is usually spent studying.


Given Daraja’s goal to support young women’s pursuit of an education, the school provided a platform to continue building on WorldLink’s programmatic expansion. During the month of February, three M.A. students from SOLES worked with me to develop a documentary questionnaire and workshop. We then interviewed 15 Daraja students, learning about their families, values and goals for improving Kenya.


All 77 students then participated in a WorldLink workshop which explored their concerns on various social justice issues. The discussions highlighted frustration and concern over the lack of access to education, especially for young women, and limited job prospects in Kenya. However, the students are also acutely aware of their potential as youth and the role they play in the future of their country. They see education as the most vital step in improving their society and are committed to expanding opportunities for other young people’s education in order to create a wiser, stronger generation of youth to lead Kenya.


In the coming months, the WorldLink Interns will review the footage taken during my time in Kenya to create a documentary highlighting these young women’s stories and dedication to make a difference in their communities. Check the WorldLink page this summer for the video!