Monday, 18 March 2013

Indigenous Knowledge on Conflict Resolution Mechanisms...

Kenyan communities have traditional structures for maintaining peace and managing conflict. They have ways and means of initiating dialogue between conflicting groups, in which elders of the disagreeing parties come together at a joint meeting. After an incident, council of elders of the fighting communities meet separately to discuss the possibility of agreeing to meet the opponents at a joint forum.
A peace emissary is usually adorned in a manner that portrays him to the enemy that he is bringing in their midst, a message of reconciliation. Such emissaries are never supposed to be attacked or killed because that is perceived by many communities as taboo.
Once both parties agree on the date and venue, of the reconciliation meeting, elders of the involved groups come together for a dialogue. Usually such encounters result in a peace deal and agreements for coexistence. While coming to such negotiations, both groups bring food and drinks.  A white and blameless animal is then slaughtered by the offending party, to be shared across the divide. There are traditional also objects among communities usually used during such peace negotiations.

Turkana gourd
Turukana Gourd

Was used to carry and store milk. During Peace meetings, milk was shared among the two parties having conflict. It was believed that milk was a sign of peace. 

Borana Coffee bowl
Coffee inside the bowl was roasted then shared between the warring communities as a sign of peace.

Borana Coffee Bowl.

Borana Headrest/stool
Was used to sit on during peace meetings.

Borana Headrest/Stool.

Cowries’ shell Belt

The belt is normally worn by women during peace negotiations.  The cowries on the belt signify peace.

Maintaining Peaceful Co-existence
The communities regulate grazing pastures that fall within their own territories as a way of minimizing conflicts. This is important as it alternates the use of pastures in a way that reduces chances of exhausting territorial ones. Once this happens, there are minimal chances of having to move into the neighbours territories in search of grass and water. In some instances, the flock is separated into watering points and pastures so that the utilization is controlled. Watering is also alternated between stock owners to avoid conflict between individuals and groups. 

Turkana – Samburu Peace meeting.

Compensation meeting among Gabrra.


Peace building is a community activity and that peace work is defined and initiated from the grassroots level. Peace workers must enlist community participation to rebuild, from conceptualisation through planning, and finally to undertaking the various peace activities. This approach acknowledges that peace building is an organic process. It ensures community support and legitimacy for peace work. When members of the community take ownership of peace processes, peace is sustainable, and fracture is repairable. In most cases, peace workers did not concentrate on defining victims and culprits in the initial period of the peace processes. Instead, they concerned themselves with building bridges to include as many community members as possible. The role of women in peace building should not be underscored. They define the right moment and strategies for intervention. Their efforts were complemented by other stakeholders, particularly the male elders.

BY: Audia Atogo
Cultural Heritage Department,
National Museums of Kenya. 


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