"The bitterness, it comes from inequality"

Interview with Daniel Kiptugen, Oxfam's Peace and Reconciliation Officer.

Since the crisis broke out in Kenya, Oxfam's Peace and Reconciliation Officer Daniel Kiptugen has been working in the western town of Eldoret which has been badly hit by the violence. Daniel and his colleagues have been preventing attacks and resolving conflicts at the community level, using techniques developed in projects across the country.  

Can you give an example of the work you've been doing since the crisis broke out?

Yes, there was the case of this couple, both of them very sick.  Some of the local youth were about to burn down the shelter these people were living in. The couple sent a message that I should go and intervene.  They said they would rather be burned down than be moved from there. So I went with two of the Elders from the community and had a discussion with the youth. I told them they had to respect the sanctity of human life. I asked them where they expected this couple to go, and I asked how they would like it if they or their family members were put in this kind of situation? So these guys really felt ashamed. I looked at the couple and their children, the poverty levels they were living in and I was really touched. I talked to one of our partner organisations and organised for them to be moved somewhere safer where there were food supplies.

What do you think is really behind the current violence?

Well in this case, the youth thought maybe the couple had been allocated their land unfairly, by outsiders.  When we look at the causes of conflicts, it's not simply what some people are saying, ethnic clashes. It's really about poverty, about resources. In Eldoret, there are a lot of disputes over land, and over the allocation of funds and support from the centre. Who are they going to? Who are they not going to? Yes there is an ethnic aspect, but it's more than that. Many people are coming to towns seeking employment but they can't get it, they can't get resources. Then despondency becomes ire.  Around here we have a lot of out-of -school youth who have no jobs. They have nothing to do and they don't know how to channel their energy.  The bitterness, it comes from inequality, lack of job opportunities. The elections provided people with an opportunity to vent their anger and frustration, but the anger was already

 REUTERS/Noor Khamis. Courtesy: alertnet.org

Were you surprised at the scale of the violence?

I must say I really think it could have been a lot worse. We had been working with other agencies on contingency plans for all outcomes.  By putting in place some early warning and response plans, we managed to react, and in some cases avoid the worst. We've been looking at what are some of the potential hotspots, seeing how information can be relayed, information that can be used to manage conflict.  We have used Elders to stop some of the warriors; we've asked government to increase security presence and asked those who have arms to lay them down.

What do you think needs to happen now to resolve Kenya's crisis?

Well our leaders must do all they can to bring about peace. The people who have political leadership are a key trigger of the violence, and yet the people who are seriously impacted are the poorest of the poorest. Corruption has really entrenched itself and people are angry, why should some get land while others are landless?  We need equity, justice and socially responsible leadership. We need more transparency, accountability and proper governance systems in place.

But we also believe that 'small wins' at the local level can be replicated and scaled up to national level. If we have small initiatives where warring communities can look into how they can co-exist, the approaches can be shared and spread. It's about mixing traditional forms of conflict resolution with modern government and legal processes. It's about promoting dialogue  - not just a normal dialogue but a problem-solving dialogue where communities isolate the key issues that are causing the problems.  It's about getting everyone involved and giving them a say, especially women and young people. This is the kind of work we are doing through district Peace and Development committees.

Are you hopeful that Kenya can come through this?

Well I have to be hopeful, because being optimistic is a 'success multiplier'. We are just hoping the tensions will subside and we are able to identify change movers' in whatever government comes out of all this.