The Concept Peace Committee
A Snapshot Analysis of the Concept Peace Committee in Relation to Peacebuilding Initiatives in Kenya
by Mohamud Adan and Ruto Pkalya
Peace committees use both traditional and modern conflict intervention mechanisms to prevent, manage or transform intra-ethnic or interethnic conflicts. They have been instrumental in peace-building efforts in Kenya's drylands, and are credited for reducing tension and improving the intercommunity relations. However, despite their successes, Peace Committees face a number of challenges, including the lack of a legal framework, lack of volunteers, funding, and ethnicity and political interference. This report examines these challenges, and makes a number of recommendations.
Over the years, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists communities in Kenya have endured a myriad of problems ranging from socio-economic marginalization to severe and frequent conflicts over natural resources. Of these problems afflicting these segment of populations, conflict has been singled out as the main bottleneck to the development of these rangelands that accounts for over 80% of the total Kenyan land mass.
Peace activists have been quick in blaming the government for failing to protect its citizens as well as their properties. It has been pointed out more often than not that the state is either unwilling or incapable of securing the safety of its citizens, their properties and national borders. Out of this realisation and in their own volition, communities in conflict prone areas have resorted to their own community driven efforts to prevent and manage conflict between them and their neighbours including those in the neighbouring countries.
The formation of district peace and development committees, a community driven conflict management structure/institution, has been one of such commendable community efforts to promote peaceful coexistence in society as well as fill the security void left by the government in conflict prone areas in Kenya.
Peace committees are largely a hybrid structure, borrowing heavily from traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and the modern formal dispute arbitration processes. Although there is no unanimous definition of the concept peace committee as it relates to local level peace building activities, it can be defined and or described as a conflict intervention structure that integrates both traditional and modern conflict intervention mechanisms to prevent, manage or transform intra-ethnic or interethnic conflicts. Its evolution and genesis could be traced to local level peace building initiatives in Wajir in early 1990s culminating to the establishment of the Wajir Peace and Development Committee (WPDC) in 1995. Other similar efforts began to take shape in North Eastern, Upper Eastern, Coast (Tana River district) and North Rift regions in late 1990s.
As incipient and elusive as it is, this short report sought to understand, critically analyse and offer some suggestions for strengthening district peace and development committees in Kenya so as to enable the committees function effectively and efficiently.
The methodology used in this analysis included literature review, participatory peace committee meetings, workshops, participant observation and interviews with some peace committee members and other stakeholders. This analysis also paid particular emphasis to Samburu, Wajir and Tana River peace committees' evolution, structure and activities.
This analysis found out that peace committees have been very instrumental in peace building efforts in the Kenya's drylands. They are credited for reducing tension and improving the intercommunity relations.
Despite of the commendable efforts accredited to Peace Committees, they have not been spared of avalanches of challenges. Lack of a legal and policy framework to secure the work of peace committees across the country has been the main challenge confronting these incipient communities based peace-building structures. Peace committees are thus regarded as ad hoc illegitimate arrangements to prevent communal conflicts. Any clever criminal or person can successfully challenge the existence and ruling of peace committees in a court of law.
Lack of volunteerism amongst peace committee members is another challenge. Traditional systems of dispute resolutions were anchored on volunteerism but some members of peace committees devote their time to the endeavours of the committee purely for materialistic gains. When such gains are not forthcoming, members tend to withdraw from the activities of the committees. Others use it as a political stepping-stone for elective positions in society.
Closely related to above has been the challenge of funding. Peace building dialogues and related activities do a time require some facilitation especially when peace actors are expected to travel long distances away from their homes. This calls for regular funding but in most cases; this has not been forthcoming thereby inhibiting the work of peace committees.
Ethnicity and political interferences has equally constrained the work of peace committees. The problem is more acute in cosmopolitan districts where different communities/ethnic groups find it difficult to accept a member from a given ethnic group to chair the committee for it is feared such a chair might pursue the interests of his/her ethnic group at the expense of the other ethnic groups. In most cases, and out of this fear, neutral persons, and mostly District Commissioners have been prevailed upon to chair some peace committees as the case of Mandera attest. Politicians have also infiltrated peace committees where they lobby for inclusion of their sympathisers as leaders of the committee.
Other challenges confronting peace committees include but not limited to gender and age insensitivity in its membership and activities, lack of capacity to intervene in inter-district and cross-border conflicts, lack of an enforcement capacity and mechanisms for its resolutions, tension between traditional institutions of conflict management and the peace committees and uncoordinated structure and activities of the committees.
To remedy the alluded challenges above, this report makes a number of recommendations. First, there is a critical need to legitimise peace committees through legislations and policy frameworks. At minimum, the government should come up with a policy document and legal framework that not only institutionalise and secure the role of peace committees but also provides it with "teeth" to enforce its resolutions.
Such a policy and legal framework should also provide for the harmonization of the structures, office bearers (including their titles) and activities of peace committees across the country. A body that links grassroots' peace committees and national peace building structures should be put in place.
Government and development agencies should also allocate resources to district peace committees. Regular budget will not only strengthen the work of the committees but will also go a long way in cushioning it against external manipulations. As part of their contribution, members of peace committees should also uphold the important virtue of volunteerism and the desire to use their Godgiven skills to serve the community.
The capacities of peace committees to intervene in conflicts that involve more than one district including cross-border conflicts should be strengthened. Collaboration between different peace committees including sharing of intelligence information is expected to boost the capacity of peace committees to rein on as number of culprits. Where tenable, cross-border peace committees should also be established and strengthened. Regional policies and legal frameworks should also be reviewed and harmonized.
Last but not least, pastoralists and other communities should promote peaceful coexistence including sharing of dwindling resources as one sure way of upholding peace. This will go a long way in helping peace committees go a notch higher in their endevours.