Conflict Monitoring Tool validation workshop for Western Kenya region was conducted on Thursday, October 12th, 2023 at the Victoria Comfort Inn Hotel in Kisumu. The primary objective of the validation exercise was to further the development and update of the Conflict Monitoring Tool (CMT) in the Western Kenya region. The forum brought together participants from Homabay, Siaya, Kisumu, Kakamega, and Bungoma counties. These participants had previously engaged in the research process, contributing through methods such as online surveys, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions.
The workshop commenced with an opening prayer led by Ms. Ruth Otieno followed by a session where participants introduced themselves. Subsequently, the research findings were presented followed by discussion of the findings. During the discussion phase, the level of participation was quite high, with unanimous agreement among participants that the outcomes effectively captured and addressed the majority of the issues raised during the initial research period.
The participants further argued that because conflict disrupts peace and security in their region they concur with the study results as most of those who undertook the study are peace practitioners with prior knowledge of the conflict dynamics in the region. The participants were apprehensive that CRTP was considerate of their pleas as peace practitioners to consider inviting them to validate the research findings since they participated in the initial data collection stages. As one of the participant stated that , ‘we are thankful to Hekima for listening to our views by inviting us again to validate the findings of this research as we had requested them during the data collection process and since we are peace practitioners in the regions we are always updated with a conflict situation at the grassroots levels.’ While acknowledging the same, another participant stated ‘The report and the recommendations are good because we can attest that everyone who is here can see their recommendation and we can use the report findings in our work.’
At a conflict level of 2.3 for the country and 1.9 for the western region respectively, the majority of the participants agreed that the country is at a confrontational stage due to the recent political demonstrations and riots that if not well addressed might escalate to a crisis level in future. The high cost of living, the outcome of the bipartisan talks, ethnicized border attacks, the LGBTQ issues and high rates of unemployment among the youth were some of the concerns participants highlighted to escalate the conflict not only regionally but countrywide. One of the human rights activist in the meeting echoed that:“Yes, I agree the country is in combat mode and we are not far from going back to fight with the government if the bipartisan talks do not yield in lowering the cost of living which has become unbearable for citizens.”
Among the most prevalent conflicts confirmed by the participants as revealed by the study findings from Western Kenya are gender-based and sexual violence, domestic violence and border violence. According to a peace practitioner, peace actors should re-look at ways of mitigating the issues of domestic and gender-based violence. This was noted in the validation feedback which showed that domestic violence scored a higher percentage in the research findings. During the discussion, the participants noted with a lot of concern an emerging pattern of domestic and sexual violence related to LGBTQ. While acknowledging the lethargy of domestic and sexual violence in the region, a peace practitioner noted with a lot of concern the increased violence targeted at LGBTQ in the area, ‘Domestic and sexual violence has been there for a long but nowadays it is not worrying like it used to be before, however, there is a worrying concern about the LGBTQ violence, discrimination, and stigmatization that is happening in our communities and it was not there during the data collection period. It’s especially a concern that this is happening to people with intersex, who are already vulnerable due to their birth condition. We should find a way to categorize them instead of putting them up with the LGBTQ group to protect them.’
Another participant who is a community health volunteer supported this by ascertaining that,“LGBQT and intersex violence is the main contributor to many domestic and sexual violence cases reported of late and the government through the Ministry of Health should come up with programs that sensitize and capacity-build health care practitioners /promoters in the identification of homogenous babies, relaying the information to, and handling the families who may have given birth to babies.”
Border conflicts were confirmed to be historical and not related to resources but politically motivated whereas the government was accused of taking sides. With the most prevalent and never-ending border violence cases in Sondu between the Kalenjin tribe and Luo tribe. A youth representative mentioned that:We need to identify the problem in Sondu because, unlike Luo who build houses near the border, Kalenjin build their houses away from the border and therefore it is probably impossible for attackers to walk all the way to come to attack without being identified by local communities pointing out an imported militia to commit atrocities against one community.‘”
Confirming the existence of resource-based violence participants noted that the national government does not follow the law on resource distribution, including employment opportunities to ensure equity to avoid conflict and corrupt practices. They lauded the Constitution of Kenya 2010 for ensuring equitable share of resources through devolution which has drastically reduced resource-based conflicts but accelerated corruption at the county level. A local government official said that, ‘Conflicts due to the allocation of resources have been subdued because of devolution and the Constitution of Kenya 2010 but instead, corruption has increased. I recommend you hold such discussions as this with civil servants because the rate at which resources are being siphoned at the county level is alarming.’
With regards to the conflicts arising from political violence and police brutality, a political analyst confirmed that political and police violence only arises during the campaign period, Election Day, post-results, and during opposition protests. To address this challenge, he mentioned that, ‘The issues of winner-takes-all-all should be addressed and those who lose should be in a position to influence policies to tackle the issue of selective development and power struggles that lead to catastrophic conflicts in the country.’ Another participant echoed this statement by affirming that, ‘To address the issue of election-related conflicts, some of us do a lot of work with IEBC and as recommended we see how IEBC handled elections casually. To return public trust the IEBC needs to redeem itself and do what the says it should do.’
Consequently, participants confirmed that political/economic marginalization and unemployment, especially among the youth, is the most significant driver of conflicts indicating that economic factors play a major role in fueling conflicts. A youth representative noted, ‘I’m not surprised that unemployment scored the highest percentage on drivers of conflicts which is a very big concern the percentage is so big yet industries in Kisumu are moving out due to high taxation and many people are being retrenched here in Kisumu which if not addressed might have very negative effects in terms of peace of the region.’
On the issues of effective conflict resolution in Western Kenya, participants lauded the roles played by peace committees and community-based peace initiatives commending the use of the alternative justice system (AJS) to resolve conflicts in the region as revealed in the study findings. As said by local government official, ‘I commend the community embracing AJS because people are realizing some of the things that they take in court can be handled outside the courts efficiently and within a short period it is solved which reduces the chances of having conflicts.’
In seeking to understand the challenges to the effective resolution of the conflicts occurring in Western Kenya, political incitement and exclusion, corruption, and unresolved historical/border violence were confirmed by the participants as the most critical challenges to conflict resolution in Western Kenya. To address these challenges, promoting good governance for lasting peace and stability in the region was emphasized by participants as captured in the study findings. Using the Sondu conflict as a reference case one of the participant (local administrator) said that:“The conflict in Sondu is government-induced because the police just watched as attackers killed people without using any force to stop them. Constituency/Administrative boundary review can be helpful to bring peace if resources and social amenities (schools, hospitals, markets etc) are allocated equally not equitably among the two communities for each community to have equal access.”
This was further reiterated by another participant who mentioned that:
“The boundary conflicts we witness are a politically motivated crisis because area citizens become complacent to atrocities committed there unlike other border areas like Muhoroni where communities have chosen to coexist peacefully without being influenced by politicians to fight each other.”
To reinforce the research findings, political leaders were affirmed by the participants as the main challenge for sustainable peace and stability in the country. As stated by political analyst ‘the deputy president is on record saying that Kenya is a company and those who voted for them are stakeholders who will be considered first. The president of the Republic of Kenya and his deputy as a symbol of national unity must not be seen and perceived to be discriminative in their statements and actions like it is being witnessed.’ In support of their colleague, participants viewed such statements as a recipe for political and economic marginalization considering the region voted overwhelmingly to the opposition figure.
In summary, the participants suggested that non-state actors require funding to implement most of the study findings and recommendations. They also emphasized the need for the national government to devolve all the county functions and to capacity-build counties on how to run these functions well for development that can guarantee sustainable peace and stability not only in the region but countrywide. Further, the efficiency of independent institutions like the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) should be enhanced to deliver their mandate to Kenyans and not the civil society alone. Consequently, independent commissions, security agencies, and public institutions should be held accountable for their action, statements and records in managing conflicts.
Key takeaway Messages
- Training for those who participated in the research so that they get more knowledge on conflict management is needed at the grassroot level.
- The research outcome should be published and shared with peace champions to enable them to circulate to other people so as to enable more people learn from it.
- Hekima College to support civil society organizations to enhance civic education to the citizens so that they can understand their role and the role of security agencies, as well as constitutional commissions/bodies in peace-building.