Nonviolence

This is what nonviolence looks like in Kenya on the International Day of Peace

by Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, IBVM
Pax Christi International Board member

During this year’s International Day of Peace (21st September 2018),  the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) whose work is supported by St. Paul’s University where I serve as a Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies, set three days of different activities in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, in order to bring together Christians and Muslims. Peace practitioners, peace scholars, government officials especially in the Security sector, University chaplains, lecturers, students from universities across Kenya, youth and women organisations, all engaged in these activities with the aim of creating a culture of peace — especially among Muslim and Christian communities. There was a different theme for each day.

The theme for Day One: Moving Kenya towards sustainable peace and development: Countering/preventing violent radicalization and violent extremism.

This day began with public lectures by scholars, Church leaders and government officials respecting gender balance. The auditorium (with a sitting capacity of 1800) was filled to capacity by mainly university students and other youth and women activists and peace builders. The presenters touched on the ‘approaches of countering radicalization and violent extremism from a Christian, Muslim, Gender, and Youth and Media perspectives’. There were plenary sessions where the audience was given the opportunity to seek clarifications or share their own personal experiences. One experience that remained with me was the sharing of one of the youth who said that he was on the verge of joining a militia group but the generosity of the people during one of his music concerts was a turning point. He made a decision to spend his life serving people by utilizing his talents for the good of humanity. There was also an opportunity for cutting of the peace cake and lighting of “Candles of Peace” which were given to a representative of all the groups present. The Christians also visited the mosque and the Muslims were allowed to break for their prayers at the appropriate times.

The theme for Day Two: Peace Walk – Christian and Muslims Together for Peace: Stop Violent Radicalisation!! Stop Violent Extremism!!

The walk was from August 7th Memorial Park (where the American bomb blast took place) to Eastleigh (where one of the most populated slums (Mathare) is situated. The peace walk started off with prayers (Christian and Muslims), the Kenya national anthem; and flagging off the walk.

All the participants donned a white t-shirt with the Christian and Muslim symbols and at the front engraved the words: “Peace Walk” and “Christians and Muslims together for peace”. At the back were the words, “Stop Radicalisation!! Stop violent extremism”.

The walk was animated by the Kenya Administrative Police Band and a youth-led peace caravan. The youth sang songs of peace, chanted peace slogans and informed the people about the theme of the day and its importance.
“We the Christians and Muslims are saying no to violence, no to radicalization, no to violent extremism and yes to peace.” There were three key stopovers mainly in the less privileged areas of Nairobi where radicalization and violent extremism is more pronounced.

On the last day, Day Three: There were special Church services and prayers for peace and victims of violent radicalization and violent extremism. Both the Christians and Muslims were involved in this too.

My Short reflection on the three days activities

Reflecting on the three days where I experienced us, Christians and Muslims sitting together in the same room, worshiping and eating together, visiting the churches and mosques without fear of one another, singing and dancing in rhythms of peace and not violence, playing football and walking together as we left our footprints of love, sisterhood and brotherhood as opposed to footprints of blood, speaking in one language of peace and love, the language of active nonviolence, I am convinced that another world is possible; a world where everything is turned upside down — our prejudices, our old held beliefs that continue to inform our decisions, especially regarding ‘us’ and the ‘other’. I am convinced of a world where children will play games without fear of a bomb, machete, spear, arrow, bullet, nuclear weapon; where people will not be afraid to embrace each other because they are different; where differences will be solved while sitting together, speaking to each other and sharing a meal as opposed to throwing different ‘missiles’ at each other and causing untold pain and suffering to each other.

Through these activities I was also reminded that what unites us is more profound than what separates us. Violence severs us from each other and indeed from our true self. We were all created equal and have one common home, the earth, that embraces us irrespective of our colour, religious affiliations, race, ethnicity, gender and education backgrounds. “I live in hope that one day swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks and that no nation shall learn or experience war or violence any more.” (Isaiah 2:4).

To read about the work of PROCMURA, website: http://www.procmura-prica.org/en/; the contact for their link with the St Paul’s University is http://www.spu.ac.ke/old/spu-academics/centre-for-christian-muslim-relations-in-eastleigh.html.

 

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: “One day we will go back and offer good leadership to the people of South Sudan”

The following interview was done by Martin Githome and Margaret Njeri Mungai, members of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

____________

This is an interview with Daniel Majok (not real name) from South Sudan and currently a refugee in Kenya. He agreed to share his story with us.

Daniel is currently a student in one of the private universities here in Kenya. Nostalgically he says his life was okay before he became a refugee. He misses his former days spent with his playmates whose whereabouts he does not know. His worry is that he does not know whether they are alive or dead. Although he cannot quite remember the precise details of life since he left South Sudan at a young age, he relies on what the older people describe as ‘their old life’ in South Sudan. However, in his heart he feels that he was happy, carefree and comfortable in South Sudan before the protracted conflict started. To earn a living, his family, as most citizens from the South Sudan region practiced agriculture and pastoralism. When the conflict started, they were displaced and lived as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Eastern part of South Sudan where they later entered Kenya in December 1996. Although his parents are also here in Kenya, they did not come together as a family as they were initially separated. Sadly he recalls that he arrived in Kenya accompanied only by his cousins and sister. In Kenya refugees especially from South Sudan are accommodated in a camp known as Kakuma, which is located in Turkana County which is in the Northern part of Kenya. Daniel pursued his primary and secondary education while still based in the Kakuma camp.

When we asked Daniel what the major reason was for fleeing, his answer was a definite:

“We fled out of fear of being killed in the war that was ongoing.

The initial war was between the North and South Sudan after the then-President Gaafar Naimery declared the whole of Sudan an Islamic state and under sharia law even in the non-Islamic region; that is, the South Sudan region. John Garang formed Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) movement to oppose this decision, which resulted into a civil war. Currently the ongoing war in South Sudan is said to be between the government forces and the opposition after president Salva Kiir accused his vice president Riek Machar of organising a coup against his government. This civil war has brought with it human rights abuses and killings which has forced many South Sudanese to flee.

With sadness in his eyes, Daniel tells us how it feels to leave the familiarity of one’s home. Equally, that being a refugee is not an option but rather a condition that one finds themselves in. On a psychological level he says it is discouraging and heartbreaking having to be termed as a refugee. In addition, he does not enjoy the stability he was enjoying back in South Sudan as the joy of being in a family, living with his family was interfered with.  He also shared that as a refugee there are certain things that he cannot freely enjoy as when he was in his country. Being a refugee also separates people as some go to different countries and they no longer get to meet or even communicate. Daniel also points out that majority of the refugees are isolated by the citizens of Kenya. This isolation makes the refugees feel that they are seen as not part of them. His greatest challenge as a refugee is hostility that he experiences at the Kakuma camp where most of the refugees are settled. The local community there feels that they have invaded their space. At other times they lack basic needs for example, food, water and clothing. The aid that is supposed to be offered to the refugees does not get to them on time because of the poor infrastructure. Not to mention that the shacks are very congested. This means that some refugees are forced to bear the harsh weather conditions for example the shacks will be leaking when it rains and when it is hot – Turkana is very hot – they will be forced to endure the scorching sun. Refugees also get their movements curtailed plus they are required to carry documents from one point to another.

One can feel the sadness in Daniel’s voice as he describes the turmoil and hardship they endured at the camp. They were times when they were forced to walk long distances to look for water; and when they did it was not very safe for drinking and cooking.

His eyes light up as he tells us,

“I strongly believe that with the education my colleagues and I are receiving now, we will one day be able to go back and offer good leadership to the people and country of South Sudan.

Having lived in Kenya for almost 20 years he still holds onto the faith that he will one day be able to go back to his home country when the situation is stable. His message is that people should never take their freedom and peace for granted and see refugee life as desirable at whatever cost. Daniel has a message to his government of South Sudan and the rebels. He reminds them that,

“There can be no government without people; a nation without people. The government should respect the opinion and the rights of their people. The government should also make efforts to stop the violence and address the human rights abuses so that the country will not be deserted. The people from South Sudan are still fleeing and they are based in many different countries.”

He also advocates for peace and urges all people not to look at tribal differences but seek for what unites them, respecting the policies of their individual country. Equally, he cautions the citizens not to use violence as a way of resolving minor disagreements when they occur. Daniel hopes that the government of South Sudan will be committed to bringing peace and to realise that “war brings no benefits and it is their own people who are suffering”. Daniel also shared what he would like to see happening in South Sudan in the following words:

“Tribalism and abuse of human rights should be condemned and democracy encouraged. The youth should also be educated on the importance of being citizens of a country through peace education, respecting human rights and living together in unity and cohesion.”

His advice to people who are taking peace for granted is that they should not ‘play with fire’ as the peace and freedom they now enjoy can easily be taken away through violent conflict.

___________

Martin Githome and Margaret Njeri Mungai are members of the Young Peace Journalists. They are students in Peace and Conflict Studies at St Paul’s University in Kenya.

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for Palm Sunday, April 9 – On Jesus’s way of active nonviolence

by Wamũyũ Wachira
Board Member, Pax Christi International

Matthew 21:1-11 | Isaiah 50:4-7 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Matthew 26:14-27:66

What does it mean to celebrate Palm Sunday devoid of all power trappings and in the midst of a migration crisis and violence in all its forms?

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. We accompany Jesus as he enters Jerusalem until his death on a cross. Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem is unique as he uses a colt and the people receive him by covering the path with their cloaks and palm branches as they shout aloud, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” Is this not a contradiction of what is expected of a king? Why did Jesus choose to use a colt instead of riding in the latest model helicopter? Why did the people use their cloaks and branches instead of a red carpet that befits such a leader? Why does he choose Jerusalem instead of going back to Nazareth, his place of birth?  Jesus is inviting us to shed off the trappings of power and embrace all people.

During this holy week we accompany Jesus, a king who is stripped of all the glory, who chooses to keep quiet when accused, to forgive and embrace all his enemies, to act nonviolently when spat on, slapped, crowned with thorns, ridiculed and nailed on a cross. He does not summon his mighty soldiers to fight for him, or disperse the crowds with tear gas, or kill using drones. He challenges his disciples to put away the sword and not to retaliate. Jesus’s mission is that all may have and enjoy fullness of life (John 10:10).

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this year, 2017, we are invited and challenged to active nonviolence which is at the core of Jesus’s mission – to speak, act and feel nonviolently when confronted with violence.

Teresia Wamũyũ Wachira, IBVM is a member of the Pax Christi International Board. Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi, Kenya.