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Wajir: How A Few Women Stopped A War
Subject: Wajir: How A Few Women Stopped A War

Wajir: How A Few Women Stopped A War

Subject: Wajir: How A Few Women Stopped A War Date: 04-03-2005
Author: Josh Weiss Reply
This story is from a Keynote Speech given by John Paul Lederach at the Association for Conflict Resolutions Annual Conference in Sacramento, CA on September 30, 2004. It also appears in his latest book entitled, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press. 2005.

Wajir: How A Few Women Stopped A War

The women of Wajir did not set out to stop a war.2 They just wanted to make sure they could get food for their families. The initial idea was simple enough: make sure that the market is safe for anyone to buy and sell.

Located in Northeast Kenya Wajir District is made up mostly of Somali clans. With the collapse of the Somali government in 1989, Wajir soon found itself caught up in interclan fighting, with a flow of weapons and refugees that made life increasingly difficult. Dekha Ibrahim recalls one night in mid 1993 that shooting erupted once again near her house.

She ran for her first-born child and hid for several hours under the bed while bullets crisscrossed her room. While under the bed she had distinct memory of huddling with her mother as young child under the same conditions. By morning she had decided this had to stop.

Other women shared similar stories and so they gathered less than a dozen of them at first. We just wanted to put our heads together, they said, to see what we knew and we could do. We decided the place to start was the market. They agreed on a basic idea. The market should be safe for any woman of any clan background to come, to sell and to buy. Women were looking out for their children. Access and safety to the market was an immediate right that had to be assured. Since women mostly ran the market, they spread the word. They established monitors who would watch everyday what was happening at the market. They would report any infractions. Whenever issues emerged a small committee of women would move quickly to resolve them. Their initiative resulted in the creation of the Wajir Women's Association for Peace.

They soon discovered that the broader fighting still affected their lives. Sitting again they decided to pursue direct conversations with the elders of all the clans. Getting the men on board was not an easy thing to do in this highly patriarchal society. "Who are women to advise and push us?" was the response they feared they might get. So they sat and thought through their understanding of the elder system, the actual key elders, and the make-up of the Somali clans in Wajir. Using their personal connections they worked with concerned men and succeeded in bringing together a meeting of the elders. They aligned themselves carefully to not push or take over the meetings. Instead they found one of the elderly men, quite respected, but who came from the smallest and therefore the least threatening of the local clans. In the meeting he became their spokesperson, talking directly to the other elders and appealing to their responsibility. "Why, really," he asked, "are we fighting? Who benefits from this? Our families are being destroyed." His words provoked long discussions. The elders, even some of those who had been promoting revenge killings, agreed to face the issues and stop the fighting. They formed the Council of Elders for Peace.

Engaging the fighters in the bush and dealing with clan clashes soon led the women to recognize they had contact government officials from both the district and eventually the national representatives in Parliament. Accompanied by some elders, they transparently described their initiative and process. They agreed to keep the officials informed and in fact invited to various meetings, but they asked that in return the officials not disrupt the process that was in motion. They sought received the blessing from the government.

Soon the question became how to engage the youth, particularly the young men who were hidden and fighting in the bush. They formed a new initiative Youth for Peace and soon discovered that if the youth were to leave their guns and the bush, they would need something to occupy their time and provide income. The business community was then approached. Initiatives for rebuilding and local jobs were offered. Together, the women from the market, the elders commissions, the youth for peace, the businessmen and local religious leaders formed the Wajir Peace and Development Committee.

Ceasefires came into place. Local Commissions were created to verify and help the process of disarming the clan-based factions in coordination with local authorities and the District Police. Emergency response teams were formed who would travel on a moment's notice to deal with renewed fighting, rustling, or thievery.

Ten years later Wajir District still faces serious problems though the Wajir Peace and Development Committee still actively works for peace and has continued to expand. Fighting has not stopped in Somalia and spills into Wajir. The elders meet on a regular basis. There is greater cooperation between the local villages, clans, and the district officials. And the women who stopped a war still monitor a now much safer market.

When I recently spoke with Dekha she said that since September 11, 2001 there is an increased presence of US personnel based in Wajir focused on anti-terrorism in Somalia. "Our challenge now is to engage the US government and convince them of better ways to approach this," she said. "Insh'Allah we will be successful."

"Insh'Allah indeed," I whispered to myself. God knows we have not been to successful at that in our own land."

Subject: SUBJ1 Date: 09-10-2012
Author: IdearryHeesia Reply
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Subject: SUBJ1 Date: 21-11-2012
Author: IdearryHeesia Reply
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