Peace-building in Kenya

Video: Community Voices

Join the people from the communities of Sotik and Borabu as they work through a peace-building process over a year following the outbreak of violence during disputed national elections in Kenya. This video follows the process as the communities establish their own local peace accord, and resolve never again to be "used as the politicians' battle ground."

Community voices from ACORD on Vimeo.

Case study: Peace-building after post-election violence

Burnt out houses near the Sotik/Borabu border.
Photo: ACORD / Margaret Wamukoya

When violence broke out following disputed elections in Kenya, the neighbouring communities of Sotik and Borabu were caught up in the conflict. Although there is much that is shared by the two communities, including markets, water sources and schools, the population of Sotik is primarily Kipsigis, while that of Borabu is mainly Kisii and the two ethnic groups supported different candidates in the elections. X people were killed and many women were raped. More than 500 buildings, including schools and businesses, were burned down, cattle were stolen and farming came largely to a standstill because people were afraid of being attacked if they went out into the fields. Although most of the direct violence ceased, continuing mistrust and tension was very apparent:

  • barriers had been erected across roads preventing free movement of people among villages 
  • women had to get escorted by groups of youth for them to fetch water from previously shared common water points 
  • at the market members from each community kept separate selling corners trading only with their own community members 
  • some small business owners had to close shop if they operated in the perceived “wrong” areas.

View of the Sotik and Borabu area.
Photo: ACORD / Margaret Wamukoya 

However peace has slowly been rebuilt through a community led process of dialogue which ACORD supported. At a time when people felt swept up by political forces beyond their control, some key community leaders wanted to find a way for the people to take their lives back into their own hands. ACORD introduced a methodology called the 'Community Social Peace and Recovery' model, which ACORD first elaborated during work in Burundi following the civil war there. There are three parts to the methodology:

  • dialogue process
  • agreement of a 'social contract' which is a community level peace accord 
  • peace and recovery projects jointly designed and implemented by the communities to cement the accord

Ahead of the dialogue itself, a team of 'peace agents' from the two communities who had volunteered to facilitate the process met for training in conflict resolution skills. This included meeting with some people from communities in Burundi who shared what they had learned from their own experience.


Peace-building dialogue processes are not quick; in Sotik and Borabu this took several months. The sessions, or community peace meetings, were held in sites in which both communities felt safe - locations that were symbolically common to both or 'no-man's land'. Initially the atmosphere was tense and participants separated themselves into two groups, looking at each other suspiciously. The peace agents had hard time, pleading with their respective community members in their mother tongue to come closer together, mingle and hold hands while singing the national anthem. At the start of the dialogue process there were many prepared exercises to break the ice, and the focus was on easing and healing psychological wounds. People were invited to talk about how they experienced what happened and to listen to the different experiences of others.

Snapshots from the dialogue process.
Photo: Margaret Wamukoya 

The following stage of the dialogue was analysis of the root causes of the problem. At the start, all those who shared their views said they did not know why they got involved the fighting. Using tools such as problem trees and power analysis the two communities came to a shared conclusion on the main causes, both immediate:

  • destructive messages spread by politicians and media

and underlying: 

  • cattle rustling (stealing) which has been taking place for a long time, carried out by cartels both sides - the members of which are widely known within their own communities
  • land issues, both historical disputes and generational issues where youth have no access to land and hence no means of livelihood, which in turn is one of the incentives for involvement in cattle rustling

Once this analysis was achieved, the focus turned to truth and reconciliation, seeking to acknowledge what had been done. Again, this was slow, and at times things seemed to go backward, but the communities to continued to meet regularly, including sharing meals. Eventually members from both communities were in agreement that they all contributed in different capacities to post election violence: 

  • elders instructed the youth to defend their respective communities 
  • women hosted combatants or sent out false alerts calling for help
  • young me were actively engaged in destruction, killings, rape and smuggling

Leonie Abela, ACORD Kenya Programme Officer, as a neutral link, shares milk between the two communities as a traditional sign of reconciliation.
Photo: ACORD / Margaret Wamukoya 

Who was to blame? The communities concluded that they themselves were responsible for the violence and destruction in their communities because they had allowed politicians to manipulate them and incite them into fighting against each other. Today they continue to pay dearly for their participation in the clashes while the politicians have since moved on to focus on other topics. For many participants, the most important message they took home was “never again to be used as the politicians’ battle field.”

The final stage of the dialogue was for the communities to negotiate a social contract which sets out the concrete solutions they proposed in order to return to living in peace together. In contrast to the atmosphere at the start, the dialogue process was concluded with a cultural rite where members from both communities shared milk from one traditional pot to symbolise their unity as Kenyans and their determination to maintain peace among themselves. It was a very emotional moment which gave people hope in re-mending broken ties.

Social contract

The local MP (in blue dress) joins in dancing following the signing ceremony.
Photo: ACORD / Margaret Wamukoya 

The signing of the social contract itself was a full day celebration with dancing and a festive meal. Six influential elders from each community did the actual signing, in the presence of everyone who had been involved in the dialogue process. Over 3000 people came, and the event was also attended by the local MP, district officers, chiefs, church leaders and representatives from various government departments, donor organisations and the UN. To ensure that the social contract was put into practice, the communities elected representatives to form a 'Social Watch Committee.' The members monitor implementation, participate in conflict resolution activities and still (at the time of writing) meet regularly, also chairing ongoing community peace-building meetings.

Some of the members of the community that witnessed the signing.
Photo: ACORD / Margaret Wamukoya

Photo: ACORD / Nashon Tado


Peace and recovery projects

The last component of the peace-building process was the implementation of the peace and recovery projects proposed in the social contract. These included:

  • re-opening of markets frequented by both communities
  • increased freedom of movement and the removal of barriers between villages
  • an agreement to no longer contest the historical distribution of land between the Kisii and Kipsigis,
  • joint interdenominational prayer days, 
  • joint youth sports activities such as soccer
  • mutual assistance in rebuilding houses that had been burnt down. For instance, a Kipsigis elder publically offered his Kisii neighbour timber from the Kipsigis' land to rebuild the Kisii's home
  • recovery assistance, supplied by ACORD - shelter kits, seeds and tools. These were given to 1500 households whom the communities identified as the most vulnerable.

A further key project is a group formed by people from both communities which seeks to combat cattle rustling. Members of the group have each other's mobile (cell) phone numbers. When someone is raided, the alarm is raised through the group and information is shared. The group operates in cooperation with the police, and together with the police they go after the raiders and recover the cattle. The group also seeks to ensure the safety of anyone who reports a suspected cattle rustler. Cattle rustling is a deep seated problem, and it will take much ongoing effort to eradicate it, including extending efforts to the neighbouring district of Trans Mara where most of the cattle stolen are sold. However there has been a significant reduction in the number of raids taking place in the communities that took part in the peace-building process.

  • conflict and peacebuilding
  • kenya
  • land rights
  • participatory approaches
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    Peace resources

    Community voices
    Video, joining the people from the communities of Sotik and Borabu as they work through a peace-building process over a year following the outbreak of violence during disputed national elections in Kenya.

    Community social peace and recovery model
    Practical handbook on a peace-building methodology developed by ACORD through work in Burundi and Kenya. It is intended for communities and groups who have been torn apart by conflict and it promotes community-led mechanisms for finding durable solutions.
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    Further resources