Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Peace Experiences

by Elema Guyo                                                                                                                             

Elema's touching testimony for peace submitted to Sauti Moja. 
Those of us living in Songa (a Rendille community) and Badassa (a Boran community) have often experienced tribal-based conflict - theft, livestock raids and killings. I became a victim of these conflicts, as I was born to a Borana family living in Leyai, a sub-village of Songa. It wasn’t always so. 
Peacemakers are everyday heroes with a compassionate hearts and a gentle spirit.

 I attended Songa Primary School, and as children, we didn’t know the words tribe or ethnicity. We classmates lived like brothers and sisters not differentiating who is Boran or Rendille. During our free time, we herded goats together, played together, and shared everything in common. In school, we were desk mates, dorm mates and team mates. At night, we would sometimes sneak to watch warriors’ traditional songs, but the next morning, we were caned by the teachers. When not herding on the weekend, we might walk to town together through the forest not knowing who is Rendille or Boran, as the forest road was very safe apart from wildlife. 

All of a sudden in June 1992, our peace life was destroyed. A Rendille, Kidakhan Eisimbasele, was killed while herding livestock in the forest. (This was the husband of Gayero who is presently is one of our peace widows supported by Sauti Moja.) In retaliation, Rendille warriors attacked the Boran homesteads in Leyai, where we lived. The few livestock that we had were taken, properties were looted, homes were set ablaze, and our ripening maize fields were chopped down. The Boran community of Leyai - about 70 households – fled to safety; we went to Badasa which is only a few kilometers away.
In revenge, the tribal clashes began and spread all over the Marsabit region. There were many livestock raids, hundreds of people killed, and the entire farm land around Leyai and other centres near the forest were abandoned and become bush. The long childhood friendships that we used to enjoy were no longer there; we no longer shared our childhood social life as before. There was no longer free movement and interactions, and the forest road that had been so safe saw many being killed. (On November 21, 1994, as we were returning from Marsabit and the one-year anniversary of the death of Father John Asstegiano, Mirgichan, a Rendille, who was walking in front of us, was killed.)  Mothers would scare their children by saying, “if you want to die go to the Badassa or Songa forest’’. Many felt like life was not worth living, as peace and friendship was replaced by fear and killing, but those of us who were not used to this kind of life didn’t give up. 
Peacemaking only requires a heart and desire to see a better life, plus a motorbike.

The old friendships did not die in our hearts even though our communities were at war with one another. Sometimes, when it was calm for a month, Rendille friends used to sneak from Songa to Badassa to visit us, and we did the same. However, when there were some skirmishes, we had to immediately rush back, but the problem was that some in our communities thought that we were betraying them. I experienced this in 2003 when my fellow Boran community wanted to finish me, because my old Rendille friends visited me several times, and I welcomed them in my home.  

It was on Sunday, May 25th that I returned to my plot from church and went into my grass-thatched house to sleep, as usual. All of a sudden, I was awakened by a neighbour screaming. I looked up and flames were burning the thatch above me, but people came around to rescue me and the household items. After serious investigation by the police, the culprit was arrested and arraigned in the court. When the arsonist was asked why he wanted to burn this person, the answer was obvious - ”He is an enemy, as he harbours our enemies from Songa and Leyai. I was sent by my community to burn this enemy house, so that means I am not alone.’’ The harmful acts of those who are not pro-peace was upsetting, but that did not destroy my spirit for peace. I still promoted peace and volunteered as a teacher in Leyai Primary School, and I took my livestock to Leyai to be looked after by Rendille; I had a dream that peace would come, some day.

Another time, a boy from Leyai happened to be in Badasa doing casual work when a Boran herder was killed and his livestock taken. Armed with guns, spears and other weapons, many rushed to the scene of the raid, and some men raced to the Rendille boy in Badasa. Some men ran after him until he disappeared in a miraa plantation; some young men were assigned to guard the road out of that place, as they wanted to kill him in revenge. In the dark, the boy sneaked to my house for safety, where I kept him in my bedroom for two nights and two days. Still believing the boy might be in my residence, the young men were patrolling the paths to my home, but my family and I kept the secret to ourselves. On the third night, we disguised the boy as a Muslim woman and took him to the Badasa Administrative Police camp to be escorted to his Leyai home.

 In the Year 2011, there were some new opportunities for peace to come. First and foremost, some of us who are peace-loving Christian church leaders were trained on conflict resolution by Shalom Peace practitioners invited by Catholic diocese of Marsabit. Then, we came together and set a strategy on how to mobilise the conflicting communities to come together and talk. We became peace ambassadors around our homes and in our local churches. 

Sauti Moja's peace program started with livestock.

We concentrated our peace activities on areas that were considered hot spots for conflict; these were Badasa/Songa and Hulahula, which are the locations where Sauti Moja has focused its peacemaking. Those of us who happened to be in the Shalom Reflection Group attended the mass conducted in these areas, and gave the congregations the message of peace and transformation.

Another opportunity for peace was when Catholic Justice and Peace began a cash-for-work project of de-silting a well between Badassa and Songa using casual workers from both communities. At first people were hesitant, as they did not trust each other. As first, they only sent able men who could protect themselves or run away, if a war might break out. But, as the days went by, they began to send women and youth, as they discovered that the other tribe was not as aggressive as they expected. By the end of two months, people were already interacting and becoming friends.

However, the most remarkable interaction came when Sauti Moja began its peace intervention with widows of conflict from Badasa and Songa communities. From the initiation of the program, I was privileged to be involved as a volunteer in these peace activities. This peace work rooted in our traditional conflict resolution mechanisms had been disregarded or forgotten by most of the population. People had been blinded by modern governance systems that see anything tradition as totally barbaric, which it is not. The cultural peace-making that transforms the community is one of the successful mechanisms in the olden day. The pass on of livestock to the other tribe has facilitated the community not only to develop individual friendship but to unite families. This family unity and interaction across ethnic groups is the one transition community members began to see as good.

The family interactions initiated by widows of conflict encouraged community leaders to come together and solve some of the imminent problems. They made common regulations set by them, where cases of stealing are highly fined without much involvement of government authorities. These are already fruitful, as several stolen livestock from Songa and Badassa were returned, and culprits were fined by their own communities to pay back the victim of the raid. Stealing and rustling has totally stopped.

"Peace is what I looked for even when my life was endangered."
Now relationships are so strong that people attend to the other tribe’s ceremonies even beyond Songa and Badasa and without support from Sauti Moja. Social and economic activities are commonly shared; for example, the Songa men and women who were unable to afford to go to Marsabit town to sell their products – milk, vegetables and livestock - have a market in Badasa. In return, the Rendille from Songa can buy everything they used to buy from Marsabit in the Boran community of Badasa. Thelivestock initiative and peacemaking began by Sauti Moja started with assistance for widows but has spread to the whole area. It is the happiest moments of peace for all our communities and the leaders.

For me, these are the happiest times, as I began to re-join most of my childhood friends. The peace in our environment and both communities has been restored. People are no longer under the bondage of fear and mistrusts; there is an atmosphere of peace, everywhere. During any peace meeting, every leader who talks about peace will not sit down without saying that Sauti Moja has small projects with big impacts in the region, especially on peace. I am very encouraged by that and thankful to be part of the team that brought what I longed for.

Peace was what I have looked for even when my life was endangered. Now, I am one of the happiest men, as my long-term objective for peace has been obtained. I really thank God for this grace of peace in my locations and for my people. Also, I appreciate all the peace stakeholders - specifically Sauti Moja and the donors who facilitated this program. Last, but not the least, I give thanks to Sauti Moja Canada's Founding Director, Tim and his wife, Lyn, through whose efforts and dedications the peace program have succeeded this much. God bless them all.

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