Acceptance speech – Dekha Abdi

The participation in a peace process is not about the mathematics of numbers and percentages in relation to who is in majority or minority. It is about plurality, diversity, participation...

Madam Speaker, Recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, Honorable Guests, Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen

In the Name of GOD Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

I am greatly honored and humbled by the experience of being the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award 2007. I am deeply thankful to members of the panel and the staff, supporters who made this possible. When I first got the news I was fasting for it was the Holy month of Ramadhan and in a workshop among diverse groups of Peace builders from the Horn of Africa (government officials, military personnel, women groups, youth leaders, civil society members, partners from the international community) whom I shared the defining moment with.

I felt the Award is a recognition and appreciation of community based peace building work to transform violence and to build relationships across the religious, ethnic and economic divide, thus this Award is for me and my family who have nurtured and supported me, my country Kenya, a Nation of diverse heritage, that shaped my learning and through which I gained knowledge and skills for life, my Wajir community who have inspired, educated and challenged through the day to day work of transforming violent conflict and the peace-builders around the world who have worked quietly in their context.

I started Peace Building work in 1990 a moment of change in my country Kenya and the neighboring states of Somalia and Ethiopia. We as a state and nation hosted many refugees but it was a wakeup call for me which I later learnt that reflecting on a Somali saying (if your friend’s hair is shaven prepare yours) these words were deep and made sense to me later in life. How ready was I for the change? How aware are we of being part of a broader system of conflicts that are interlinked and intertwined? Shock and paralysis was what I felt when the local conflict in Wajir turned to violence – children killed, women raped, neighbours unable to greet each other. The shock gave rise to an avalanche of emotions that propelled me and people in Wajir to get the energy and motivation to bring change in our society.

We have seen this before, nothing changes are the words of my mother. The anger and frustration to break the vicious cycle of violence and needing a new life for my daughter Kaltuma who was 2 1/2 years and I was pregnant with a second child then Ibrahim gave me a boost of energy to work with other women and concerned men to look for a new way of engaging with our context. There were no formulae, guidelines or rules. We created our own rules, created our mandate; the ways of working in retrospect we were inventing a new model, what has today become the architect of the National Peace Policy in Kenya, the Wajir Peace and Development Committee Model.

An inclusive structure and institutions that respond to the conflict and transform using non violent approaches of blending community and national government’s ways of working.

Recognizing that each sector of society has contributed to the violent conflict one way or another each must find ways to contribute to the resolution. In creating the membership of the peace committee I learnt that the participation in a peace process is not about the mathematics of numbers and percentages in relation to who is in majority or minority. It is about plurality, diversity, participation and ownership of all affected by the conflict and who live in the context hence nothing less than full participation and ownership. Our Christian Community in Wajir is less than 1% of the entire population yet the Christian denomination was represented in the Peace Committee and participating in every aspect. As the Coordinating secretary to the Peace Committee, I was in charge of meetings. I balanced everything including the prayers to bless the meeting and I requested our Christian colleagues to start with opening prayers and Muslim colleagues to lead the closing prayer or vice versa. This sometimes was not taken well, but as time went it became the culture and acceptable standard for our public engagement.

The religious leaders, Sheikh Mohamed Shukri, Padre Crispin Tabone, Sheikh Ali Gure, I learnt through working with them that Peace work is a vocation and a duty for every human to serve, with dedication, punctuality and full commitment.

As the community conflict in Wajir continued in the early nineties we hoped someone would come and fix it. We blamed the elders, blamed the Government, blamed the arms dealers, blamed the neighboring states and finally it occurred to us that we needed first to blame ourselves and take responsibility in organizing ourselves. Only in organizing ourselves would we help ourselves to move forward or we would be victims with a victim mentality who would agonize forever! That propelled us into creating the response committee, raising funds and supporting the mediation team. I realized the resource, untapped wealth of knowledge and expertise we have in Kenya (i.e. How mediation is done, How dialogue works and Negotiation). I discovered, men and women who are skilled, have the wealth of knowledge and experience in culture and traditions and they helped us in getting the first Peace declaration that brought sanity to our community.

What I learnt is that Wajir is not an Island. Even if we reconcile our internal differences we are part and parcel of the Kenyan community, part of the Horn of Africa, it is not enough to work on your own Peace. In fact to sustain your peace you have the responsibility to work in your neighbour’s house, in the next district. That process took me to creating a new structure a new role of working inside Wajir and a role of working with the external relations. My Colleague Halima Shuria who is with me today worked in the role of external relations, thus building the capacity of the neighboring districts of Kenya. We travelled to the Rift Valley of Kenya to discuss with the Provincial Commissioner Mr Mohamed Yussuf Haji in 1997 trying to convince him that the resource for transforming our conflict in Kenya are fellow Kenyans who have learnt through practicing the know-how. We wanted to train our District Commissioners so that they can all have a shared understanding, we wanted Mr Kibiti Rintari the then District Commissioner to be a resource person. While the need was there, the timing and political will was not and the training did not take place. However I am happy to say that on the 25th September 2007 when I was given the decision of the Jury and I was one of the four Award Recipients, I was in Nanyuki Kenya training many Government officials including quite a number of District Commissioners, seeing their energy, creativity and commitment touched me deeply something we did not have 10 years ago. I thank the Almighty GOD and the Government of Kenya and the People of Kenya who had the patience, persistence to hold on to the vision of working for peace beyond the day to day politics by holding the social fabric of society, thinking together and working. It takes time to build sustainable peace in society. If you are lucky you see the fruits and sometimes our role is to prepare the field and allow others to take it forward, leaving a heritage for the next generation.

I am honored by the Award, as I said earlier. It is for me and those who are alive as well as those who have passed on, with special mention to Kenyan peace worker Rose Barmasai, Somali peace worker Issa Abdi Issa and Dr. Steve Williams (May Almighty GOD rest their souls in Peace) who lost their lives in the line of duty to bring peace. They are a reminder that the world we live in is harsh and violent yet it has the capacity to be a nurturing and caring place for us. I have made a small contribution yet there is so much to be done.

Individuals are important in any process as they create the energy and momentum to mobilize for peaceful change, to be the yeast that enables and facilitates the growth. I am also aware that as an individual over a time we accumulate knowledge and experience and become the institutional memory of the society. How can this information, knowledge, skills and accumulated wisdom be in the public sphere? I have realized that such information is a source of power and power if one is not careful can corrupt. In 1997 I realized that I was the custodian of the accumulated knowledge of Wajir Peace due to my role as the coordinating secretary. I was in utter shock one day when I realized this and I asked myself what will happen if I die, what have I left behind? Will the movement go beyond my personality. This was the beginning of systems thinking and seeing the big picture of Peace structure that can sustain itself. It has two key strategic approaches: How to interest more people in Peace work especially at the coordination level, and to make Wajir Peace a professional movement owned by all? How to create the next cadre of Peace workers? This thinking re-organized my role as the coordinating secretary to be more of a facilitator, mentor, trainer, fundraiser to build the capacity of people working for peace and creating new structures for Peace in each village.

Education for Peace in Wajir schools was a way of sustaining the Peace by creating and educating the next generation of Peace builders, giving them the opportunity to broaden their horizons and understand the world they live in and the relationships. I learned that the young people in our society are misunderstood. Their passion and energy need to be harnessed. In the Education for Peace program we stated the fact that they are today’s leaders and they have to take responsibility now. I have seen children become mediators in the classroom, in the sportsfield, and in the neighborhood helping families reconcile.

As I and others continue to work for Peace in Kenya and share our learning with the rest of the world, I am too aware that the underlying issues of structural violence that contribute to violent conflict still remain unresolved. It takes time. I have learnt to take each issue, understand it and transform it. I have learnt to question what is seen or understood as normal. For example Livestock raiding I learnt is not just a normal traditional form of restocking but a political and economic strategy, for example as an election strategy to destabilize a situation so that the population does not register as a voter or does not have access to voting. Raiding a village, taking away people’s lives and livestock is taking away their rights to have and control their own lives and livelihood, such rights are a basic human need, the foundation to life. It is not normal it is a crime.

I learnt from my father, Ibrahim Abdi (May the almighty bless and rest his soul) the importance of valuing relationships, the importance of people and looking at their positive side, even in a context of intense violence to keep the spirit up. Such thoughts have kept me going and sustained me throughout. While working with religious leaders in the 2005 mediation process in Mandera District of Kenya North Eastern Province conflict, in the evening I debriefed  with the religious leaders via the telephone. I would assist the team of mediators to generate options and to see the positive side of each blockage and engaged with it. I learnt that Peace is not an event, an end but the peace is the way, though the journey is long and the road winding and difficult. Are we dealing with inter-generational trauma? Inter-generational conflict? Is transformation possible? Building a just and sustainable peace means the need to conserve and reform, active tension and dilemma. In creating new means of reforming society and relationships, such processes bring out the pain of the past and present, the challenge is how to stay in the moment, acknowledge the past, while at the same time not losing sight of what is possible, a just peace for all.

I dedicate myself and the Right Livelihood Award Honor to the service of Peace in a practical way to consolidate the work already undertaken and to give new energy and focus in developing the peace system by harnessing the body of Knowledge through establishing a Peace University in Wajir Kenya as a symbol of Peace and my commitment in the search for ways of transforming violent conflict and build Peace in a lifelong Learning process living behind a heritage. I will explore with my fellow Citizens of Kenya and the Global Community in the search of Peace from an African Muslim Heritage.

I have since 1995 organized locally Peace Awards as a way of motivating people and sustaining the vision of the citizen’s role in peace building. I am delighted today I am a recipient of a Right Livelihood Award, I would like to thank you all, The Right Livelihood Foundation, especially the original sponsor Jakob von Uexkull, and all supporters, organizers, Peace and Blessing to you all.

Thank you

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi
PO Box 3032
Post Code 80100
Dekha Ibrahim Abdi passed away on July 14th, 2011, after a severe car accident.