Across Kenya, local conflicts driven by diverse factors have one thing in common: they’re increasingly being mediated by women. From ethnic tensions to land disputes, some of these conflicts stretch back decades; remaining unresolved despite the lasting instability and violence they create among communities. So women are stepping up to end longstanding strife through local dialogues and outreach, approaches male-dominated leadership has not always been willing to take. But in order to build lasting peace, they need support from both their communities and the state—which some are receiving, and many are not.
Old conflicts, new harm
In the country’s western region, longstanding tensions are driving new security risks in the neighbouring counties of Kisumu and Nandi. Their predominant ethnicities mirror the tribal background of the two leading presidential candidates in this year’s election, and the border region has been identified as a hotspot for elections-related violence.
Dorothy Bonyo, treasurer of the sub-county peace committee in Muhoroni, a town in Kisumu, is witnessing the escalation first-hand: “Tension is increasing […] Our neighbours are effectively political opponents and in the marketplace we are beginning to see hate speech.”
Beneath these simmering tensions are sustained economic pressures that continue to plague the area. It once thrived from a sugar industry that employed around 20,000 people—until corruption and misappropriation of profits decimated the trade, leading to job losses and low cash flow for many families. Oscar Ochieng, secretary of the Muhoroni sub-county peace committee as well as the Kisumu and Nandi cross-border peace committee, explains that in addition to political factors, there is a historical disagreement over land:
“With low employment and little cashflow, kids drop out of school, and there’s a large number of disengaged youth. This leads to stock theft and eventually violent conflict. These companies are located right on the borders and much of the land is fallow. But it is also highly fertile and both communities feel it belongs to them.”