Talk About Peace

In December 2014, our photographer in residence, Ami Vitale, captured this moment:

It went viral – thanks to Ami and National Geographic. The photo shows young warriors from northern Kenya encountering rhinos for the first time in their lives. Their great-grandparents would have shared the plains with these creatures, but most of these young men had never seen a rhino, let alone had the opportunity to touch one. 

The young warriors (morans) were visiting Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, as part of an joint initiative by the NRT peace and livestock teams. All too frequently, it is these morans that get caught up in ethnic violence, cattle rustling, and illegal grazing in community conservancies. This not only affects people, but wildlife too. There is now a huge focus from the NRT peace team to reach out to this demographic; to encourage them to get more involved in the management of their conservancies, and support dialogue between warring groups. This trip to Lewa was part of this project, where warriors got the chance to meet three orphaned rhinos, as well as see first hand how livestock/ wildlife integration can work.

The key issues identified by the warriors in meetings and workshops were all based around deep seated mistrust of ‘rival’ communities. Grazing related conflicts and retaliation attacks are consequences of this mistrust. As well as inviting warriors to Lewa, the NRT peace team conducted workshops in the field. Topics covered in these meetings included the negative impacts of cattle raiding, and the importance (and benefits) of good community relations.

Several incredible stories of NRT’s peace work emerged last year, including a historic moment when, because of enhanced community relations, Boran pastoralists returned lost cattle to Samburu herders. Below are two more examples that have emerged recently, outlining the power of the NRT peace team’s motto – ‘dialogue over guns’. 

The Shaba Story

On the 30th December 2014, livestock from Nakuprat-Gotu Conservancy encroached into Shaba National Reserve. Shaba is operated by Isiolo County Council, and is strictly a livestock-free wildlife reserve. Good relations with Nakuprat-Gotu are important to them, as Nakuprat acts as a buffer zone and a wildlife corridor. The drought and community tensions drove herders into Shaba in late December, and livestock ‘bomas’ or enclosures were set up in several areas. Incidents of cattle raiding started to become more frequent, and there were concerns about the tourists staying in Shaba’s lodges. Chief Warden of Shaba, Abdi Boru, backed by the Isiolo County Government called in the NRT peace team to try and resolve the situation.

 Cattle encroachment in Shaba National Reserve

Cattle encroachment in Shaba National Reserve

With the support of the county government, the NRT peace team and respected community elders gathered together the Nakuprat-Gotu grazing committee, and the young warriors from the warring communities. The young men were given a chance to discuss their issues, and expressed appreciation at the opportunity to do so. The Deputy County Commissioner called for peace and compromise from all sides. Alternative livestock pastures were identified, with help from neighbouring Nasuulu Community Conservancy, and plans were put in place to ensure continued good relations between communities. Representatives from each community were selected to take charge of their age-mates, and tasked with sharing the grazing and peace agreements that would be concluded in the meeting.

As a result, 27 of the 31 illegal livestock bomas in Shaba were moved without fuss, and the numbers of cattle raiding incidents reduced significantly.

“Building trust is at the heart of peace building, trust cannot be imposed, imported or bought, it emerges slowly and is built through collective engagement.” Says Josephine Ekiru – NRT’s Peace Co-ordinator.

With the help of county governments, Josephine and her team will continue to support young warriors in peace building exercises, by providing safe platforms for them to meet and discuss their concerns.  

The Lekkuruki Story

Recent tensions erupted in Lekkuruki Community Conservancy when, driven by drought and community politics, herders from Mpus Kutuk Community Conservancy encroached into the Lekurruki core conservation area, where a tourist lodge is situated. As violence broke out between the two communities, and illegal firearms started to make a regular appearance, the Lekurruki management called in the NRT peace team. 

NRT deployed a team of ten young warriors; five from Mpus Kutuk and five from Lekurruki, as well as ten respected elders from the NRT Council of Elders. By initiating dialogue, and using their intimate knowledge of community and clan politics, this unstoppable peace team managed to calm a volatile situation in just two days.

The warriors were tasked with talking to their age-mates from both sides – fellow warriors, some of them armed, who had been involved in the encroachment and trouble making. The dual ethnicity of the moran peace team immediately calmed any fears the other warriors had of an alternative agenda. Similarly, the Elders were tasked with talking to community elders. These efforts have seen the Lekurruki core conservation area now free of almost all encroaching cattle, and zero presence of illegal firearms. Morale of conservancy staff has been boosted, and an established forum for dialogue between the two communities is progressing well. The lodge has also now reopened.

Moving infringing settlements continues to be a challenge for the team, especially around the Mukogodo Forest. NRT are working closely with the Lekkuruki and Mpus Kutuk management, to try and strenghthen governance and resolve grazing issues. Lekkuruki has an exemplary grazing programme, and it is hoped that it could be the model for Mpus Kutuk to follow. 

   “It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe in it, and it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must work at it” Eleanor Roosevelt