The role of trust in peacebuilding in Kenya


Evalyn Monyani, Catholic Diocese of Malindi, Kenya

Trust cannot be imposed, coerced or bought. It must flow naturally from all the conflicting parties.

The word trust in Kenya is used in the same breath as integration, reconciliation, and cohesion. It often comes up in national dialogues during calls for national healing and reconciliation.

Over the years politicians have strategically enhanced mistrust between ethnic groups through stereotyping in order to mobilise support for themselves. In everyday life, even where there is no apparent conflict, mistrust between some ethnic groups is deeply entrenched in people’s minds, making interaction among them strained and sometimes highly volatile. Lately, this mistrust has been developed along religious lines with the increased number of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians.

Trust is a prerequisite for peacebuilding and cohesion to take place. Peacebuilding is a process of identifying underlying conflicts and problems, resolving them, laying the foundation for peace and monitoring the implementation of the peace process. Since there can be no knowledge about the future behavior of either conflicting party, trust comes in as a cementing bond between them and their agreements. The peace brokers and parties being reconciled need to exhibit their trust for one another for peace to take place. The people being reconciled would re-engage in violence if they learn that they have been short-changed by either the peace brokers or their counterparts. Trust, moreover, facilitates the sequence of activities in the process. If the first step in the process was handled with integrity, then parties will be ready to go on to the next one. If it was mishandled, then the process will be slowed or abandoned altogether. This applies especially to peacebuilders who can only be relied upon if their past brokerage was successful. The experiences of Kenya’s coastal region show that these efforts must be well coordinated between external and internal actors, multilayered (i.e. addressing the needs of individuals, communities and society at large) as well as multisectoral.

With regard to peace- and trust building, the process must be understood as a holistic endeavor in the sense that the involved persons are taken care of as a whole: spiritually, physically and psychologically. People who experienced violence and loss need trauma counseling among others, one useful entry point for trust building. For example, one of the identified causes of the cyclic violence in Kenya’s Tana region was trauma among children and adults that was not addressed. A ten year old child who sees a parent killed is powerless to do anything but flee. However, ten years later they are a fiery youth with strength and the drive to retaliate to avenge the suffering of their dear parents. On the other hand, the surviving adults who have lived through the violence pass on the grudge and use the youth to retaliate by spreading the hatred fanning violence. They called it inherited conflict. 

Joint income generating activities may serve as another valuable vehicle to foster intra-community and inter-community trust. By bringing the youth from the seven villages in the Tana region together and improving their capacities in project management, communication and conflict resolution they have developed a sense of belonging. Furthermore; trust has improved as they are keen on enhancing peaceful coexistence by promoting religious and ethnic tolerance

Youth and cultural events may have similar effects. On the one hand, they may foster appreciation for one another's culture and respect for their differences. On the other hand, they may be helpful to forge a common identity despite differences and provide participants with a sense of oneness and enhanced cohesion. A good case in point has been the Pokomo and Orma youth annual cultural day organised with support of national and international partners. On that day, youth invited the elders from the seven villages where inter-ethnic attacks occurred, to see that there can be unity in diversity; and that the youth are not only useful for war and revenge, but can indeed be the pillars of the community's development.

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