Conflict

Stories Promote Peace in Eastern Kenya

By Jon Hargreaves

“I never realised how the Orma people came to be in this region of Kenya,” said a retired teacher from Tana River, “but since I started hearing their stories on the radio, I have begun to understand them better.”

The man, from a rival community, was responding to a series of cultural programmes he had heard on a new station set up by HCR and its partners, Amani (Peace) FM, in this conflict-affected region of eastern Kenya.  The programmes are made by Mole Hashako Yako, a community activist, teacher and social historian.  The Orma people of Tana River don’t have a written history, so Mole has been talking to elderly people in her community who have a rich knowledge about the past, and then telling their stories on the radio.

“Telling stories about our past, not only helps young people in the Orma community understand their roots and identity, but it also helps promote empathy and understanding between the communities,” she said.  “Once you hear someone else’s story, you humanise them and begin to understand them.”  Although there has been conflict particularly between the pastoralist Orma and agriculturalist Pokomo communities in recent years, Mole points to the past and to a time when the two communities lived side-by-side in peace and harmony.  She believes the past will help the communities connect with the future, where Tana River can be peaceful and prosperous.

Mole Hashako Yako: Telling stories promotes empathy and understanding between communities.

Mole Hashako Yako: Telling stories promotes empathy and understanding between communities.

Amani FM was established in August ahead of Kenya’s controversial elections in an effort to promote peace and build on and complement the work of Una Hakika which has been combatting rumours and misinformation since 2013.

John Green, the Director of Una Hakika, who is also chairman of the board of Amani FM, says that without a shadow of a doubt, Amani FM has contributed to peace at a time when there were many rumours circulating, which could have resulted in violence.  During focus groups conducted this week, among different communities, John says people appreciated how well Amani FM had advocated for peace and that how integrating the work of Una Hakika and the radio has produced a powerful model of using technology and relationships to foster peace and development.

Peace centre for Kenya's troubled Tana River

HCR and Canadian-based Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, are about to set up a "Peace Centre" in the conflicted east Kenyan region of Tana Delta.   The centre will be established in the town of Garsen and will serve as a hub to analyse misinformation and rumours, as well as disseminate reliable information and messages that promote peace through HCR partner station Tana FM.  Kenya’s eastern Tana River County has frequently been affected by violent conflict between different ethnic groups, with rumours and misinformation among the key drivers of the conflict. 

In April, HCR specialists joined Tana FM producers in training a team of citizen journalists from Sentinel's Una Hakika project in how to create radio programme content that builds peace.  Una Hakika project coordinator John Green praised the new venture saying:  “People make decisions based on information, so when they receive information that is verified and from a neutral source that has no ethnic bias, it is a milestone in the peace process”

A new team of Una Hakika citizen journalists with coleagues from Tana FM and HCR UK in Garsen

A new team of Una Hakika citizen journalists with coleagues from Tana FM and HCR UK in Garsen

Sentinel's Executive Director, Christopher Tuckwood said that when the Una Hakika information service was set up two years ago, his team were deeply impacted by the interethnic massacres in late 2012 and early 2013 and how rumours had contributed to the atmosphere of fear, distrust and hatred that fuelled the conflict.   

Una Hakika's expertise in gathering, verifying and countering the flow of misinformation will add a powerful dimension to Tana FM's broadcasts as together the teams seek to put an end to conflict in this often divided region.

HCR's Jon Hargreaves described the establishment of this new partnership as coming at a very strategic time, as Kenyan's prepare to go to the polls in August 2017.  "Elections in Kenya have often been associated with violence," said Jon, "and even this week we saw a bloody crackdown on protests in Nairobi, following demonstrations against the country's electoral commission. We want to do all we can to ensure that elections in Tana River County pass peacefully and that citizens of the county are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities."

Tana FM began test broadcasts from Hola, Capital of Tana River County in May 2015

Tana FM began test broadcasts from Hola, Capital of Tana River County in May 2015

 

 

 

A new voice for peace in Eastern Kenya's troubled Tana River County

Since the nineteenth century, eastern Kenya's Tana River county has often been the scene of violent conflict, largely between two ethnic groups, the dominant Orma, who are nomadic cattle-herders and the Pokomo, who are farmers.   Many of the disputes have been over land use and access to water, however the intensity of these conflicts has increased in recent decades.  This has been fuelled by the easy access of weapons flooding across the nearby border with Somalia, growing poverty, the pressure caused by poorly managed resources and political interference.  Add to that toxic mix, the extremist group Al Shebab, which is trying to destabilise Kenya and Tana River County, is at risk of descending into violent conflict.

 

The tranquil Tana River, Kenya's largest river, has often been the scene of violent conflict over many decades

The tranquil Tana River, Kenya's largest river, has often been the scene of violent conflict over many decades

Now there's a new voice in town, promoting peace and community cohesion.  With the help of equipment and training from HCR UK, Tana FM is now on the air broadcasting test messages from the capital Hola.  While they wait for the licensing authority to issue the licence, the community is seeking to demonstrate that it has not only the capability, but the passion to deliver a new message - one of hope and harmony.  The station is already attracting the attention of a number of key stakeholders, who believe it will make a difference.  Former MP and prominent anti-FGM campaigner Jebii Kilimo, believes the station will be a powerful tool for getting the message out to difficult-to-reach communities.

 

HCR is working with local and international partners to build local capacity and planning to extend the reach of the station, to ensure that coverage gets to the areas at greatest risk, often where  rumours and misinformation fuel tensions.  Shedrack Hiribae, CEO of Kenya Sustainable Health Aid (KESHA), who first had the vision for a radio station, believes this "new voice in town" will  fill a gap in getting reliable and objective information to the community as well as being a voice for the community.  "Tana FM will not only promote peace, it will help development and be a force for positive social change," he said.

Ancient weapons used in past conflicts are giving way to modern weaponry which come across borders from conflicts in neighbouring states, like Somalia, with devastating effect

Ancient weapons used in past conflicts are giving way to modern weaponry which come across borders from conflicts in neighbouring states, like Somalia, with devastating effect

Innovative Advocacy in Kenya

While HCR's partner in  Kenya works hard to obtain a community radio licence for the conflict-torn Tana River,  the team on the ground have been continuing the work we began in June by meeting community groups, lobbying local government and vociferously advocating to bring pressure for the release of a licence.  In a touch of amazing ingenuity, the Tana FM team were invited to have a stand to celebrate World Food Day (WFD) in the Tana River capital, Hola, recently.  

Improvised broadcasting to prove the value of radio to promote peace, health and social development in Tana River

Improvised broadcasting to prove the value of radio to promote peace, health and social development in Tana River

Using the content they made during the HCR workshop in June, they demonstrated how FM radio works through an improvised transmitter and antenna (above), going live on air.  People all around tuned their FM pocket radios and mobile phones to listen and contributed to the broadcasts.  The WFD organisers were so impressed that they said the Tana FM stand was the best in using technology to improve food security and invited them to participate in future county occasions with radio broadcasting.

We remain hopeful that the licence will soon be released so that work can begin on installing the equipment and HCR can continue training and building capacity on the ground.

A guest has his say at the Tana FM stand on World Food Day

A guest has his say at the Tana FM stand on World Food Day


Peace Building in Tana Delta, Kenya

The Tana Delta in Kenya has for decades been the scene of violent conflict between two ethnic groups, the dominant Ormo who are nomadic cattle-herders, and the Pokomo, who are farmers. This news article from last year, speaks of the violence which plagues this region.

This month Jon Hargreaves and Alex Stout (HCR UK) traveled to this violence-torn district, accompanied by a young journalist, Alex Williams, who reported on the HCR community workshops conducted. The video report provides a great insight into HCR’s involvement and the hope for a peace-building radio initiative which can help prevent violent attacks occurring in the future. View the video below:

A first consultation and workshop drew key stakeholders from local government and service providers, followed by a second which brought together members of the different tribal communities to work on plans for a community-centred radio station, which will tackle many of the region's problems.

Besides a peace agenda, the station will help promote better farming and irrigation practices, education and health as well as tackling difficult social issues such as witchcraft, female genital mutilation, early marriages, polygamy and segregation against women.

While the project will require foreign funding for the station set-up, it has a great chance of becoming completely locally sustainable within the first year. 

Stay tuned for further updates from Jon and Alex as they navigate their way through a very complex situation where tribe, religion, ethnicity, family and politics make a very potent and toxic brew that could flare up in violence at any time.  

Community members from Tana River County in Kenya are eager to be involved in a community-centred media strategy for peace-building and addressing social issues.

Community members from Tana River County in Kenya are eager to be involved in a community-centred media strategy for peace-building and addressing social issues.

Alex (left)) and Jon (right) working with local community members on a "mapping" activity to identify community needs.

Alex (left)) and Jon (right) working with local community members on a "mapping" activity to identify community needs.

Jon, Alex and Alex with community members from Tana Delta, Kenya.

Jon, Alex and Alex with community members from Tana Delta, Kenya.