Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Being born on the Kenya – Uganda border in 1980 coincided with the huge flow into Kenya of Ugandans who were threatened by the Id Amin rule. Nevertheless, my childhood was largely peaceful. For the lack of a man (read boy) in my grandmother’s household, I took on the non-traditional role of herding our cows in the meadows where I met scores of boys my age doing the same thing. Here, boys would engage in incessant fights with each other, forcing me to intervene successfully all the time thanks to the taboo that a ‘man’ is not supposed to beat ‘a woman’.
Years on, the resultant pressure of migration coupled with the conflict between the Bukusu and the Sabaot exposed me to violent conflict at a tender age. As a teenager, hiding in a cave at river Malakisi throughout the night was the order of the day following the many threats of invasion distributed through leaflets and rumors in the village. Homes were no longer safe at night. It is exhilarating to remember the deaths, injuries and displacements that accompanied this period.
The mystery however was how adults could behave just like boys in the meadows, in fact, worse because the boys did not kill or severely injure each other. As a result, an inherent desire to find a way to stop these violent conflicts grew in me though I was just a girl in a highly patriarchal society. While I learnt to love my neighbor as I love myself in church, school seemed to remind me that our liberation movement, the Mau Mau, brought us independence through violent means.
Years later, my dream was fulfilled when I was admitted at the University of Nairobi for a Master in diplomacy and international studies. This reinforced my knowledge and skills in community peace building.
Naturally, an opportunity to complement the theory gathered at the University with its pragmatic application in a three-month experience sharing course via the Rotary Peace fellowship was highly welcome. I was certainly elated by the support and endorsement from the Rotary Club of Westlands in Nairobi, Kenya. I was excited and thankful to learn that the Rotary Foundation had accorded me the opportunity and more excited that a donor who is keenly interested in promoting peace education, had sponsored my fellowship making me an endowed rotary peace fellow!
Readorn (1988) argues that the pedagogical purpose of peace education goes beyond preparing for nonviolent politics to investigating the root causes of violent conditions and interrupting this cycle. It does this by transforming attitudes, one of the pillars of Johan Galtung’s ABC triangle. I agree with the 1986 Seville Statement which indicates that aggression is not innate but learned from observation, imitation and reinforcement. This implies that violent behavior can also be unlearned. Therefore, presenting opportunities to unlearn aggressive behavior through peace education through both formal and informal channels can transform violent behavior within communities.
Despite the narrated violent childhood I experienced, informal education which was a very powerful tool of transforming consciousness, formed my primary source of learning about non-violence. Some of the constructions that were passed down to me by my grandmother, mother and the community at large are in the form of taboos which if violated would provoke the wrath of the gods.
‘A child must not beat up his parents or any community member whose age is close to his parents’ to avoid being wretched’. Although the taboo talks of beating, its meaning stretched to obeying, not arguing and communicating one’s disagreement in a respectful manner. In today’s world, respecting the elderly is one of the values that only a peaceful society enjoys.
‘A person must not drop the book of God on the ground, otherwise he shall have incessant headaches’. This taboo exhorts the respect of religious holy books, whether they belong to your faith or not. Such is the beginning of inter-religious tolerance.
‘A man must not beat up a woman who is not his wife to avoid the wrath of the goddess of queens’. This taboo helped reduce the killings of women and girls in violent conflicts.
‘The first harvest should be dedicated to the ancestors to avoid losing the entire harvest in a natural disaster’. This taboo established the delicate balance and equilibrium that exists in the universe, between the visible and the invisible.
‘One must not kill his neighbor, otherwise he shall be thrown into the evil forest which is full of wild animals that are ready to receive prey’. This is timely in our society today where killings, not from natural disasters, but by fellow men are on the increase.
Unfortunately, taboos seem to be less and less appreciated by later generations. It is therefore urgent for governments, even in Africa, to refocus the objective of their educational curricula to include the change of attitudes by teaching the use of non-violent means of resolving conflicts.
At the Rotary Peace Center in Chulalongkorn University, I have learnt how to use non-violent means such as art, dialogue and persuasion among others to resolve conflict. Yes, we can all learn to be non-violent!
Sellah Nasimiyu King’oro, Kenya
Rotary Peace Fellow, January 2016 session.