Features

Peacebuilding in East Africa
Mary Ellen Doyle learns of the peace work of Irish missionaries

Mary Ellen Doyle at a Shalom workshop at Wamba, Kenya.

Mary Ellen Doyle

Originally from the ‘sunny’ south east of Ireland, I have been training and working since 2015 in the field of mediation, organisational conflict management and conflict transformation. I employ a variety of methodologies and experiences to work with individuals to help them identify the root causes of their conflicts, thus, helping them to improve their self-awareness, emotional intelligence and conflict competence. My passion for conflict resolution and transformation extends broader than workplace and person-organisation conflicts to community mediation and peace building. 

After graduating with a Masters in Mediation and Conflict Intervention from the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, NUI Maynooth in 2015, I continued with the institute as an intern and project coordinator. During that period I met the founder and Executive Chairman of the Kenyan-based Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Fr Patrick Devine SMA. Curious about the methodologies used by Shalom, Fr Patrick was kind enough to share a deeper insight with me on the work that it does with diverse ethnic communities in Kenya where there is a tradition of tribal conflicts and violence.

Approach

Since February this year, I have been in Kenya experiencing first-hand the work of the Shalom Centre. It is evident that the approach they take to peacebuilding is unique. Their highly qualified team uses the paradigm of change that applies both theory and practice geared towards transforming negative peace (the mere absence of violence) to positive peace (conflict resolution) through in-depth theoretical conflict analysis, peacebuilding activities and developmental processes.

Shalom seeks to identify, understand and address the underlying causes of conflict rather than just address the symptoms. This deep-rooted approach allows for social and religious values like peace, truth, justice and mercy to take root, enable sustainable development to evolve, and progressively enliven people to actualise their potential. 

The training that the Shalom Centre imparts to the grassroots representatives and stakeholders of the various ethnic groups incorporates intensive research and analysis of issues and contextualised conflict transformation approaches. Communities are empowered in their understanding and application of various non-violent techniques that they can use to resolve their own conflict, and once taken through a series of training, they are brought together for inter-ethnic trust building aimed at slowly rebuilding and healing deep wounds.  

I have had the opportunity to witness the effects of electoral violence on the people of Kenya. From rural Marsabit and Samburu, to urban Nairobi and Nakuru counties, I have listened to first-hand accounts from people, both victims and portraitures of inter-ethnic violence. Marsabit and Samburu counties are largely pastoralist communities that experience very violent livestock raids.

Closely tied to this is the struggle over scarce resources like water and pasture that sustain their livelihood. Ethnic tension in these areas is also present and is exacerbated by the raids and by influence from political leaders. Nakuru and Nairobi have slightly different dynamics where ethnic divides seem to be a major source of conflict. These divides run deep especially coming close to the 2017 election period with political leaders using it to gain momentum on their campaigns. 

In my opinion, one view that cuts across all the diverse experiences is the fact that violence has never brought about positive change for their communities. It has only deepened the wounds and strained the relations with the ethnic other. It is evident that people do not only value, but are highly energised by peace-building initiatives, which is what the Shalom Centre is doing on the ground with these communities. 

Working with the Shalom team on their strategic design and delivery of transformative programmes on electoral violence has sparked a passion within me to expand my multi-disciplinary approach of mediation and conflict management to peace building efforts. To be engaged in issues of peace, justice, reconciliation and development without adequate skills-sets in terms of analysis and techniques leave a lot to be desired and can even at times be detrimental to real progress. 

Shalom has allowed me to appreciate the value of professionally administered peacebuilding at the very grassroots in our societies as fundamental to identifying and influencing applicable policy making and sustainable development initiatives going forward. 

The value and the strategic importance of the work of Shalom was emphasised recently by the then Minister of State Joe McHugh at a meeting of the EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Development in Brussels in May discussing the humanitarian situation in Africa, Yemen and Syria, and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development. Praising the work of the Shalom Centre, Mr McHugh said that we cannot have sustainable development without peace. “When we have examples of peacebuilding and conflict resolution that are successful” he said, “we should examine them and support them so that we can learn from them.”

 

Mary Ellen Doyle is a native of Adamstown, Co. Wexford. The Shalom Centre – www.shalomconflictcenter.org – is run by Irish SMA priests, Fr Patrick Devine from Roscommon and Fr Oliver Noonan from Cork.