Q&A with Davis Wafula, Lifelong Peacebuilder in Kenya

Davis Wafula is an expert peacebuilder living and working in Kenya. His long-running career in conflict mitigation, healing and justice has put his life at risk, yet he is more determined than ever to improve opportunities for local communities.

Wafula recently took part in Positive Peace workshops in the Lodwar and Lowarengak, two Kenyan towns that sit close to the borders of Uganda and South Sudan.

We asked Davis Wafula a few questions about why he decided to start spreading Positive Peace in his day-to-day work as Head of Programs at SAPCONE, a local NGO.

Why do you think Positive Peace can help the Turkana people?

Wafula: Positive Peace can help Turkana people in a number of ways.

Foremost, Turkana County is one of the remotest regions in the entire republic of Kenya. The region is highly underdeveloped and lacks the most basic infrastructure and social amenities for sustaining a decent life.

Turkana people are faced with very high levels of illiteracy and education facilities remain basic and dilapidated.

Key infrastructure including health, road network, hygiene, water and electricity supply, are still confined in urban centres, whereas majority communities in rural areas remain neglected.

This explains why the community has been in conflict with their intra and crossborder neighbours since independence in the 1960s.

Positive Peace will help the community in addressing many of these challenges.

Traditionally, we have concentrated on ending violent conflict between the community and her neighbours. This has taken a long time, has led to the loss of many lives. The situation hasn’t changed much.

The eight pillars of Positive Peace actually touch on key life aspects that affect the Turkana community, and those that need to be emphasised when conducting peacebuilding.

How do you use Positive Peace in your work for SAPCONE?

Wafula: At SAPCONE, we started using Positive Peace programming in February, immediately after I attended two trainings conducted by the Institute for Peace and Economics in Lodwar and Lowarengak.

At the moment, we are blending Positive Peace with our traditional conflict analysis and resolution approaches.

We start the program by analysing particular causes of conflict between parties that have clashed and seek solutions through mediation process. Thereafter, we then introduce the concept of Positive Peace to our audiences.

This way, we enable them to look beyond and see that peacebuilding isn’t all about stopping the standing conflict, but exploring into issues, structures and behaviour that promotes and sustains peace in their communities.

What are major challenges for building peace in Turkana?

Wafula: To break it down, some of the challenges include:

1. Insecurity

One substantial challenge is that of the insecurity faced by our staff while in the field. Insecurity to NGO staff is real. We either hire security escorts or risk driving on our own after carrying out an intelligence inquiry.

Many NGO and government workers have lost lives in this region. Many civilians continue to die daily from marauding, uncontrolled and heavily armed youth.

2. Expansive land terrain

Expansive regional cover with rough land terrain and dilapidated road network means that we have to spend more time and resources than previously planned.

It also means that staff have to endure long travel, harsh weather conditions, and the threat of sicknesses and vectors such as mosquitoes.

3. Ever growing public expectations

Some communities want us to stay longer and share the challenges they face.

We’ve had to try and manage growing public expectations, that we learnt emanated from the growing trust that communities had in us. But with restricted budgets and resources, we are strictly limited in terms of the time.

4. Weak logistics

We lack our own cars and motorbikes and are forced to rely on hired transport to visit project areas. This limits our work, as peacebuilding requires that you establish close and long-term attachment with members of your project areas.

This attachment influences all relevant parties to play their active peacebuilding roles, thus collectively contribute to enduring state of peace.

5. Demand for unofficial payments

This is a serious challenge.

On one hand, this is corruption and donor partners don’t allow this kind of payment, and on the other hand, others continue to pay.  This makes us look odd. Our refusals, and the explanations we give, are never well received.

6. Lack of goodwill

We have always felt that the goodwill of authorities remains weak. A few times for example, we negotiated with the authorities to recover animals and fishing nets stolen from Turkana.

While the authorities acted on a number of occasions, there were also many excuses, such as “we don’t have fuel.”

What drives you to be a peacebuilder?

Wafula: Without peace, development cannot take place, and the world communities will remain in poverty and chaos forever. This conviction drives me to be a peacebuilder.

Secondly, as a peacebuilder, I understand that most of the conflicts in many African states and even in other parts of the world are solvable. But people only get caught up in the trap of denial or partisanship.

I am convinced that in this world where we have stubborn and corrupt leaders, peacebuilding is a must. We have to confront them to achieve a peaceful world.