The political impasse in Kenya

Kenya needs national healing and reconciliation. This can be attributed to the protracted and hotly contested 2017 elections that re-opened ethnic divisions and tensions. Elections in Kenya since the return to multipartyism in 1991 have deepened divisions in the country, often resulting in ethnic clashes.1Mwaura, Philomena Njeri and Constansia Martinon. “Political Violence in Kenya and Local Churches’ Responses: The Case of the 2007 Post‐Election Crisis.” The Review of Faith & International Affairs 8, no. 1 (2010): 39-46. The August 8, 2017 presidential election results were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court and a fresh vote was held on October 26, 2017. This fresh presidential poll was subsequently boycotted by the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition and most of their supporters. In calling for an election boycott, NASA argued that it did not trust the national electoral body — the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) — to deliver a free, fair, and credible election. The NASA boycott of the elections partly delegitimized its outcome and resulted in the simmering political protest that persists until today. The new-found unity between President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga displayed on March 9, 2018 is a development that could potentially promote national cohesion.

Previous elections in 2007 and 2013 have demonstrated the threats posed to the electoral process and national stability by zero-sum presidential elections contested with support from narrow ethnic coalitions. These ethnic tensions relate to feelings of exclusion or marginalization from the control of or access to national resources at the center. A decentralized political system was introduced in April 2013 with the goal of devolving power and access to resources to the local level. According to many observers, political decentralization has yet to reduce the appetite for the presidency.

The potential of peace education

Given the divisive nature of Kenyan politics, what options can best place the country firmly on the path to peace? This essay proposes the introduction of peace education at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels as a viable option for promoting reconciliation, peaceful co-existence, and national healing in the country. Notwithstanding other proposed peace strategies such as national dialogues and constitutional reforms, there is untapped potential for peace education to improve peacebuilding in Kenya. While there is no consensus in academic circles regarding the level(s) at which to introduce peace-education, its pedagogical focus lies in the promotion of notions of non-violence, human rights, social justice, among other concerns. Peace education in its evolution has also partly integrated values of non-violence inherent in the teachings of the two major world religions, Christianity and Islam.2Kenneth Omeje. “Strengthening Peace Research and Peace Education in African Universities.” African Sociological Review 19, no. 1 (2015): 16-33. Given that these are the two largest religious groups in Kenya, it would be useful for universities and religious leaders to collaborate in developing peace education curricula. Peace studies should also be context-specific in order to address the pressing issues in the Kenyan context. Particular attention should be paid to the reconciliation of bitterly divided communities.3Kenneth Omeje. “Strengthening Peace Research and Peace Education in African Universities.” African Sociological Review 19, no. 1 (2015): 16-33. It is also important that peace education focuses on addressing the critical challenge of “peaceful co-existence” in the country.

While the introduction of peace education has the potential to instill values of tolerance, co-existence, and non-violent conflict resolution among Kenyan students, it is not the panacea for the recurring cycles of post-election violence. Lasting peace will only be found through effective political, economic, and social reforms. Thus, part of the challenge facing Kenya is the need to strive for “positive peace” as defined by scholars such as Johan Galtung. To strive for positive peace involves working for social and political equity, equal access to economic opportunities, healthcare, among other concerns.4Urmitapa Dutta “The Everyday Peace Project: An Innovative Approach to Peace Pedagogy.” Journal of Peace Education  13, no. 1 (2016): 79-104. Peace education is at the heart of this discourse.5Monisha Bajaj. “Pedagogies of resistance’ and critical peace education Praxis.” Journal of Peace Education 12, no. 2 (2015): 154-166. Given that one of the goals of peace education is to transform violent cultures into peaceful ones, there are several opportunities that could be realized through this. One of the positive effects of engaging in peace education is the sensitization of future generations to attitudes necessary for peaceful co-existence.6Urmitapa Dutta “The Everyday Peace Project: An Innovative Approach to Peace Pedagogy.” Journal of Peace Education  13, no. 1 (2016): 79-104. Among the greatest obstacles to be overcome in the Kenyan context is prejudice, which includes negative stereotypes that some people have of other communities. These will need to change if Kenya is to be set on the path towards positive peace.

Developing a curriculum for peacebuilding: Some preliminary thoughts

While this reflection speaks to formalized learning structures such as schools, colleges, and universities, it is important to note that peace education should also include cultural and grassroots peace institutions and trade organizations. In this regard, peace education can become a tool for engendering a culture of peace. Participatory action research (PAR) approaches should also be adopted in designing and developing curricula that are sensitive to the context where engagement on peace issues is required. PAR approaches can also facilitate a collective investigation of community problems while proffering solutions for them. These would offer opportunities for co-production of knowledge across various sectors. Different actors in the higher education community would need to join hands with community actors in order to develop curricula for peace education. The overall outcome of such curricula would be to promote the values of tolerance and peace.7Lindsey K. Horner. “Peace as an event, peace as utopia: a re-imagining of peace and its implications for peace-education and development.” Discourse: Studies in the Culture Politics of Education 34, no. 3 (2013) 366-379.

Whereas the development of peace education curricula would require considerable work and commitment, there are other practical steps that need to be taken. Some of the initial conversations could take place in grassroots peace workshops and peace clubs in formalized educational settings. There would be a need for academics and practitioners interested in peace education to engage in public scholarship as part of a wider movement to develop curricula to teach and sensitize people to the values of peace education. This could be in the form of specific subjects, courses, and modules. Knowledge production and dissemination can be in the form of writing articles, commentaries in mainstream local dailies, radio and television, and social media platforms. Ultimately, engaging in peace education would also require that practitioners and scholars collaborate with educational institutions, civil society, and grassroots organizations in promoting and popularizing positive peace. It should also be integrated into other facets of Kenyan society in ways that can help in conflict transformation through national reconciliation, cohesion, and harmonious co-existence.

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