NAISULA LESUUDA, 27, is the youngest Kenyan woman to bag the prestigious presidential Order of the Grand Warrior for her efforts in bringing peace among warring pastoralists, writes KENFREY KEBERENGE
On December 12, 2010, Naisula Lesuuda, like most Kenyans, expected President Kibaki to dish out various honours to a number of Kenyans.
Over the years, Naisula, 27, had watched the awards go to the same clique of people — old guards. And this time, she thought things would be no different.
But a day before, she received a call from the Office of the President informing her that she would be the President’s guest at State House the following day to receive an honour.
Then aged 25, she went into history books as the youngest Kenyan woman to bag the prestigious presidential Order of the Grand Warrior for her efforts in bringing peace among warring pastoralist communities and using journalism to highlight social issues.
A year later, she received the International Labour Organisation Wedge Award 2011 for Prowe Outstanding Professional Woman.
NAISULA LESUUDA shows off the prestigious award presented to her last Jamhuri Day
Naisula’s honours came from her relentless struggle to unite warring pastoralist communities around the country — efforts that have escaped the eye of common wananchi, but caught the President’s. She has since quit her regular job and ventured into bringing peace in troubled areas, rescuing young girls from female genital mutilation and media consultancy.
Naisula’s journey kicked off on the morning of September 15, 2009 when she received a call from a KBC freelancer alerting her that ten people had been killed in cattle rustling at Naibol Kanampiu Village in Laikipia pitting Pokot against Samburu.
“By 8am, he told me 40 people lay dead, 21 of them Samburu women and children who were caught up on a crossfire,” recalls Naisula, a Samburu.
She then placed a call to her local MP protesting at the merciless yet avoidable bloodshed.
The Government dispatched a high-powered delegation to the area to reassure the locals on security. Although Naisula was offered a chance to be part of the delegation, she declined.
Back in Nairobi, she contacted four fellow Samburu professionals and booked an appointment with Nderitu Mureithi, the area MP.
“After explaining our reasons for the appointment, he asked us ‘what can you do?’ That changed my perception about the whole issue,” says Naisula.
Together, they agreed to reach out to their ‘rivals’ — Pokot professionals in Nairobi — to seek ways of prevailing upon the villagers on both sides to cease the bloody animosity.
Surprisingly, Naisula says the bad blood on the ground was replicated among the professionals from the two communities. Later in December, a group of 30 professional went to Laikipia, a trip that they funded out of their pockets. Their deliberations with the locals bore fruits, or so they thought.
On their way back to Nairobi, though, news filtered through that revenge attacks had occurred in the same area they had visited, claiming two lives. And as fate would have it, one of those killed, a Pokot, was an uncle to one of the people in the peace delegation.
Disheartened, they decided to return to attempt and resolve the fresh conflict. But when the Government caught wind of their plan, they blocked it saying their first trip had inflamed tensions.
They nevertheless returned. “Already, the Pokot were planning revenge attacks but the person who had lost an uncle told them not to since he had forgiven his killers. That made sense to them,” said Naisula.
Several more meetings were carried out by the Nairobi group that would later transform into Laikipia Peace Caravan.
Since then, deaths arising from Samburu-Pokot cattle raids have subsided and the group has returned in 2010 and 2011 for anniversary celebrations.
Having succeeded in Laikipia, the group grew in leaps and bounds and now boasts of more than 1,000 professionals from various parts of the country.
The caravan has spread its tentacles to other violence-prone areas in the country including Marsabit, Isiolo, Kuria and Naivasha, among others. The Laikipia Peace Caravan mutated into Turkwel Peace Caravan, Suguta Peace Caravan, Waso Peace Caravan, Oasis Peace Caravan, Samburu North Peace Caravan, Transmara Peace Caravan, Kuria Peace Caravan, Naivasha Peace Caravan, Narok Peace Caravan and Kericho Peace Caravan.
The conflict pitting Turkana against Pokot, however, has proved too hot for the group as they were told to “go back to Nairobi and do your work, this is our work”.
The Isiolo conflict was also a hard nut to crack due to what Naisula calls complex local politics and a harsh terrain.
The group has, however, scored in Kuria where they brought together communities that had not seen eye to eye since independence. The group had to cross over to Tanzania where the masterminds of the local violence resided.
In Naivasha, one of the hotspots during the post-2007 general election violence, various communities vowed they would never engage in useless fights over intangible leadership.
But it has not been a walk in the park for Naisula. Having a regular job, it meant that she had to juggle between the two, which need her equal attention.
By 2010, the Government had embraced the group and not only provided them with security during travel, but also funded their activities.
USAid also joined fray with funding through their Kenya Transition Initiative. The group even had a one on one meeting with President Kibaki who promised them Sh5.2 billion in budgetary allocations to be spread in two years.
Naisula’s group was set to have a secretariat in Nairobi to oversee peace efforts. Other monies would have gone into helping reformed morans to venture into income generating activities and construct schools and water points that would be jointly attended and used by people from the rival communities.
“When the budget was read, though, the money was channelled through various ministries and we lost out. We tried following up but nothing came out of it,” recalls Naisula.
But that is not to say that the Government has not been supportive of the group. When she was still working at KBC, the Office of the President wrote to management asking them to grant her off whenever she needed to go for the peace trips.
Today, she hosts the morning show on the state broadcaster part-time but is also a full-time media consultant.
Besides the peace initiative — together with her cousin Josephine Kulea — she runs the Samburu Girls Foundation, which rescues girls from FGM. In her free time, Naisula who is in a relationship loves social media, travelling and reading.