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Retired officer on a national peace mission

By Eric Wainaina

Kenya: The general notion is that military and police officers can only enforce peace by use of force.

There have been common scenes of men in uniform clamping down on perceived dissent using batons, clubs and even firearms, for which some lobbies have accused them of human rights violations.

But the disciplined forces have their other side that could help in tackling crime and other cases of insecurity.

About 40,000 of retired disciplined officers have joined together in a movement aimed at preaching peace across the country. This time, not by use of bullets, teargas and other weapons, but by word mouth.

Global Veterans & Peace Ambassadors (Glovepa) that was founded by Captain (rtd) John Mathenge after the post-election violence has transformed its members into ambassadors for peace.

Mr Mathenge, a retired military intelligence officer, said members volunteer in peace building, disaster management and community policing.

“We know what war is and what peace is and how to deal with them more than anybody else in the country because we are trained peacekeepers and we (disciplined forces) have no ethnicity,” he said.

Theirs is to encourage state stability, security, peace and community cohesion. They also advocate against illegal influx of small arms and narcotics abuse.

Mathenge, who retired in 1991, said the PEV and the I992 clashes pushed him to start the organisation.

Concerned citizens of peace had come with an idea to curb the violence caused by the 2007 disputed presidential results and he brought solders on board to support the initiative.

Their first spot was Mathare slums in Nairobi, which was one of the hotspots. They also went to Rift Valley and toured IDP camps.

Glovepa initiated kalyet thayu (meaning peace in Kalenjin and Kikuyu respectively) that was advocating peace between Kikuyu and Kalenjin, who were the main protagonists in the ethnic violence.

Glovepa has brought together professionals in various capacities, inter-faiths leaders and youths to be peace ambassadors, especially in areas that were seriously affected by the post-election violence.

Through the support of British Council, mobilised youths have had a peace exchange programme in Europe involving the Kalenjin and Kikuyu youths.

Mathenge does not understand why Kenya is now importing peacekeepers yet for years it has been sending its officers on peace missions to foreign countries.

According to him, most of the people who are involved in violence are retired or dismissed members of the forces. He gave an example of Egypt where the trained officers are mobilising people and leading the violence.

Mathenge, who is a pastor with Christ Victory Ministries, said he was part of an initiative to curb violence perpetrated by SLDF by talking to them.

They have also been holding talks with Mungiki and the Mombasa Republican Council.

Glovepa has given him an effective platform to preach peace. In the course of his mission, he has been able to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and his predecessors Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

Glovepa also acts as an early warning system, as it collects intelligence though its members.

And even though the 2008 chaos ended, Mathenge says their activities were still on, saying sustainable peace was yet to be achieved since it was a process. The organisation has representatives in all villages across the country, creating an effective network. And it was easy to bring members together because they have a common background.

Currently, they are addressing the issue of political divide between Jubilee and CORD leaders that has continued to be fueled by politicians who are uttering inciting remarks.

Already they have written to National Cohesion and Integration Commission and have called on the Commissioner to act on leaders who were making inciting remarks.

He believes all violence in Kenya is politically instigated.

They recently launched Global Veteran Women Peace ambassadors. Fifty members from each county are victims of violence and will move in all 47 counties preaching peace.

They have been going to schools, churches and other institutions where they have been preaching peace. They are also planning to hold a seminar for all leaders on peace.

They have designed a book cover with a peace message and plan to print one million covers to be donated to all primary schools in the country.

Glovepa has also been advocating the rehabilitation of retired members of the disciplined forces into a productive society by improving their welfare through economic empowerment.