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OPINION: Peace is not the absence of war

By Muthoni Kahuho | August 6th 2019

At all costs, working towards achieving sustainable peace is not cheap but the consequences of war are costly.

As Kenyans, when our economy is thriving and our businesses are doing well, when we eat and drink and make merry, it does not mean that we are a peaceful country. For peace is like a balloon full of air, when pricked it will burst.

This is what happens in our country in every election cycle, the balloon full of air is pricked and when it bursts the common mwananchi suffers while the political elite watch from their havens. A few press conferences from here and there will show that they care. This is total hogwash.

The main reason of conflict in Kenya is deep level of marginalization in terms of ethnicity, gender, religion and age. The ‘winner takes all’ system after every general election threatens to bring the country to its knees. Time and again we have seen how divisive elections can be in our country and this calls for a review the Constitution.

Albert Einstein said, “Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order- in short, of government.” Peace has different definitions, but in a nutshell, it is a tool or means to end war or conflict.

The elephant in the room

Peace if discussed in the context of war means absence of war or hostilities. Consequently, when discussed in absence of war, peace does not necessarily mean people are at peace and the society is peaceful. This is because there are existing problems and hostilities.

This is not a new concept, it has existed since time immemorial, and human conflict has existed since the beginning of the human race. This is a thorn in our flesh to date as conflict still exists either as intra-state or inter-state.

The nature and scope of the conflicts mentioned is undergoing a paradigm shift during this era, posing a danger to our country like a ticking time bomb. The elephant in the room is resolving conflict when it occurs.

The painful cost of conflict

Historical conflict and the pursuant violence, not only drain away Kenyan’s economy and human resource, but they sabotage the lives of nations for incoming generations. Global Peace Index puts the cost of violence in Kenya at approximately Ksh500 million (5,202,000 USD). The presence of conflict in Kenya reduces the GDP by around 2% per year and has great impact on regional and international growth.

There have been several media and public debates in Kenya about the cost of violence and the increased insecurity to the country both economically and socially. For starters, insecurity erodes trust between neighbors and communities.

John Galtung, a prominent founder of peace thinking, came up with three levels of violence: direct, structural and cultural violence. According to him, direct violence is linked to aggression and has its maximum expression in the form of war.

Structural violence is derived from oppressive mechanism such as social, political and economic structures. This leads to preventing people from fully exploiting their development potential; for instance poverty, hunger, lack of access to education or health. In other words violating of lack of human basic needs.

Cultural violence originates from dictating cultural values or criteria, denying cultural diversity and legitimizing the use of force or military a tool of conflict resolution.

Consequently, focusing on Kenya’s intra state political violence, the occurrences of conflict have not abated.

The struggle for independence from colonial powers in the 20th century led to the rising of demand for communities of homogenous ethnics, linguistics, religious groups residing within the new independent Kenya.

The continual refusal of recognition of these rights has created new struggles, the worst of them being terrorism.

Where are we failing as a country?

In Kenya, the ideologies and attitude of the elite with regards to conflict can be classified into two groups.

The first would hold that the leaders of uprisings and the aforementioned demand groups are inspired by their selfish desires of gaining power and accumulating wealth.

They hold dubious schemes to destroy the State in collaboration with a dominating class, they grab the privileges and maintain them for themselves.

On the other hand, recognizing the cause that has led to the rise in demands and ensure conflicts, that these root causes are understood and actions to resolve the conflict partaken.

Majority of Kenyans do not have faith in the government. Also worth noting is that governance is weakened when people do not trust the state to fulfill its core function and protect them.

The people thus resort to other means of avoiding violence such as purchasing weapons and relying on non-formal security grouping.

This undermines efforts for long term violence prevention and social cohesion.

This is what needs to be done

I believe in building a culture of peace, where we will have transformation of values, attitudes and behaviors within each person.

Our culture should be shaped by peace, rather than by war and violence. This way, peace will not just focus on national security but include human security at a personal level.

The political class must change their agenda and design for prosperity from wealth, power and domination to harmony, inclusiveness, respect, integrity and healing of self, family, community and the nation as a whole.

Kenya’s analysis demonstrates that the basic conditions for the country’s sustainable exit from poverty reduction are not in place.

Violence, instability and inequality in the country limit prospects for growth especially given newly discovered natural resources and ethnic marginalization.

We also need to foster a culture of peace through education by embracing a curriculum advocating for attitudes and behaviors on building a culture of peace, including peaceful conflict-resolution, dialogue, tolerance, consensus-building and active non-violence.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the advancing democratic participation for the achievement and maintenance of peace. We must ensure that we have a transparent and accountable governance and administration, working towards social equity and equality.

The media is also a critical player in promoting a culture of peace and this begs us to support participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge. However, regulations need to be put into place to address cases of violence against the media. This is inclusive of advancements in information and communication technologies.

Creating a culture of peace is a representation of an everyday attitude of non-violence, and fierce determination to defend human rights and dignity. We should aim to having peace as a permanent feature of all social institutions, especially schools, the economy, and the political scene.

Peace is not absence of war, it entails presence of more other basic things like virtue, justice, order, good law, good government, good relationship, well-being, freedom, respect for human rights, security among other things.

Kenya ought to resolve issues which are pending to avoid conflict in future. Issues such as historical land injustices, the marginalization of communities, tribal and ethnic politics, religion, corruption just to mention a few. These issues if not addressed may sooner or later lead to re-occurrence of political conflict and violence.

We are prisoners of a vicious election cycle, and are responsible for creating our own mess but like the proverbial Phoenix who rose from the ashes, we too can rise to salvage the situation. We must embrace peace, at all times.

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