Part of what I am hoping to do with my PhD. research, is to be able to describe what Proactive Peace currently looks like in different parts of the world. Too often it seems that peace work isn’t given much attention until violence has already started. And as important as that kind of peace work is, it isn’t the whole story.
So as part of this, my research involves partnering with a Kenyan peace organisation called AfriNov. In particular, I’ve been interested in their Turning The Tide programme, which facilitates Proactive Peace Work amongst community groups.
Turning The Tide is quite a comprehensive program, and a short blog post doesn’t really do it justice. However for a brief introduction, it could be said that Turning The Tide partners with existing community groups, providing them with tailored, comprehensive non-violence training. It’s the kind of training that usually takes days. By the end of it though, groups have dug down and identified the root causes of some of the issues they are facing, and they have started to develop campaigns to address them. Yet this is not just a non-violence education programme, because Turning The Tide also takes the next step, and provides campaign support to these groups, until they are able to operate independently.
It is both a comprehensive approach to non-violence, and a grounded approach to peacebuilding.
AfriNov does not try to identify and ‘fix’ all the issues facing a community. Instead, it acknowledges that community members themselves are in the best position to do that, and it empowers them to do so. This is in line with a key idea of Proactive Peace, that it is the community that should be the starting point.
Just under a month ago, myself and around 20 others from five different countries were privileged to be a part of the very first Turning The Tide, online ‘taster workshop’. It was facilitated by AfriNov with some help from the Friends World Committee for Consultation— Asia West Pacific Section and QPSANZ. Over 3 hours, we received an introduction to Turning The Tide: the basic concepts of non-violence; some key tools of analysis; and examples of how Turning the Tide has been working in Kenya. I wanted to share one of the examples that they used there, because it is not only a good example of how Turning The Tide works, but it is also a good example of Proactive Peace work in general.
AfriNov shared about a current campaign with a community group who are affected by the poor waste management practices of a local sugar mill. Rubbish has piled up and waterways were poisoned. This meant that the community couldn’t safely use the water they had previously relied on, and their cattle started to become sick.
Whilst many may see addressing this as environmental campaigning, we also know that it is Proactive Peace work too. This is because the effects of the poor waste management are also local conflict risk-factors. For example, the inability to safely use the water meant that there was resource scarcity and the potential loss of livelihoods, which can make for an unstable local economy. Left unchecked, eventually, this kind of situation also has the potential to lead to inequality of economic access, because one group (the factory owners) would have significant economic resources and power, whilst another (the local community) could have become disenfranchised
Through Turning The Tide, the community group that AfriNov is working with was able to identify the root cause of the environmental problems they were facing (poor waste management practices). From there, they could start to identifying other key allies in the community that they were able to work with. In itself, this is also a way of overcoming a sense of inequality of political access. I would imagine that it can be easy to feel fairly powerless when you are standing next to a large business such as a sugar factory. However when you start to draw together allies, that begins to shift.
The campaign is still ongoing. Some better waste management practices have been instituted by the company, but the community group feels that there is still more work to do and so their Proactive Peace work continues.
This kind of work is slow. It doesn’t make the international news and there’s no beautiful Instagram page. But this is the reality of Proactive Peace work. It is quietly happening around us everyday.
And although it might be slow, that is also it’s strength. When you start addressing problems early, you have the time necessary to work through them. What’s more, we also know that if this type of seemingly small Proactive Peace work is ignored or sidelined often enough, then it doesn’t take much of a spark to see outbreaks of violent-conflict. Once that has started, the situation becomes urgent, and the time needed for strong solutions might not be available any more.
Proactive Peace work is vital for our communities. Yet it is often overlooked in favour of more ‘exciting’ stories.
I would love to help build the profile of Proactive Peace. So, if anyone else has stories from their community, I’d love to hear about it— please get in touch