Although the roughly two dozen Kenyan women in the room worked in diverse contexts across the country, they had much in common. All of them had studied at EMU – primarily through the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program (WPLP) – and they all shared a belief that their peacebuilding work offered hope for the future. To strengthen that hope, at an October 2016 conference funded by USAID in Nairobi, they formed the Daima Amani Women’s Network (DAWN). Daima Amani means “everlasting peace” in Swahili.
“Our vision is to contribute to the peace in Kenya through our collective peacebuilding skills and experiences,” said Shamsa Sheikh GC ‘17, DAWN’s program coordinator and a WPLP alumna. “[We] saw a gap, in that there were many women in Kenya doing peacebuilding and had either gone through the WPLP program or were Center for Justice and Peacebuilding alumni, but we did not know much about each other’s work.”
Since DAWN’s founding, Sheikh said, its members have been working on everything from organizational logistics to social media engagement and brainstorming ideas for campaigns related to women’s issues and peacebuilding in Kenya. She said the group also hopes to help implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which includes among its objectives increased participation by women in peacebuilding and political processes, and the reduction of gender-based violence during armed conflict.
“Each of the members are doing peacebuilding in their own area of practice,” said Esther Bett, GC ’15, DAWN treasurer and another alumna of WPLP. “We participate in public forums and use any opportunity we get to preach peace.”
Other DAWN leaders include Chairperson Carol Makanda GC ’15 (WPLP) and Secretary Vincent Kiplagat.
Kiplagat is on the staff of the Daima Initiatives for Peace and Development (DiPaD), an organization founded and led by Doreen Ruto, MA ’06, until her death in 2016. DiPaD – WPLP’s local partner in Kenya – now serves as DAWN’s organizational home, offering advice, logistical support and other assistance to the recently formed network.
According to WPLP Director Leda Werner, the newly formed group has potential to have significant impact in Kenya.
“They are in the middle level civil society space, so they can transmit messages of peace to the grassroots and work on community-based peacebuilding initiatives there, and they can also reach up to the policy level and be a stakeholder in national conversations, thereby bringing a peacebuilding perspective into government policies and playing a role in shaping those conversations,” Werner said.
One of DAWN’s early focuses was on the August 2017 presidential elections in Kenya, which many feared could result in a return of the widespread election violence that occurred a decade ago and resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. To help prevent that, DAWN sent letters to all candidates urging them to do everything they can to maintain peace in the country.
As of this publication, several weeks after the election, Sheikh said Kenyan peacebuilders continue to appeal for calm and restraint. Tensions remain high as the losing candidate is disputing the outcome, and the country has seen isolated violence at demonstrations and some attempts to incite ethnic violence on social media
“This is a time for us to call for political tolerance, cohesion and harmony in the country so that we do not see the political violence we saw in 2007-2008 [after the election],” Sheikh said. “I hope civil society will use this opportunity to preach peace all over the country, as we have done in the pre-election period.”