Source: All Africa
If there is one proverb that aptly described Dekha Ibrahim, renowned world peace guru, it is the Chinese adage: "As fire refines gold so suffering refines virtue." Despite the odds and the immense violence she encountered in her rural home in Wajir, northeastern Kenya, Dekha rose to become a significant force in the global peace processes.

But what Dekha taught the world is her comprehensive methodology entailing three things: Grassroots activism, a soft but uncompromising leadership; and a spiritual motivation drawing on the teachings of Islam. "Coming from the same area AS me, Dekha showed us how diverse ethnic, cultural, religion and differences can be reconciled and knitted together to bring about greater peace and development," says Rukia Subow, the chair of Maendeleo ya Wanawake.

Dekha, who passed away in July after succumbing to injuries sustained in road accident in which her husband and driver also died, abandoned many good things in life to focus on peace building.

It all started when she left her job as the headmistress of Wajir Primary School and mobilised other women in her home district to discuss how they could bring the two warring communities of Ajuran and Degodia together.Born in Wajir in 1964, her wish was to see peace in her community a reality in line with her mother's wish, who once wondered aloud, "When will all this come to an end?" in reference to the constant wars between the two communities that had led to death and destruction.

As a young mother, Dekha used her home as an office and meeting place where women from the two fighting communities could meet to brainstorm on strategies and tactics to respond to issues facing them. At that time women were not allowed to make any decisions for the community. It was a man's world.

One of the outcomes of those meetings was the crafting of a strategy that required the women's groups to go back to their communities and persuade the men to lay down their arms and negotiate with the enemy community. The women also warned the elders and men that they wouldstrip naked if the young men did not lay down their arms.

It worked. Other women joined them and piled pressure on the men, leading to the voluntary surrender of arms by the youthwithout seeking orders from their tribal commanders. They denounced violence and joined the women's pecae initiative led by Dekha.

Peace agreement

These efforts culminated in the two warring communities signing a peace agreement under the Al-Fatah Declaration, which stopped the fighting. The declaration also addressed issues that caused the clashes. Since the signing of the agreement, Wajir has never experienced conflict. Dekha did not look back after that.

In 1996-97 she was team leader for the Community Development training programme of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project in Kenya.

In 1998, when the Christian community in Wajir was suffering violent attacks, Dekha assisted in the formation of a disaster committee of Muslim women to assist and make amends with the Christian community.

Joint prayer meetings were held, in which both groups shared their experiences, leading to the strengthening of relationships. Subsequently the Wajir Peace Committee began to include Christian women, leading to the formation of an inter-faith committee for peace which has undertaken further activities to intervene in religious conflicts.

Soon her peace work got international attention and in 2007, Dekha was the recipient of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award established by Sweden's Jakob von Uexkull. The award is presented annually to honour those "working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today."

In 1997 she was a founding member of the regional Coalition of Peace in Africa (COPA). As the East African regional co-ordinator, she was involved in the Linking Peace Practice to Policy (LPP) programme of the COPA, funded by Comic Relief of the UK. LPP seeks to support and link communities in volatile areas in conflict prevention and peace-building work.

She was also a board member of Co-existence International, an initiative committed to strengthening the field of policy makers, practitioners, researchers, advocates, organisations and networks promoting co-existence.

Dekha was also a founding member of a Global Peace Practitioners Network ACTION for conflict transformation and the consortium of African and international conflict transformation specialists.

International footprint

Dekha had no boundaries or clan or class and everybody was her sister or brother. She strove for a free society built on social justice and without violence.

Eulogising the peacemaker, Florence Mpaayei, executive director of Nairobi Peace Initiative Africa said, "One memorable observation that Dekha made at a meeting convened to reflect on the Kenya mediation process following the post-election violence was how as Kenyans we knew how to debate but not to dialogue."

Betty Kaaria Murungi, a founder and a board member of Urgent Action Fund Africa (UAF-Africa), remembers how Dekha was instrumental in the thinking behind UAF-Africa's early work on rapid response teams. "She was a mentor to me and the entire UAF team as we navigated the perilous conflict terrain across Africa. She taught us so much," she said.

Njoki Wamai of the Africa Leadership Centre/Conflict, Security and Development GroupKing's College in London remembers how Dekha kept reminding the women of the need to be at the peace table.

"She insisted that dialogues should not only be limited to those spaces at the national level in full view of cameras but to all levels from the national to the local... and those dialogues should reinforce each other both ways and not from a top down approach as in the case in Kenya."

According to Wamai, this model got the attention of Graca Machel, who asked her to write a concept about this on the Need for Dialogue and not Debate in Reconciliation.

"In Dekha we have lost one of the most insightful thinkers and intellectuals on peace and reconciliation on the continent," she said.

Selline Korir, the team leader of Rural Women Peace Link, said Dekha meant so much for them. "At a time when we did not know where look to for support at the height of post-election violence of 2007/008, Dekha in collaboration with NPI-Africa gave the group its first Ksh 100,000 ($1,111) that enabled us to start mediating between the internally displaced women at the Eldoret show ground and those who had remained in their homes at Kesses and Burnt Forest region."

But as the country and the world mourns the death of Dekha, her wish was to start the first East Africa peace institute. Perhaps the best way to honour her is to build the Dekha Ibrahim Peace Institute.


Go to top