New York, USA, 11 August 2023 -/African Media Agency(AMA)/- Fleria Mukula, 65, has lived in Bungoma County in Western Kenya all her life. She felt she could bring more to her community and, while raising a family and running a farm, she became one of its leading voices on peace and conflict. In 2022 she was included in the Government of Kenya’s honours list, receiving the County Hero Award for her peacebuilding efforts.
I became a peacemaker in my family at an early age. At around 10 years old, I was bold enough to correct my father if he was cruel to my brothers. I would tell him, humbly, he was making a mistake. I think I was born as a peacebuilder.
There are several land disputes in Bungoma, particularly in the northern part of the county, in the Mount Elgon region, as well as significant discrimination against some of the ethnic minorities who live there. There is also illegal arms trading across the porous Uganda–Kenya border. When you add this to the ethnic conflicts, it becomes unstable. Some communities have been chased away from the Mount Elgon region and displaced. Earlier this year a chief was murdered. The body was hidden in a maize farm. Although we have peace and there is silence, tensions are still there.
I formed the Bungoma Women’s Peace Network in 2022. I had the vision in 2017, but the sessions provided by UN Women gave me the courage to go out to the sub-counties and form a network. When conflict breaks out, women and children suffer most, so there’s a need to train and inform women around conflict issues and how to mitigate and respond to them. I organized groups in every subcounty and, from those groups, two women were elected to form the county team. Importantly, the women in my network who get trained actively reach out to train other women in their own wards. In turn, those women can also share knowledge in their village/household.
My work has not just been with women. During the elections, I worked with local leaders and was elected to run peacebuilding forums and education programmes. Youth are often targeted by politicians to incite violence, so we held youth meetings twice a month. They established leaders and focal points so they could also share concerns with the authorities. We invited all these groups to make an agreement to not enter into violent practices or get involved with politicians who would lead them astray. As a result, we had a very peaceful election.
I feel so good when I go out and explain the facts of life, but it is a full-time job. There are so many meetings and discussions, I might take 13 working days to visit all the sub-counties of Bungoma County. Sometimes I don’t sleep. The biggest challenge working with community peacebuilding can simply be financial. Sometimes we cannot provide refreshments. If you call a meeting, you want people to stay and listen. The first time they may come; the second time they will not because they can’t afford transport and you can’t even provide water.
For long-lasting peace in Bungoma, we need to increase security presence in the area. This will decrease illegal arms trade and de-escalate the conflict. Just as important is the need to reach an agreement on the boundaries between the people and government.
Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of UNWOMEN.