Conflict and Security in Kenya

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The 2007 elections in Kenya triggered widespread conflict across the country, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people and displacing as many as 600,000 others. Further violence and displacement followed the elections in 2013 and 2017. 

While ethnicity remains a critical factor in election violence in Kenya, there are also other unresolved tensions fuelling the conflict. Historical issues between and within tribes, land ownership, and grazing disputes were compounded by two consecutive years of failed rains in 2016/17. The resulting drought left 3.4 million Kenyans in need of food aid and 480,000 children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition.   

Zack Gaya works for The National Council of Churches (NCCK) who are engaged in peacebuilding and humanitarian response across Kenya. Zack is the team leader for the field office in Kisumu, where he is responsible for a team of 6 people, working within the church structure to deliver aid directly to affected people in 6 counties. The western city of Kisumu was directly affected by the conflict around the 2017 elections. Zack describes the situation on the ground during the conflict and the impact the violence had on his team, the local community and his own personal safety:  

Conflict in Kisumu

The region where I work is an opposition zone, and so the people here were demonstrating. There was a lot of violence, and many people lost their lives. The NCCK is in a position of trust, so local people asked us to intervene and speak on their behalf. We had to engage with the government and police officers, we talked to local communities to try and encourage them to demonstrate in a non-violent manner. It was pretty scary sometimes, and our safety was at risk.  

I live about 50km from the main town, and I had to travel back home each day after work. During this period there were about 6 roadblocks on the road home from the office. I had to get out of the car at each one, people were throwing stones, it was a terrifying time for me.   

Our offices are next to a guest house, which we use for training courses. Around the elections, we were running a course on peacebuilding for a group of local women when the place was attacked. I wasn’t in the office, so I had to be called in. I rushed back, and the place was just hectic – women were beaten up, bad stuff happened. The team did not know what to do, we didn’t have any guidelines on how to deal with this situation. Eventually, they were able to calm things down, but it was a traumatic time.   

In my role as a team leader, I wanted to know how I could prevent such attacks from happening again and how to prepare our staff, so they knew how to respond if security incidents do occur.   

I wasn’t in the office, so I had to be called in. I rushed back, and the place was just hectic – women were beaten up, bad stuff happened.

Zack Gaya

Team Leader, The National Council of Churches, Kenya

Aid under fire

The majority of the world’s humanitarian personnel are national aid workers, who often lack the security assistance given to international aid workers through the government of their home country. In 2016, 158 major attacks against aid operations were documented, in which 288 aid workers were victims. Of these attacks, there were seven times as many national staff victims as international staff victims.   

RedR UK puts the development of national humanitarian organisations and national aid workers in disaster-affected countries at the forefront of our work. In 2017, 77% of those we trained were national staff, ensuring that vital skills and knowledge remained in-country, where they’re needed most, for the long-term. In June 2018, June attended RedR UK’s Personal Safety and Security training course in Nairobi, Kenya. RedR UK’s security training is an intensive, dynamic, hostile environment awareness training (HEAT) course where participants discuss, learn and apply approaches and measures to improve their personal security when living and working in insecure environments.   

Essential theory learned in the classroom is immediately put into practice in real-life simulation exercises, confronting key issues such as roadblocks, abduction, weapons, mines and crossfire. The course is designed to put participants under stressful circumstances, preparing them for the worst-case scenario. Zack describes his experience of the training and the effect it has had on his work:  

Participants in a simulation training exercise, Nairobi, Kenya
Participants in a simulation training exercise, Nairobi, Kenya

Learning how to stay safe

The training was excellent, and it was eye-opening, to say the least! We started on a very personal level thinking about things like gender might affect your own security, things that you might otherwise take for granted. Then we looked at an organisation level, how to develop procedure to reduce and manage risk.   

We learned about how to respond to a security incident, including things like First Aid which is really useful for my role, it gave me valuable, practical skills which I can use in my day-to-day work.   

We also learned about how to do interventions safely, especially the distribution of food and non-food items to beneficiaries. The training taught me to think carefully about each stage of the process to ensure that you are not causing harm during the distribution. This is something that I’ve used immediately in my work. We have had some incidents of people being injured during food distributions.   

 After the training, I applied my new knowledge and skills, ensuring that when planning the next distribution, we worked closely with local people and the administration. We made sure that the place where the delivery took place was secure and that the local community had ownership of the project. The distribution went very well, everyone was safe, and the local people told us they were pleased with how the distribution happened.   

We learned how to respond to a security incident, including things like First Aid which is really useful for my role. The training gave me valuable, practical skills which I can use in my work.

Zack Gaya

Team Leader, The National Council of Churches, Kenya