Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peace Talks

In March I had the privilege of attending a peace gathering between the Karamojong, Turkana, and Ik. I don't know much about it, but apparently these talks have been held at various times throughout history, perhaps when the inter-tribal raiding and killing reached an unbearable level. This particular gathering was organized by an NGO who invited members of all three tribes, plus government officials of all kinds. According to the Ik, it was clearly a big day, something to be anticipated and definitely not missed.

The context for the meeting was that the Kenyan government had formally asked the Ugandan government to let Turkana bring their livestock across the border in search of water and grass. If they can't come across, as they've done for years, many of the animals and some of the people would die. Normally they just come, without permission, toting their guns to protect their animals from the Karamojong. But since the Karamojong have been largely disarmed, the Ugandan government is requiring the Turkana to also leave their guns in Kenya.

The meeting basically went like this. Six hours past the official starting time, the formal introductions began. Then, an Ik elder was invited to speak. He said the Ik don't have guns and the Ik don't raid. He said the Ik want the Karamojong and Turkana to make peace. Then a Turkana warrior got up to speak. He said the Turkana have stopped raiding for some time, but the Karamojong keep coming down to Kenya to raid. Then a string of government and military officials gave speeches. The Karamojong bore the brunt of the accusations. All the people were sitting roughly according to tribe, and the Karamojong section was defiantly silent (did they know that during the actual meeting, a group of Karamojong warriors had descended the escarpment to raid the less-guarded Turkana cows?).

With all the formalities out of the way, the dances began, with the colorfully dressed Turkana women leading the festivities. Since it was late evening by then, we had to go and so missed the big meal at the end (which, I confess, was one of the reasons I wanted to go!) It was good to identify with my Ik companions, though. Normally, as a foreigner, I am offered special treatment, such as getting food first with all the 'big people'. This time, I sat with the Ik as one of them and didn't get any food, just as they didn't. We drove home hungry but happy.

Will there be peace? Sadly, I have little confidence in that. As I said, the Karamojong raided the Turkana during the peace meeting, and a couple weeks later, some Turkana shot an Ik boy on the trail. But hopefully, with more outside exposure and more government involvement, the cases of violence will decrease.

One government official gave an impassioned speech, saying the only way to have lasting peace is EDUCATION. I can think of a few examples where that is not true (Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, to mention a couple). No, peace cannot come about merely through a change of mind, but through a change of heart. And that is not something we as humans can effect on our own.


The Reeds said...

What an amazing experience.. And sad that they raided at that very time. Such is the heart of man... And you're very right about the only hope there is for any of us.

velma said...

I love that you sat with the Ik!! The experiences you have!! Amazing that people believe that education can take care of greedselfishness, etc.! Great post.

Notinthewild said...

It must have been splendid to feel solidarity instead of foreignness. :)
If only the Africans knew how much you want to sit where they sit and go hungry when they go hungry.

Larry said...

Great experience. Glad you attended and seated yourself among the humble IK. Hopeful that the intentionality of your presence will open future doors for your ministry.

Taylor said...

That sounded like an amazing experience! Also loved that you were seated among the Ik... Praying for you both and the Ik.

being said...

I have been reading your blog all morning, it has been insightful and inspiring. we are the baptist missionaries coming to kaabong from S America later this year. I would love to start a dialogue with you guys sometime soon. you can contact me at