Reporting on Peace Education Conference in Kenya

In December 2008, I travelled to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to attend a four day Conference on Peace Education in Eastern and Central Africa: The state of the art, lessons and possibilities. The aim of the conference was to create a forum where participants could share, learn and discuss the current status of peace education and its application in East and Central Africa.

The conference was organized by the Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI), a regional secretariat of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) in collaboration with the GPPAC International Secretariat, The Global Campaign for Peace Education and Kenya’s Ministry of Education. The conference addressed the important role of education in peace-building.

A major focus of the conference was on garnering regional and international linkages that could be used to improve national approaches through partnering and information sharing.

The conference was divided into two parts. The first two days provided an opportunity to examine the ‘art’ of peace education and the lessons and issues emerging from its implementation particularly in East and Central African countries; Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Gabon, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The second two days were dedicated to peace education in Kenya.

I attended the conference as arepresentative of the GPPAC Working Party on Peace Education and presented a workshop on the second day of the conference.

GPPAC was established by the UN in 2003 as civil society led world-wide network to build international consensus on peace-building and contribute to the prevention of armed conflict. Other Working Party members from the Philippines, Ukraine, Palestine, Columbia, Serbia, Spain, Ghana, Japan, Sri Lanka and Montenegro also attended. The group included GPPAC General Secretary, Paul Van Tongeren. Peace education is a GPPAC priority and complements the work of a global network of educators committed to investing in future generations through the development of skills, understanding and values needed for participation in peaceful communities.

The Conference was a significant event grappling with profound and challenging regional and local issues. Despite the magnitude of the task, particularly in relation to building peace in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan there was strong sense of optimism and commitment. Obviously the challenge is to translate the ideas and enthusiasm into practice.

Political, social and economic factors will, as they always have, influence implementation of peace education initiatives. In Kenya the next steps involve providing immediate relief to ease the stress and causes of violence as well as implementation of prevention strategies. Education is one part of a broader solution for creating peaceful communities and national unity.

Experience from around the globe indicated that peace building is not easy work. This challenge was magnified most recently in post-apartheid South Africa with the xenophobic murders of Zimbabwean refugees. Recent post-election violence and school strikes in Kenya reminded people how fragile peace is and galvanized a strong collaboration between the Ministry for Education and Civil Society Organisation partners. As one delegate reminded us, ‘Don’t take peace for granted! It is hard to get back once it’s gone’.

There are however many things that can be done in schools. The Kenyan Government’s commitment, endorsed by the Minister, the Permanent Secretary, senior officials and demonstrated in productive collaboration with CSO’s, goes a long way towards creating the conditions in which schools can contribute to the ideals of civil society. Investments in extra curricula activities such as sport and music festivals or creating opportunities for student voice will be important. An emphasis on student centered learning can make a difference.

I think that an optimal learning environment is engaging and challenging, where theory and practice promote relevance and authenticity and one in which educators and students feel safe and valued. Whilst this may be considered an ideal I believe it is in such environments that quality learning and productive relationships flourish. Schools that work this way are worth striving for and provide places where young people can rehearse active citizenship, conflict resolution and peaceful relationships.

I understand this was the first time that Kenya had hosted a conference on peace education. The global network expands opportunities and shares the load. My heartfelt congratulations go to the organizers. This was an exceptional event, rich with the challenges and possibilities of education. I wish everybody well in their efforts and that the productive collaboration continues.

Gary Shaw –