Drama group turns warriors into border peace advocates
Two years ago, Kopere, a centre in Chemelil, Kisumu county, and Potopoto a centre in Nandi county were no-go zones following sporadic clashes among the Luo and Kalenjin communities.
The insecurity worsened when some leaders from one of the communities claimed part of their land was taken away during the colonial era by the British who evicted them because of their opposition to the railway project.
Since then, the National government, politicians and Church leaders have held several peace meetings at the border area. However, these meetings have had little impact.
The continuous clashes pushed a civil society organisation, Amani Peoples Theatre (APT), to find other ways to preach peaceful co-existence between the two communities.
According to the group’s director Maxwell Okuto, the organisation is made up of volunteer artistes committed to using talent and skills towards improving the community welfare.
The membership of the group mainly comprises youth who in the past were used to fight during clashes.
“APT practises participatory theatre whereby, we first look at challenges faced by the victims, whether political, social or economical and prepare a script, which will create a picture of what happens during clashes,” says Okuto.
Once the script is acted, the residents get to reflect on the issues affecting then and the damages caused, which makes them want to seek better ways of resolving conflict.
The group uses drama, plays and storytelling to inspire behavioural change, thus helping with conflict management between the two groups.
They operate around the Kopere in Kisumu and Potopoto in Nandi, the epicentre of the clashes. It seeks to equip the two communities with non-violent ways to respond to conflict.
Maureen Anyango, a resident of Kopere and also an active participant of the group, says the approach has done away with the use of dialogue and instead uses theatre, which is a mode of education and entertainment, hence making it easier to get the attention of the public.
Okuto says, with time, the group realised that the sporadic clashes was as a result of cattle rustling.
Other key factors that lead to clashes included political differences, incitements, misunderstandings and boundaries.
The group writes scripts on cattle rustling and political differences, which happen to be topics that the residents are familiar with.
The plays are then acted in Dholuo and Kalenjin languages.
“Theatre is a powerful tool of reflection. Sometimes when it comes to dialogue, people tend to shun away maybe due to fear of being blamed for the fights.
Plays, however, become interactive especially when it relates to what really happens,” says Okuto.
APT was created in 1992 amid the Rift Valley land clashes with an aim of creating awareness on peaceful reconciliation.
The group later shifted its attention to Kisumu and Nandi counties following the prolonged conflict at their borders.
Currently the group has recruited 12 youths as peace ambassadors –– six from the Nandi county and six from Kisumu.
“Those who perform plays give us a clear picture of what happens whenever there are clashes hence making us see the need to stop fighting and live like one big family,” said Maximila Wanyonyi, who hails from Potopoto, Nandi county.
In the beginning, the organisation faced challenges including cultural barriers that hindered the members from opening up and airing out their grievances.
The impact of the skirmishes affects both communities adversely.
“For two years, we have been living peacefully with our neighbours, intermarriage is now a common thing among us,” says Wanyonyi.
“We are now enjoying a good relationship with our neighbours, which has in turn favoured both farming and businesses,” adds West Songhor assistant chief, Joseph Onyango.
Currently, APT is planning on moving to parts of Muhoroni and Kericho, which are still prone to clashes in their peace-keeping mission.