Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Karen Bartlett Column

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Karen Bartlett Column

Article excerpt

Byline: By Karen Bartlett

Where would we be without Africa? It's a scar on our conscience, apparently, as well as being a source of employment and inspiration for a variety of religious evangelicals, thousands of gap year students, a handful of prominent Western politicians seeking to improve their reputation, and a fairly reliable cash cow for crooked businessmen making arms deals with the kind of military despots who buy their uniforms in army surplus stores.

In fact, we've been so busy using and abusing Africa for hundreds of years, we expect Africans to be mighty grateful when we turn our attention to them and come up with a new plan for their salvation.

We rarely think that they might have some lessons for us.

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi is one woman who believes that Africa does have some answers, and last week she was conducting workshops with different ethnic and religious groups here in Britain to try to use the same skills in conflict resolution that she's had to practise in her own part of Kenya.

In 1991 Dekha was a young schoolteacher in the Wajir district of Kenya on the border with Somalia. She is of Somali origin and a Muslim.

By the mid-1990s this relatively ordinary woman was responsible for taking a major role in bringing to a close more than 30 years of conflict and four years of state-imposed emergency law.

How did she achieve it? By doing, she says, some very simple things.

Looking back, Dekha wonders how she wandered into peace building so naively, but at the time her goal was simple: to end the violence and suffering for local children.

She formed a committee of women who persuaded the various clans to discuss their problems in a traditional meeting presided over by their elders.

If someone was killed or injured the grievance was presented to the group suspected and they were asked to resolve it internally.

"The government can deal with the crime of an individual," Dekha points out, "but you can't put the whole of a society in jail. …

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