By Reuben Buhari
When Nelson Mandela, in his exhilarating autobiography – Long walk to freedom, said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” The name Alice Wairimu Nderitu – Kenya’s most enigmatic and daring peace mediator, working in Southern part of Kaduna, Southern and Northern Plateau readily comes to mind.
Nderitu, a woman who has gone into several theaters of conflict in Africa and beyond and came out with trophies couched in peace agreements with renewed conviction to halt violence, her inspiring commitment to peace mediation, optimistic belief that as people learn to hate, they could also be taught to love, and her untiring and selfless mediatory role in the midst of people who have so become antagonistic to each that has robbed them of the ability to speak to each other, has become a role model worth highlighting and celebrating.
For the people of Southern part of Kaduna and Plateau state that have consistently been embroiled in ethno-religious destruction of lives and property, coupled with attacks from armed herdsmen that has resulted in a vicious circle of blood and sorrow, would probably never forget the effort that Alice has made in peace mediation for about five years as the Lead mediator for Africa at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.
Her firm and consistent belief is that underneath every appalling act of injustice, every fiendish resolve to increase cruelty and sever the bond of harmonious coexistence, lies a glimmer of hope and goodness that can be fan to start working for the good of mankind. Probably why Mandela reminded us that “all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and that if their heart is touched, they are capable of changing.”
When she jumped into the Southern Kaduna crisis and started mediating , her passion, full grasp of the nuances of peace and ability to sit for hours and listen to people, some with blood on their hands but willing to allow a woman in a conservative environment speak and speak on peace, solidify the fact that those genuinely brokering peace cannot fake it.
Even though Nderitu believes in people even when they do not believe in themselves, she has never deeply cared much for personal prizes or awards other than the smiles that come from the grateful hearts of people that have started embracing themselves after ceasing to be enemies, but still surrounded by the aftereffect of their mindless carnage, Alice, like the root of a tree that support the tree but never fully appreciated, a significant award worth eulogizing has sought her out. Hence, she has emerged as the only woman peace mediator of armed conflicts selected to be a recipient of the Global Pluralism Award that recognises people who have made extraordinary achievements in peace building , mediation and pluralism across the globe.
The Global Center for Pluralism which is funded and supported by his royal highness the Aga Khan and the Canadian government is a platform that encourages and then rewards people to have more respect for the diversity in humans while recognizing sustained peace builders. This lends credibility to the fact that people of Southern Kaduna, Plateau among others where Alice has been working in brokering peace would now have more reasons to believe in her and the global attention she confers in such mediation effort. To lend more credence to the significance of the award, the former prime minister of Canada, Mr Joe Clerk who was the chief juror in selecting the recipients of the award received over 200 nominations from 42 countries from which Nderitu was selected for the award.
Alice as a former prison officer in Kenya was involved with a 16-month peace mediation in the rift valley province where she was the only woman on the mediating table that involved 100 men from more than 10 different communities. While in Plateau state at the peak of the killings, she achieved a historic feat when she mediated among 56 ethnic communities in the state that led to the Southern Plateau Peace Declaration. It was followed in 2016 when she immersed herself into the Southern Kaduna killings and started mediating between 29 ethnic communities which led to the Kafanchan Peace Declaration in which two sitting governors, Simon Lalong of Plateau and Nasir El- rufai of Kaduna also signed the peace declaration.
To fully understand her passion as a peace advocate, when the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation asked her opinion on what drives her to keep mediating for peace even in hostile territory her answer gives a peep into it. “I saw a comment on a plaque at the genocide memorial in Rwanda that I quote everywhere, to as many people as I can. It said something to the effect that people think of genocides in huge numbers: 1 million in Rwanda, 6 million in the Holocaust, etc. However, in reality, all of those people are not killed in one day. They are killed gradually: two people here, five there, fifteen here, thirty there, and so on and so on until these deaths begin to look normal. Then, one day, everyone realizes that a million people are dead and we have genocide on our hands. To stop the genocide of a million people, we must stop the deaths of a few that we often take for granted.”
Apart from her recent works in Nigeria, Nderitu has served as Commissioner with the Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission and as a founding member and co-Chair of the Uwiano Platform for Peace, which was pivotal in preventing violence surrounding the 2013 Elections in Kenya. She has also developed Kenya’s only curricular training manual for teachers on the topic of inclusion and conflict prevention. And in 2012, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego named Nderitu Woman Peacemaker of the Year.
Reading through A Leopard’s Tail: The Life and Work of Alice Nderitu of Kenya by Stephanie Chiu, her grandmother in that book raised the fear that her love for reading won’t find her a husband when she said: “What are we going to do with this one? Her books won’t find her a husband. We’ll struggle to get her married,” and her father would comfort her with reassuring words, saying “Don’t worry, Alice this country is full of people looking for jobs. They’re looking for jobs to fetch water, to fetch firewood, to dig in shambas. You keep reading your books. One day you will be the one giving those jobs.” Today, Alice has not only created jobs for people like her father predicted, but she has created hope, given smiles and highlighted the fact that sustainable peace is indeed possible in this world through genuine peace mediation.