Dekha Abdi

Awarded 2007

Kenya

For showing in diverse ethnic and cultural situations how religious and other differences can be reconciled, even after violent conflict, and knitted together through a cooperative process that leads to peace and development.

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (1964-2011) was a successful community mobiliser and global peacemaker from rural Kenya. She was engaged in peace work and conflict resolution in many of the world’s most divided countries. Her comprehensive methodology combined grassroots activism, a soft but uncompromising leadership, and a spiritual motivation drawing on the teachings of Islam.

Fostering inter-faith dialogue and attempting to resolve tensions and conflict between religions was central to Abdi’s activity since her first involvement in working for peace. Her methods have now been copied not only across regions in Kenya, but also countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Africa.

Dekha Abdi has taught peace and conflict resolution across continents. She died in a car accident on July 14, 2011, at the age of 46, but her legacy lives on.

The participation in a peace process is not about the mathematics of numbers and percentages in relation to who is in majority or minority. It is about plurality, diversity and participation.

Dekha Abdi, 2007 Laureate

Early life

Dekha Abdi, born in Wajir in 1964, grew up in a mixed neighbourhood of different ethnic groups and religions. Although a Muslim, her closest childhood friends were Christian and of a different ethnic group. At secondary school, students were divided along religious and ethnic lines into two camps, but Abdi and her friends created a space between these opposing camps by sticking together. A space that grew as other students, who did not want to choose one camp, joined. These early actions were the backbone of her philosophy of inter-religious co-operation and subsequent peace work. She was convinced that working towards positive relations between different groups and faiths is crucial in order to achieve durable peace.

Starting a grassroots peace initiative: The Wajir Peace Committee

During the Shifta war, Wajir was one of the Northern Kenyan districts that was under emergency law from 1963 to 1990, with government forces fighting an active guerrilla movement. When the emergency and quasi-occupation ended, the security situation deteriorated even more. There was an open conflict that claimed 1500 lives, resulting in hatred between different clans. In 1992, Abdi and other women, as well as concerned men started a grassroots peace initiative, bringing together people from all clans. Despite opposition from the traditional clan leaders, they organised mediation between the warring parties, with representatives of minority groups acting as moderators. When an agreement was in place, they set up the Wajir Peace Committee, with representatives of all parties - clans, Government security organs, Parliamentarians, civil servants, Muslim and Christian religious leaders, NGOs, among others - to implement the agreement. Dekha was elected as Secretary of the Peace committee hence undertaking dual roles.

Reaching out

The model developed in Wajir, which Abdi described as "a peace and development committee - a structure for responding to conflict at a local level", was used again in 1998, when the Christian community in Wajir experienced some violence. Abdi assisted in the formation of a disaster committee of Muslim women to assist and make amends with the Christian community. They held prayer meetings with Muslim and Christian women, in which both shared their experience and thereby strengthened their relationship. Subsequently, the Wajir Peace Committee began to include Christian women, leading to the formation of an inter-faith committee for peace that has undertaken further activities to intervene in religious conflicts.

In addition, Dekha has taught in Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Canada, Cambodia, Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, and the UK.

In 1996-97 Dekha Abdi was team leader for the Community Development training programme of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project in Kenya. She has written extensively and was the Organising Board Member of Nomadic and Pastoralists Development Initiative, a Kenyan rural development initiative. Also in 1997, she was a founding member of the Regional Coalition of Peace in Africa (COPA). As East African Regional Coordinator, she was involved in the Linking Peace Practice to Policy (LPP) programme of the COPA, funded by Comic Relief in the UK. LPP seeks to support and link communities in volatile areas in conflict prevention and peace-building work.

Abdi also, in 1998, became Training and Learning Co-ordinator of Responding to Conflict (RTC) which engages in conflict transformation: planning, organizing and facilitating a range of conflict resolution training programmes. She was also a Board Member of Co-existence International, an initiative committed to strengthening the field of policymakers, practitioners, researchers, advocates, organizations and networks promoting co-existence. Abdi was a founding member of a Global Peace Practitioners Network ACTION for conflict transformation and since September 2000, had been a member of a consortium of African and international conflict transformation specialists working together on the development of a series of intensive, participatory workshops for the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). UNDESA assists governments and civil society partners in sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen their capacities for anticipating, containing and managing conflict situations.

From 2002, Abdi was a patron of the London-based NGO Peace Direct. She worked towards inter-religious/ethnic co-operation in this capacity by co-facilitating a project after the 2005 London bombings aiming to provide a platform for young Muslims from all UK backgrounds to explore issues and challenges around being British Muslim in current UK society. Abdi was a Member of the International Advisory Board of the University of Ulster, INCORE London-Derry, North Ireland. She was a Board Member of the Berghof Center in Germany.

Abdi last lived in Mombasa and worked on peace, conflict and development issues with several organisations. She raised funds to support community groups in peace-building and communication infrastructure and continued to work for the Wajir community with young people to create economic development. She supported Peace Practitioners through mentoring and coaching to create a second generation of peace workers in Kenya and on the Horn of Africa.

In Mombasa she supported the set up the Oasis of Peace Centre, helping the local communities in Kikambala do some basic mediation. She worked as an advisor to the Kenyan government for mediation work in different parts of the country.

In 1999, on behalf of the Kenyan Government, Abdi was awarded the Distinguished Medal for Service by Wajir's District Commissioner, and in 2005 she was named Kenyan Peace Builder of the Year. She was also nominated as one among 1000 women for the Nobel Prize in 2005, now known as 1000 Peace women across the globe, and received the 2009 Hessian Peace Prize (Germany).

Qu'ran's teaching as background

Dekha Abdi's religious and spiritual identity as a Muslim formed a strong foundation for her peace work. Her religious beliefs informed her vision of how peace is to be achieved. She referred to and explored the Qu'ran's teaching on understanding the soul in the context of outlining what is necessary for bringing about a sincere and durable peace. Indeed, Abdi encouraged individuals and communities affected by conflict to critically analyse themselves using verses from the Qu'ran, which she stated would enable them to build their conflict transformation on a religious and spiritual base.

Principles for comprehensive peacebuilding

Abdi defined a set of principles that summarise her experience of comprehensive peacebuilding, linking peace theory and policy with pragmatic action¸ and private lobbying/advocacy with public mobilisation. Sometimes she expressed this through the acronym AFRICA: Analysis, Flexibility, Responsiveness, Innovation, Context-specific and awareness, and Action/learning-orientation.

Books

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi and Simon J. A. Mason. Mediation and Governance in Fragile Contexts: Small Steps to Peace. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2019

Relating to this publication, listen to a series of interviews with Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (2010-2011), compiled by Simon J. A. Mason, Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich.

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