Transforming our woundedness for peace

" I refuse to be a victim: I am a resource for peace": Dekha Ibrahim Abdi 1964-2011

Dekha Ibrahim
11 November 2011
Photo of Dekha, smiling

This speech was given by Dekha Ibrahim Abdi on 20th October 2010 Siem Reap Cambodia at the Action Asia  Peacebuilders' Forum. It is published here on the weekend of her memorial service in Britain.

Dear Peacebuilders, Ladies and Gentlemen, In the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful

I am honoured to give this speech at the third Action Asia Peace-builders Forum. The theme this year, is sharing our journey in transforming our woundedness for Peace.

My journey, for the first thirty years of life, has been a mixed  process of acceptance of the status quo, rejection and opposition to institutional and societal norms and procedures, and seeking alternatives. At the age of 15, as a student, I refused to join the sectarian student groups based on geographic, language, religious and  ethnic grounds, and I created new ways of socializing in the school, that cut across these divisions. These early actions of my school days have  become an asset for my work over the last fifteen years and  have contributed to  my personal transformation as well as that of others.

Healing and transforming our woundedness: first do we know that we have a wound? what kind of a wound?  when did we get it ?  how septic is the wound? I have lived not knowing that I had a wound ; everything around me seemed  normal ,because I had nothing else to compare,  and accepting the status quo was part of life.  A simple honest reflection of my mother made me realize that the normal was actually an abnormal context.  She put my narrow world view into perspective and connected for me the past, present and future. This way of looking at the conflict context helped me realize the wholeness of the systems.

The first process of diagnosis is making sense of my own immediate context, understanding the present, by making use of the past, in order to make sense of the future. 

Creating safe space: for collective making sense of the context and relationship building has been key in my journey, both at the local and national level.  This process needs a leap of faith and courage, for the open space does not vet who comes and who joins. It is a mixed bag, where we harvest ideas, build solidarity across the divide and transform perceptions.

I was taught the history and geography of states as entities, and the administrative and political units within the state.  While those remain in place and are valid, I now  see beyond them: the interconnectedness of the peace and conflict systems beyond the state borders.  Sometimes I see the bigger picture and sometimes focus on the smaller units.

In 1994 in Birmingham UK, while studying on the Working with Conflict course,  I met Father Pius Okiria from Uganda.  Making sense of our local context helped in making connections between the Karamoja conflict systems in Uganda and the Somalia conflict systems. That realization helped us both to see possible entry points for intervention. 

In August 2001 in Addis Ababa I attended an  Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) consultation forum for Conflict Early Warning and Early Response (CEWARN). The Karamoja and Somali conflict system was discussed and formed part of the pilot areas for the IGAD  work. I was thrilled and affirmed.  

Acceptance of the changes that come with violent conflict, both the positive and the negative: these are crucial and painful components of the whole.  Analysis is like the cleaning process of a wound, opening it;   is messy and hard but necessary to the transforming for better or worse.

This process of making sense can be a lonely and heavy process. For me it was not possible alone; talking to friends, colleagues and a reference group  was helpful. However there were many challenges: how do deal with blockages, the shocks of the revelations of realities of the violent conflict , testing our own assumptions, re-thinking one’s own identity/identities, the mistrust, the confusion of issues that don’t make sense any more , the friends that you are not sure of, new friends that you connect with instantly. The friends come from unexpected places : ex servicemen, religious leaders , business people.  I observed  the following :  people/groups  who have low tolerance for violence;  people /groups who have high acceptance of violence;  people/groups who are responsive and would like to do something; people/groups who are unresponsive.  

Dealing with conceptual blockages, my own and observation of others: we become territorial of our context and get stuck saying conflict is special, you don’t understand, no other context is like mine. An emotional and conceptual healing process happens when we take a conscious decision to make the implicit explicit and bridge our own perception with that of others. 

In the post election violence in Kenya in 2008, as the events of the violence unfolded , it did not look real , it looked like a role play, and the role play was a reality of our own context. Requesting colleagues from other contexts to come for a short period to help intervene was critical.  The shocking question the colleague asked was: “you Kenyans are capable of doing what I am doing , why do you need me and invite me? ”  It is true you can treat yourself, but a doctor needs the opinion of another. Solidarity and a sense of belonging and care are key to transforming our woundedness.

Editing our selves: the collaboration of insider and outsider is a process of accompaniment and support, the insider suffers from the disease of editing oneself being too cautious , too careful, too aware. What is needed sometimes is the innocent question of the outsider, asking the obvious to challenge and affirm.

Fear : what informs the editing and blockages is fear. Fear holds us back from healing ourselves; the biggest fear is the fear of the self and inability to locate it or not wanting to know where it comes from. I found that the process of dealing with this fear is fearful yet liberating.

There is a basic fear of inability to speak in public claiming that it is a language issue or, inability to speak a foreign language. However, deep down, I discovered that context shapes our ways of speaking and relating, especially if one is in a very restricted  violent context.These practices stay with us even long after the context has changed.

The dilemma: I have been in a dilemma, asking myself  what is it like to be in the shoes of the perpetrators when the tide turns, what is next in the continuum of the victim and perpetrator? Is it that the perpetrator becomes the victim and the victim becomes the perpetrator? Is there a third option? In the process of exploring these concepts I realized that it is not either this or that but sometimes both, and the possibilities of creating other options of a desired future for all.

Testing our assumptions and prejudice is a  part of transforming our woundedness. In 2003 I requested a Kenyan Peacebuilder, Tecla Wanjala, to call Hon Biwot, the then Member of Parliament,when his farm was invaded in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Tecla’s first reaction was that he was part of the previous regime and hence did not deserve any intervention. This raised a  debate and the dilemma of transforming societal conflict. Tecla then mobilized the mediation team to visit the area, and she called Hon  Biwot. She was pleasantly surprised by his appreciation. The most restricted space opens up new windows of opportunities.

Spiritual transformation: I have gone through a conscious process of forgiveness in  2004 when I went for Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage.  I forgave and requested forgiveness from all that I know and all that I do not know. This included consciously forgiving my own Government of Kenya, the people and institutions, especially the security institutions.  I got a sense of calmness that I did not have before. Forgiveness is first and for most for the forgiver and not the forgiven; a sense of release and liberation from holding the burden of the pain and anger.

Having the space for spiritual transformation also helped to discover my creative side, and ability to write poems in my own language, Somali. The poems helped channel creative energy. 

How do you know that you are healed? In 2005 when I was going to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem I was questioned by both Israeli and Palestinian  security forces before entering the mosque. I was calm and greeted them;  my greeting shocked both and took them off guard.  I had dealt with my issues concerning the Kenya security forces and was in another emotional and spiritual space. 

Collaborative system: the diversity of the contributions by different sectors and levels, the interface of the public and private spheres of the work, and appreciating one’s own contribution and limitation, help in transforming the relationship. It has helped me to learn and let go in the form of growth and the scaling up the work. The work with religious leaders, security officers, cultural leaders and armed resistance groups is so diverse it has been nurturing and transformative.

Listen to the self and the inner voice and when you hear yourself say ‘we used to do it this way', then it is time to move on and find a different way of contributing. Dealing with one’s own ego is the biggest challenge, so that the personal does not clog but becomes a vital cog in the system.

Transforming our woundedness is transforming the whole system and sometimes, step by step, healing each component -  physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual healing. Healing these different components can be fast or slow, conscious or unconscious. For some it may heal and for some it will never. The 7up drink became for me the symbol of a traumatic event in Garissa Kenya, in November 1980.  From that time it smelled of blood. It  took 22 years to come to terms with it, for my senses of smell and sight to be healed. 

To transform one’s own woundedness is one thing, to transform that of others and of the society requires collective wisdom. I have learnt two key ingredients: those are the ability to take risks and the ability to have hope and faith in the face of difficulty. This process, in my experience, contributes to the growth of the individual and institutions, from being actors in the conflict to becoming resources for peace.

Giving and receiving stories, knowledge, experience and expertise,  building others and self as part of the transformation of self and teams, you become stronger by sharing. As you give you receive.

As a peace educator you have no business to be in this field if you will not develop others to be better than you. 

Some conclusions: in September and October 2010 I have been on the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia, on the three rivers of the  Rhine in Germany, Tana Kenya and Siem reap in Cambodia, in three cities of Bonn Germany, Garissa Kenya and Siem Reap Cambodia, in three forums of Peacebuilders in Germany, Kenya and Cambodia - all connected by one desire - a sustainable Peace. 

If we are all contributing to a sustainable peace, what then are our ways of transforming our woundedness?  Our work contributes to both individual and societal resilience towards violent conflict. Resiliencies are the capacities to manage, prevent or resolve tensions, conflicts or crises so that they do not lead to violent conflict.

Sources of resilience are : solidarities, social capital, and guarantees across societal divides; a widely held sense of solidarity across societal divides, a wide trust in basic assurances, ‘safety nets’, minimum standards of treatment  and ‘Guarantees’ sources of high resilience against risks of violent conflict; peace resources including a wide range and substantial number of individuals and institutions - formal and informal - which are concerned, capable and engaged in peaceful societal transformation with diverse  roles and activities, and operating at different levels and sectors, engaged  with emerging contested  and structural issues; peaceful culture which includes low tolerance of, or respect for, violence or coercion across the great majority of the population - particularly in the public sphere, linked with low expectations of violence and/or low vulnerability to mobilisation by ‘conflict entrepreneurs’;  wide political/social space for raising and addressing possible conflict risk factors, general openness enabling early expression and agenda-setting on disputes, grievances, concerns. Wide access to frameworks for pursuing debates on such issues that is linked with mechanisms for systematically addressing concerns and accountability; multiple cross-cutting social divides. The many, possibly deep societal divisions are complex so that people are divided along different lines according to a particular issue or dispute, (multiple ‘identities’). There is a need for linkages, with characteristics or mechanisms to prevent alignment of disputes or grievances along only one of a few societal divides - which might then become mutually reinforcing and intractable.

I refuse to be a victim:  I am a resource for peace

This speech was given by Dekha Ibrahim Abdi on 20th October 2010 Siem Reap Cambodia at the Action Asia  Peacebuilders' Forum

Dekha died in a car accident in July 2011

Read also Dekha Ibrahim Abdi: "feast with your enemies"



















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