A group is gathered for traditional court under a tree in Migori County, Kenya.
Photo courtesy of DIPAD*

In 2016, Kuria people sit under a tree for traditional court proceedings in Migori County, Kenya. The traditional court resolves conflicts at the community level, is cheap, easily accessible and conducted in a language and procedure that is understood by the participants. 


Today, MCC collaborates with local partners to support restorative justice models that are tailored to the contexts where we work, like Migori County, Kenya.


*DIPAD: Daima Initiatives for Peace and Development, a local MCC peace partner in Kenya.


Playing time: 
Join Threads for a conversation about peace and justice in the context of MCC's work in Kenya.


Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge speaks with William Kiptoo, peacebuilding coordinator for MCC Kenya and Tanzania, about restorative justice in rural Kenya.

Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month. 

Audio transcription:

Kyle Rudge  0:02  
It begins with a single thread, woven through other thread, and then another, and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another just like it. [MUSIC]

This process is repeated over and over and over. Until we have a beautiful tapestry that all begin with a single thread. Welcome to MCC threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

Happy New Year. It's a time of new beginnings, new starts and new hopes and we dream of what is possible in the year to come. The easy MCC Threads episode would be to just discuss what is going on in the upcoming year of 2022. And instead of telling you we figured we would show you with some of the work that is all about new beginnings, new starts and new hopes.

William Kiptoo  1:17  
Hi my name is William Kiptoo. I am the peacebuilding coordinator for MCC Kenya and Tanzania country programs. And I'm based in Eldoret, which is the western part of Kenya.

Kyle Rudge  1:29  
Technically, William started peacebuilding work with MCC in 2014, but his introduction to MCC happened over a decade before.

William Kiptoo  1:37  
I would say that my involvement with MCC started when I was working for the National Council of Churches of Kenya in 2002. And I got involved in because MCC was providing support to Africa Peacebuilding Institute, some kind of capacity building work for for partners that that they were supporting in Kenya. So at that particular time, MCC in East Africa region was supporting MCC Kenya implementing the only organization that implement peacebuilding at the time. And because Africa Peacebuilding Institute, it just started. So they provided support for me to attend the API in 2002. And that's the first time that I also got involved with MCC. And through that training, then I was able to get more inspiration to work for peace. But of course, that wasn't working for MCC at the time. But when I completed my graduate studies in 2014, there was a service worker who was working for MCC at the time, and she was leaving. So I got interested in MCC work. And when I graduated from Notre Dame, then I said, how about trying my what provide my skills applying my skills in MCC, because I really was very identified with the work of MCC at the time, in peacebuilding. And so I was able to go to an interview with MCC. And then I was able to, to get involved in MCC work.

Kyle Rudge  3:20  
Restorative justice as an element of restoration to justice. The idea is that while justice is certainly valuable, bringing communities closer to what they were before the incident can sometimes go forgotten. This concept has a very personal history with William.

William Kiptoo  3:38  
So I would say that peacebuilding was not something that initially, I got involved because I wanted to get involved. At the time, as I said, I work I started with the National Council of Churches of Kenya, there was a MCC Kenya was responding to a kind of violence, political violence that erupted in Western Kenya, the time 1992 to 1997. Then it also made sense to me, that my own communities, my people that I identify with, my friends and family, were affected by conflict. And so it made sense for me to get involved in it. And but I didn't, I didn't have the skills at the time. So it was just kind of helping communities to be able to restore the relationships, but we didn't have a lot of skill. So as time went by, I started learning the skills of peacebuilding. And I developed a passion for it like looking at the communities who are affected by conflict. People who are very close to me are affected so I started developing that sense. So the first exposure for me to be able to gain the skills was through the Africa Peacebuilding Institute, which MCC was supporting at a time, and so I go I get some skills from them, but it wasn't enough so, but I took a diploma and then later on, as time went by, got more involved, went deeper into peacebuilding, now out of my own communities to the larger communities of Kenya. I got involved more involved in in doing peacebuilding work and I gained more confidence, more skills into it. And passion also looking at how communities are also suffering so I develop an interest. And then later on when I did my graduate studies in peace studies, and then it became more apparent that this is really the field that I want to, to continue pursuing.

Kyle Rudge  5:34  
Let's pause there for a moment and go back in time. May 22 1974, Ontario. In particular, Elmira, Ontario. Two young men were out that night and caused when adjusted for today's inflation rates $12,000 in damages to several cars by breaking windows, slashing tires or just otherwise damaging them. Two men from Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, Mark Yancey and Dave Werth, had an idea. What if a negotiated settlement between victims and these offenders was reached instead of the usual crime and punishment narrative? Was that even possible? Was it legal? It had never been done before. After several court meetings in Elmira, a face to face meeting of offenders with victims was finally approved. Accompanied by a probation officer or the volunteer coordinator, the young men knocked on the doors of the 22 people who had suffered willful damage at their hands. They stood with a notepad in hand and listened. As a direct result of that case, in 1974, we now have in Canada, the victim offender reconciliation program. And now we are seeing its effects - even in Africa.

William Kiptoo  6:55  
They call it justice under a tree. So basically, like uses a system of elders, and they do their resolution of conflicts in a tree under the tree, like in an open air, under the tree. So it's an open kind of council, where the elders sit there. And they do address several issues that touches on on the communities and one of the leading issues in, in that system is the land, you know, land issues surrounding [unclear] is one of the most contentious issues on land disputes. And they've been able to use this model justice under the tree to be able to resolve those kinds of disputes. And we've been supporting this program since 2014 and to 2018. And then we also started supporting them, like they're now focusing on trauma issues because when you deal with issues of justice, I mean, issues of trauma, and they are justice issues that usually emerge. And so we look at the communities look at those justice issues that emerge out of those programmes, and then begin to address those issues. So connecting trauma healing and trauma awareness and restorative justice that has been very successful. But also we have another program that we are currently supporting in schools, which is called it's restorative discipline, in school that addresses violence and corporal punishment, in a place called Kisumu, so this kind of looks at various issues of child rights or child abuse in schools, but also addressing corporal punishment. That is very common in the indicator Kenyan schools and getting them on. We call it positive discipline, which is currently which is restorative discipline, and engaging the students at the school community. So I see these restorative justice as a, as a as an important element to be able to address those elements.

Kyle Rudge  9:08  
Kenya is wrought with political violence. In Canada, we saw just a taste of what that must be like, with our neighbours to the south over the past couple of years. But in Kenya, that is the norm. Every election there is violence. Despite that, William still has hope for his country.

William Kiptoo  9:29  
So when you think about peace in Kenya and Tanzania. Well, it's still an elusive, you know, pieces. We will work we are working towards it. But there is a general recognition that as long as it also incorporates elements of justice, then then there is some kind of hope, because there's an old saying that says they cannot achieve peace without justice. And a lot of our initiatives in the past have focused on peace, which is really negative peace, like focusing on, how do we ensure that there's no violence, overt violence, violence that we see. But there's more violence and injustice that is very rampant in our communities, that is not often talked about. And so we kind of see that how we also focus on those elements of justice, and looking at peace and justice as elements that work together, then that also needs to, then we see that it's good to create more sustainable society, as long as we don't neglect the aspect of justice. So there are those elements of justice, peace, mercy, as we say, these things like those four elements that that are for promotion, reconciliation, truth telling. So those are elements that we want to make sure that we are promoting so that to deepen our understanding of what we really mean by peace and justice and begin to address those issues. So for a long time, justice, as seen as the domain of lawyers or people who are just or legal fraternity, but it has never been seen like it's it's a work that can be pursued by peacemakers. And so that needs to be strengthened. And strengthening that also means not just systems, but also looking at how do we ensure that systems are being strengthened by looking at restorative justice practices that work and models that work. And that those that are relevant to our context, but also taking care of relationships. So how do we pursue justice? How do you pursue peace that also takes care of relationships. Relationship is key. And we want to make sure that we have a society that promotes justice that promotes peace and relationships at the same time. And so these, this hope, restorative justice is an ideal for Africa. But it should also be rooted in our context. We've had a lot of models that come from western or other regions of the world, that sometimes do not apply in our context. And so part of my role here is really to ensure that I interpret that and also work with the communities to ensure that they use the models that are responsive to their own context. That work in their own context. And that means that working with those with the communities, what does what do communities want? What are some of those practices that are relevant to them? And how do we support that as MCC? So that, through that, we see that we are able to empower them to become more sustainable, because we believe that the process of engaging communities to be able to, to do to be to participate in their own in their own processes, is something that is important for us rather than imposing models for them that don't work from elsewhere. So I think that's what I see.

Kyle Rudge  14:01  
If you're interested in learning more about the origins of the restorative justice program in Canada or the work of MCC next door and around the world, you can find it all at mccmb.ca. MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Nikki Hamm Gwala. Thank you to William for staying up late in Kenya to talk with us and share his desire for peace, justice, restoration and hope. I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai