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Kenyan peacemaker at SFU

Alice Wairimu Nderitu gets dialogue award

Alice Wairimu Nderitu

Courtesy Centre for Pluralism

Alice Wairimu Nderitu

She’s mediated deadly and historic feuds in multiple countries, and Alice Wairimu Nderitu tries to stay out of the fray. But it’s harder than it sounds at times.

The Kenyan peace negotiator — speaking at her Simon Fraser University awards ceremony Wednesday — remembers one instance in Nigeria when she couldn’t stop the tears.

“I was speaking to a group of women from Muslim and Christian communities all together in the room,” she said. “They were saying that they were raped by their attackers, and by the UN forces that had come to save them. So many of them had babies. I asked them, ‘Is any of you carrying a child born out of rape?’”

After hammering out successful peace treaties across Africa, she’s seen many things she “can’t unsee, can’t unremember.” But even she wasn’t prepared for the response. Three quarters of the room stood up.

“I broke down and we were all crying … It was a moment of coming face-to-face with the reality of war.”

She admits she wishes she could find a way to “unremember” such things.

“I usually tell communities it’s like peeling onions,” she said. “You have to cry. It’s a very difficult session to manage when we do those sessions about what led to the conflict … but you have to address, as much as possible, the root causes of the conflict.”

She said Western media coverage is focused on how violence is happening and who is killed — at the expense of possible solutions to it or root causes. In one local conflict she mediated, she discovered violence between several tribes harkened back to who had sided with British colonialists centuries before.

Although she’s seen horrific events and their aftermath, she still believes in co-existence.

“Human beings are gifted so much with reasoning, we can create and do so many things,” she said.

“It really baffles me — if we can get a plane into the sky carrying so many people, and we can build buildings that can withstand all manner of weather, why can’t we find a solution for violence?”

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