Since three years, the Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue has had cooperation with different organizations in Nairobi. This time our cooperation was with the Kenyan peace and development organization Pamoja.
Pamoja has many grassroots projects in different areas in Kenya. In those projects they try to combine economic small scale help with trainings. Pamoja took contact with the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue because they wanted to implement dialogue in their training programs.
In April we conducted our first training in cooperation with this organisation in Nairobi. Pamoja had recruited 23 participants for the training and even more passed by during the days. The title of the training was Conflict Transformation through Dialogue. The focus on the training was how to overcome conflicts in a sustainable way.
How to overcome conflicts in a sustainable way?
Dialogue is a method which can help people to transform conflict in a sustainable development through addressing needs and interest of the involved parties by active listening and good questions.
The participants started the process by reflecting around communication. What does the term communication means? How do I communicate? What do influence my way of communication? Communication creates conflicts, destroys and heals relationships. It is our main tool for all contact with other human beings. Therefore, being aware of one’s own communication skills can be the beginning of a change process.
Active listening and asking good question are crucial in all dialogue. Like in many other places in the world, the participants found out there is not enough listening in their communities. The participants mentioned that especially people who are in an inferior position or children might never get listened to. Listening is a strong tool for encouraging people; it strengthens self-confidence and self-appearance, both important steps in a dialogue process.
Asking good question gives us the possibility to reach into the other person. The participants got several options to ask each other good questions related to personal issues. Many of them considered this an important experience, because they felt the interest and attention of the other, which is the key to developing a good conversation.
Using dialogue tools to prevent conflict
We communicate 24 hours a day. Humans are dependent on being in communication with each other. We express ourselves with verbal and non-verbal behaviour. How and what we are expressing is based on a complex mixture of previous experiences, thoughts, feelings, values and attitudes. Those underlying elements are not known to the other and can make communication quite difficult and complicated, especially in conflict situations. We can actually never know how the other has understood our message. Being aware of that might be crucial in situations where there is little trust and much uncertainty. Never taking for granted that the other is on the same track as you is important in dialogue situations. Being humble enough to ask good questions and listen is the way to discover if the message has been received.
Misunderstandings lead to many conflict situations. As many of the participants mentioned, conflicts are part of their daily life. Two of the participants from the slum area Kibera said: On a daily basis we have conflicts about access to water, clean toilets, electricity or in-between families. Many of these conflicts end in violent actions. To understand more about how conflicts develop and how one can address them by analysing the situation might help to prevent at least a violent outcome. But in places like the Kibera slum those situations arrive very fast. To react differently on arising situations can be one of the tools for preventing violence.
The participants were introduced to different ways of analysing their conflicts. Through those processes they discovered how important it can be to try to understand the other part’s needs and interests. This understanding might help to approach the conflict in a different way – a more sustainable way. Consequently it reminded the participants that changes have to start by changing their behaviour- by understanding their own emotional and rational reactions to conflicts and the needs and interests of the other.
Dialogue is one way of transforming a conflict into a situation where the parties in the end have learned something new from the situation. The participants discussed if a dialogic approach might be difficult to use in an emergency situation. But the emergency in every situation will end and then people will have to continue their lives. This is where dialogue can make a difference. Bringing people together for open and honest talks is the basis for trust building. And trust is the basis of all healthy relationships. And, as the participants mentioned many times, there is a big lack of trust into the Kenyan society. It has to be built and rebuilt every day. This makes it possible to transform a conflict into something progressive for both ourselves and the other.
-Christiane Seehausen on the dialogue workshop in Nairobi.