Watching elders mediate conflict in her village in Kinangop made Wairimu Nderitu want to become the voice of reason amidst conflict
Many people would not easily recognise you in a crowd. Who are you?
My name is Wairimu Nderitu. I am 49 years old. I work as a mediator and a founding member Uwiano platform, Senior advisor Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and winner Global Pluralism award 2017.
You were recently awarded the prestigious global pluralism award, tell us more about it.
Many people have been asking me what pluralism means. Well, it’s also a new word to me. I have had to learn to pronounce it the right way (laughs!). Pluralism is about diverse people in terms of race, religion or ethnicity peacefully co-existing together. The Global Centre for Pluralism recognised my efforts in mediating conflict in Kenya and Nigeria. This award gives me a bigger platform to advance the work of negotiating peace to an even bigger scale.
Were you always interested in conflict resolution?
Not really. Even though I had childhood experiences that formed my idea of what mediation was, I did many other things before finally ending up in this path. I have worked as a teacher, in the prisons department, as a journalist and now I am mediating conflict, which I absolutely love.
What are some of the early influences that motivated your passion in peace-making?
I grew up in Kinangop where I lived with my parents and siblings. During my childhood most conflicts in the village were solved by elders as opposed to being reported to the police like it is the case today. Curious to find out what went on during the conflict resolution sessions, my brother and I would climb a tree and eavesdrop on the proceedings. I admired the power the elders wielded. Even though becoming an elder in our village was a preserve of men, I vowed to become an elder when I grew up so as to mediate conflict.
Has the perception that mediation is a preserve of men changed since your childhood days?
Things are slowly changing. I am proof of that. While mediating over simmering ethnic tensions in Nakuru following the 2007/2008 post-election violence as a commissioner in National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), I found myself as the only woman mediator in a team of three. It was the first time people in the area were seeing a woman mediator, which really fascinated them. The scenario was similar in Nigeria where I have mediated armed conflict under Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue since 2013. At first people would come from so far just to see this woman mediator.
What qualities have enabled you navigate the intricate peace mediation terrain?
While working in Nakuru, Mzalendo Kibunjia, former chairman of NCIC and my boss at the time, taught me that men in mediation processes respect intelligence and authority. Otherwise, I would not be taken seriously.
What are you planning to do with the prize money?
I am channeling the award’s prize money that is Sh5 million towards building professional capacities of women mediators across Africa. In Nigeria, I have identified 30 women who will benefit from this while in Kenya, I have identified 12. With time, we will expand to the rest of Africa.
What is your message to promote pluralism in Kenya as we head for the presidential elections?
Politicians come and go, but the country remains. There is life after elections, thus the need to act responsibly and not engage in actions that will haunt us later.