Can peace bloom where London’s no.1 roses do?
Naivasha thrives on agriculture, especially horticulture, making it the centre of a multi-billion-dollar flower industry in Kenya. The flower farms in Naivasha are dependent on the lake, so as the local population and other industries based in this area. Population growth, changes in land use and rainfall patterns, are all putting a strain on Lake Naivasha by depleting its water levels. The conflict between the Massai pastoralists and the flower farmers is a major conflict that stoke violence in Kenya. To coincide with Valentine’s Day, peacebuilding charity International Alert held an exhibition “Peace blooms: Cattle, conflict and the roses of Lake Naivasha” – a photo exhibition and pop-up flower shop in Hoxton Gallery, London from 10-15 February. The exhibition brought to life the stories of rose farmers and traditional Maasai pastoralists living around Lake Naivasha, a vital freshwater source in the dry Rift Valley of Kenya, to prompt conversations about the relationship between water, conflict and peace in the country.
Dan Smith, Secretary General of peacebuilding charity International Alert, tells Ruchi Ahuja how they are hopeful of bringing peace to Naivasha dialogue and awareness.
What made you conceive this exhibition?
We have research, written and published a Peace Audit report on Kenya, looking at challenges and opportunities for peace in the country. As part of the audit we looked at three places with specific challenges that could give rise to conflict or, handled well, peace opportunities. One of them is Lake Naivasha, a major flower-growing area.
This is a big export for Kenya. Seventy per cent of all roses sold in Britain come from Kenya, and 20 per cent in the EU as a whole. And of course, flower-growing needs a great deal of water, a highly valuable resource and the source of considerable local conflict.
The aim of “Peace Blooms” was to present our peace audit in a creative and engaging way, to give people the chance to immerse themselves in the stories of people affected by conflict, to see the links between their own lives in London and some of the conflict and peace issues in Kenya and on the basis of all that to spark their curiosity about how peace can be achieved.
In particular, the exhibition focused on the conflict over water between rose farmers and pastoralists around Lake Naivasha. This was illustrated through colourful photography and a pop-up Kenyan flower shop – coinciding with Valentine’s Day, which is a time when lots of people in Britain are buying extra flowers for their loved ones.
By following the journey of the Kenyan rose, we asked visitors to explore the conflict and help us
identify possible solutions.
How do you think the fight for Kenyan resources has affected the locals?
Lake Naivasha, which is the focus of the exhibition, is a crucial freshwater source in the dry Rift Valley in southwest Kenya. It sustains numerous livelihoods – from traditional cattle herding and fishing, to important new industries such as horticulture. This employs thousands of people from around Kenya, especially women, and is vital for the Kenyan economy.
However, pressures on the lake, caused by population growth, deforestation, over-farming and climate change, are causing water and land shortages. This sometimes leads to conflict – exacerbated by poverty, inequality and ethnic tensions.
For the Maasai cattle herders, for instance, the flower and other industries are restricting their access to the lake and reducing the flow of water into the lake. Despite the benefits of the flower industry, therefore, many Maasai feel it hasn’t benefited them.
Competition over water and land can lead to tensions and violence. During a drought in 2009, for
example, a struggle over access to water led to fighting between the pastoralists and flower farm workers, causing several deaths.
If tensions remain uaddressed and protracted drought, desertification and ‘modernisation’ will put increased strain on pastoral livelihoods. These conflicts could become more frequent and bloody.
What according to you can bring peace to the region in current scenario?
The key to a peaceful future in Naivasha and the rest of Kenya is recognising that all sides have a right to land and water, and to ensure that all those affected are included in the management of natural resources, and decisions are made together.
For example, at International Alert we run dialogue clubs that bring together groups divided by conflict to find ways to resolve their differences peacefully, enabling them to ensure equal benefits from natural resources. We are just beginning to work in Kenya, where we hope this approach will help contribute to a more stable future.
As a person associated with this and similar peace endorsing ventures, which according to you is the most powerful transformation story from the region?
Our reconciliation work in Rwanda is a striking example of how lives can be transformed after conflict through a combination of trauma healing, dialogue and business.
In Rwanda, we bring together genocide survivors and perpetrators to share their feelings about the past, but also provide them with loans so they can set up small businesses together and work side by side for a better future. This helps build mutual understanding and ensure any future conflicts don’t escalate into violence.The stories from this project were poignantly illustrated in a photo assignment by Carol Allen-Storey (which was covered by Millennium Post earlier).
Please tell us about the response you have received?
The “Peace Blooms” exhibition was the first of what we hope to be many initiatives to help generate more public awareness and understanding about the crucial work of building peace, and get people of all ages and backgrounds talking about issues of peace and conflict around the world.
We aim to present complex information in a simple way. Our creative approach has definitely paid off. It was great to see so many different people visiting the exhibition, and joining the discussion at our events and on social media. The exhibition even inspired some poetry and street art! We’re already busy working on our next Peace Audit and look forward to seeing more people at our future events, increasing awareness of peace building and the hard work it requires.