Living without guns

Once guns have entered a community and changed ways of living, they are unlikely to be relinquished; as long as ‘the other’ feels like a threat, the gun will feel like a necessary protection. It seems that there is no way back to life as it was before the guns, only ways forward to new lives where it feels right not to use them.

Peace-makers and conflict transformation practitioners mediate conflicting parties as they take their first steps on these ways forward. How are they doing that?

A starting strategy in Maralal was to help people to feel that they no longer needed guns for protection, that the guns are best left unused — shifting emotions and attitudes about the guns and shifting behaviour around using them.

Shifts in emotions and attitudes can come from ‘conflict fatigue’, as people simply grow tired of fighting and losing friends to the guns. This played a large part in the 1999 peace agreement in Northern Ireland; the generation that had led the fighting were growing weary. When peace-makers spot people getting tired of fighting, death and injury, they can take advantage of the moment to suggest alternatives. They can also try to hasten the arrival of that moment for change.

The peace-makers in northern Kenya used stories to influence people’s feelings about the guns (see the Hyenas are eating Guns). They painted pictures of a good life that was possible without violence, and they painted terrible pictures of what life would be like if the violence continued with more and more revenge attacks. The power of cinema was invoked to get this message across, with screenings of ‘Shooting Dogs’ and ‘Hotel Rwanda’ used to help people imagine themselves being drawn into the worst of situations.

A pastor we spoke to told us how he and his peace committee tried to cut through romanticised ideas about guns and what they do:

The guns are here to kill us.

They are not for protection, they are for killing.

Some of the older women are teaching the girls new songs about peace to sing to the young men, instead of the old songs that praise bravery with a gun.

School children are being encouraged to ‘fight with the pen and not the gun’. Many people told us how they trust in education to change their lives. I really hope ‘education’ comes in a form that is able to meet this challenge.

The ‘peace dormitory’ (boys) at a primary school

Next time – shifting behaviour

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  1. […] the last post on guns and what to do about them, I wrote about changing people’s attitudes towards the guns that […]

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