Co-Author: LeAnne DeFrancesco
Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.
“The participation in a peace process is not about the mathematics of numbers and percentages in relation to who is in majority or minority. It is about plurality, diversity, participation and ownership of all affected by the conflict.” — Dekha Ibrahim Abdi
November 17, 1964 – July 14, 2011
Growing up in a rural Wajir, Kenya, neighborhood whose population was diverse both in ethnicity and religion, Dekha Ibrahim Abdi learned early on the need and the skills to resolve conflicts peacefully. Shortly after her birth, her region experienced a significant conflict with neighboring Somalia, which led to the Shifta (Swahili for “bandit”) War that lasted for several years.
As a young woman, Abdi’s father supported her education, and she went on to choose a career as a schoolteacher.
In the early 1990s, when disagreements between clans over water and livestock rights resulted in the death of more than 1,500 people in Wajir, Abdi became a teacher of a different kind: She took a pivotal role in resolving the crisis, working specifically with the women in the clans to organize mediation discussions. Drawing on her Muslim faith, she invited the warring factions to reflect on the teachings of the Qur’an, to listen to each other and be heard, and be respectful. This was how she taught and facilitated harmony and peace within her community.
Abdi co-founded the “Wajir Peace and Development Committee” in order to ensure the peace was lasting. She brought together representatives from various clans, government agencies, religious leaders, and non-governmental organizations to mediate conflict and foster dialogue. Her tactics were effective, and the world took notice; she traveled to other countries in Africa, including Somalia, as well as the UK to pursue the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Her experience bridging religious and ethnic divides continued to be needed across the globe, as were her principles of comprehensive peacebuilding, summarized as AFRICA (Analysis, Flexibility, Responsiveness, Innovation, Context-specific, Awareness and Action-oriented). In 1998 she joined the staff of Responding to Conflict, an international organization based in the UK, as the learning and training coordinator. She also continued to work in her native Kenya.
Among her many accolades, Abdi was named Kenyan Peace Builder of the Year (2005) and received the Swedish Right Livelihood Award (2007), often regarded as an alternative Nobel Peace Prize. She used the prize money to establish the Wajir Peace University.
A car accident in 2011 took the young life of Abdi and her husband; she was just 46.