2017 Award Winner
Alice Wairimu Nderitu | Kenya
Senior Advisor, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
As a child growing up in rural Kenya, Alice Wairimu Nderitu used to climb up into the branches of a large tree to eavesdrop. Below her was a group of elders gathered to deliver justice on matters concerning the community. As Alice watched them come to consensus from her perch, she decided that one day, she would be one of those elders promoting peace in her community. All of the elders were men, however. She was told that making peace was not women’s business.
Decades later, in 2010, as Commissioner of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, she took a seat at the peace table with 100 elders from ten ethnic communities who had never negotiated peace with each other before. Only a year and a half earlier, in 2007-2008, violence erupted in Kenya’s Rift Valley after the results of a flawed election were announced. The election ignited historic grievances over land and deep-seated ethnic tensions. By the time the post-election violence had abated, more than 1,300 Kenyans were killed and 600,000 displaced. In 2010, with a constitutional referendum on the horizon, tensions soared. Would the region again tear itself apart along ethnic lines? Or would it unite in peace? That was when Alice took her place at the table and began the 16-month peace process. As the only woman among the three mediators, they led the elders in a dialogue that resulted in the region’s first peaceful elections in 20 years.
Alice was also one of the founders and first co-chairperson of the Uwiano Platform for Peace, a conflict prevention agency that was the first to link early warning to early response in Kenya and is largely credited with leading efforts in ensuring peaceful processes during the 2010 Constitutional referendum and 2013 elections.
Alice is a tireless peacemaker, conflict mediator and gender equality advocate who believes that differences can be strengths, not weaknesses. She encourages a wide range of people with different identities to participate and feel valued in the peace-making process. In Jos, Nigeria, for example, Alice led in bringing women into all levels of the peace process in a dialogue between nine ethnic communities. In Southern Kaduna, Nigeria, she was the lead mediator in an armed conflict between 29 ethnic communities, successfully insisting that women and youth be included in the process. The result was the Kafanchan Peace Declaration, signed by two State Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau in 2015. This was the first time in Nigeria that a woman has played this role. In 2017, in Nigeria’s Southern Plateau, she was again, lead mediator of an inclusive dialogue between 56 ethnic communities, signed by Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau and all the traditional rulers in which again, for the first time, women were included at all levels of the peace process.
Alice has worked to promote pluralism at all levels of mediation and conflict prevention—not only for the sake of those who have historically been excluded, but also because she knows that having diverse voices meet in respectful dialogue is the only way to achieve long-lasting peace. To perpetuate respect for diversity, she develops peace education curricula and trains other female mediators.
As a child eavesdropping in a tree, Alice was told that as a woman she could not participate in the work of making peace. Today, as a lead mediator brokering peace throughout Africa, she has proven again and again that making peace is very much women’s business. In fact, long-lasting peace requires the participation of all members of society.