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Defying Culture in Pursuit of Peace

Grace Lolim addressing delegates during the HRD of The year Award 2018

Grace Lolim is human rights defender from Isiolo County. She is the chair of Isiolo Peace Committee and heads various peace initiatives in the county. Isiolo being a patriarchal county, she has defied the odds to bring cohesion between different communities in the area. She does not only pursue peace but also gender equality in Isiolo County. She is the founding director of Isiolo Sub-county Gender Watch which has enabled women to have dialogue spaces where women’s issues are assessed.She is among the pioneers of the The Modogashe Declaration which encourages Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms in conflict resolution within Isiolo County.

Grace started her peace work in 2000 during the battle between the Somali and the Borana. “The conflict forced me and my husband to flee to Nakuru with our children. However, my parents and siblings were left behind in the village,” says Lolim. She explains: “I feared for their lives and it was then that I convinced my husband to allow me go back and rescue them.”
Lolim left her young children behind with her husband as she went back to for the village. “On arrival, I found that villagers were hiding along riverbeds which exposed them to risk of attacks by crocodiles,” she explains.

Despite persuasion from her husband, Lolim refused to leave her relatives in distress. She embarked on a journey of dialogue to end the conflict by joining the village peace committee. She was appointed by other women to speak during a conflict mitigation meeting at the locational level, a position that saw her interact with committee members from other tribes.

Previously, she had been a member of the Turkana Peace Committee which did not have members from the Somali and Borana communities. At this level, it was difficult for peace champions to point out which tribe had initiated the conflict.
“This was not the norm then, no one dared tell the authorities what had fuelled the conflict but I spoke confidently and reported the perpetrators,” Lolim recalls. She adds: “Everyone left the meeting including my allies who thought that I would be shot dead, but this did not happen.”
This incident marked the beginning of her work as a fearless peace champion in the conflict prone county. She was elected to sit in the District Peace Committee in line with the requirement to meet the two thirds gender threshold. Membership of the district (county) committee is drawn from all the tribes that who occupy Isiolo County.S

Her efforts in peace building were recognized in 2002 by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who nominated Lolim to participate in an exchange programme in Rwanda to enable her and other women learn about the effects of war. This helped shape her mind and open up to out of court settlement for those who had perpetuated the war. This was because jailing them meant serving long jail terms which would destabilize families more. In partnership with other women peace heroes, they started the Women of Faith Group which would serve as a platform to help them advance their peace work.
Through this initiative, they were able to encourage the public to embrace dialogue and religion as a tool in ending conflict.
“We preached peace using teachings in both the Bible and Koran. This was a great milestone for the peace committee,” Lolim observes.
This process saw the birth of disarmament programmes by the Government which aimed at recovering arms that were illegally held by members of the public.
However, Lolim was also concerned with ensuring protection of women’s rights during the disarmament programme. With support from other peace champions, they pushed for deployment of women police officers who would be friendly to women during the disarmament programme.

Grace was a member of the Selection Panel for HRD of The Year Award 2018. She remains a critical partner of various government and CSOs working towards peace efforts in the county. She was recently appointed a board member of the new Isiolo Municipality https://web.facebook.com/PRESSUNIT011/posts/776874215995954

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