Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation

Photo © Ben Philips: the volunteer team with Kofi Annan
Photo © Ben Philips: the volunteer team with Kofi Annan
Impressions by Benjamin Dixon, traduction française Aude Elser, traducción española Ana Beltran
11 April 2009

From 30 to 31 March 2009, in Geneva, the Kofi Annan Foundation hosted 'The Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation: One Year Later'. Through a number of panel discussions, the two-day meeting drew lessons from the mediation in Kenya that can be shared with Africa and the wider world.

The dispute over the results of the Kenyan presidential election in December 2007 led to unprecedented violence, ethnic animosity and mass displacement in what was considered a peaceful and stable country. The rapid escalation of the crisis provoked swift reactions from the international community. These included visits to the country by the then Chairperson of the African Union and President of Ghana John Kufuor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and the Forum of Former African Heads of State and Government led by former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano. When all efforts to halt the violence failed, the African Union mandated a Panel of Eminent African Personalities, chaired by Kofi Annan with former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and former Mozambican Minister and First Lady Graça Machel as members, to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Under the chairmanship of Kofi Annan, the meeting held in Geneva at the end of March 2009 brought together key actors who participated in the mediation effort in early 2008, as well as international and Kenyan civil society representatives, academics, analysts and members of the media who were observers of the events during that time or who have since studied the process that led to the National Accord.

ICV's volunteers were involved before and during the meeting. Benjamin (17), the youngest of them, told us his story:

"The Kenya National Dialogue and reconciliation hosted by The Kofi Annan Foundation was the first time I had worked with ICVolunteers and it turned out to be quite an experience!

It all started on a Friday, 27 March 2009, when a group of young people went to the Foundation to fill the portfolios for the participants. I was still unsure whether I was going to be able to participate in the conference because of my young age of 17.

For me, this was the first time that I got to meet the rest of the team who I would end up sharing an incredible experience with. I was later told that during that afternoon I was being scrupulously observed to see if someone of my tender age could handle being a gopher.

Luckily for me, they decided that I could. The following weekend, I went to the airport to help meet and greet the various conference delegates. I was expecting an adrenaline filled day with not one moment to take a break. It turned out to be a little different.

In between our duties, we spent our time sitting behind a booth in the airport, and the team really got to know each other. It was absolutely fascinating hearing stories of their travels all over the world and it was great to get to know such interesting people. On the first Monday of the conference, I got to see what being a gopher was all about. Out of all the volunteer tasks assigned, I personally believe that I got the best one. The stress of being asked all sorts of questions in different languages all at once was quite exciting. Although I was sometimes just asked to supply the desperate caffeine addicts, I loved the atmosphere of the whole conference. It was fascinating to watch such a fragile political situation discussed and debated by the main protagonists right before my eyes.

On the day when I was on microphone duty in the plenary room, I was in awe of the fact that I was literally standing in the middle of a debate that would affect thousands of peoples' lives in Kenya.

The final privilege was a word of thanks from Mr Kofi Annan himself for the work that we accomplished.

To sum up my first experience with ICVolunteers, I have to say that even though I barely had time to draw breath, I was able me to meet incredible people and to rub shoulders with those that control and decide the fate of thousands in Kenya. I am extremely grateful that I was chosen to take part in this event as it gave me the chance to witness at first hand international diplomacy, and make some new friends as well."

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