Elders from the Murulle, Garre, Degodia, Marehan and Corner tribe clans convene in a hall keenly listening, deliberating, discussing and asking questions knowing too well that the fate of people in their communities lies in their hands. In Mandera County, located North Eastern of Kenya, these five clans comprise the majority of the larger Somali tribe with its populace distributed in the larger Mandera County. Although the culture and norms of these tribes are similar, some little deviation exists in their practices. A unifying factor however remains presence of elders who exert heavy influence upon most, if not all aspect of their lives.
One of these aspects is mediation, setting societal standards and upholding social and religious values. Elders sit at the judgement seat and oversee matters in the communities, listening to different parties on social matters and agreeing on a consensus. Communities usually opt for local counsel of the elders who draw from cultural, religious and social norms and largely the Sharia Law, a dominating influence among the Muslim- majority population.
In as much as the elders administer justice mechanisms for civil cases such marriage disputes, divorce, custody guardianship, child protection, land and property issues, access to justice for the vulnerable is elusive. This lies heavily on the fact that many of the vulnerable populations are unaware of their rights and processes of obtaining justice. The fact that Mandera has one of the lowest literacy levels in the Country also makes it difficult for vulnerable members of the community to know and express their rights and proper ways of channeling them. Also, the efficacy of community justice systems and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms that comply with the Kenyan law and established human rights standards lack, especially while dealing with complex cases.
Through NAPAD’s Haki Kwa Wote (Cadaalada Dhaman) [Justice for All] Project, 50 members of 2 Council of Elders and 2 Council of Religious leaders were trained on ADR approaches and the Legal Aid Act of 2016 from 12th to 18th January 2020. After a week of intensive training, the leaders from Mandera North and Mandera East Sub-Counties came out as qualified trainers in ADR mechanisms such as mediation, arbitration, conciliation, negotiation, traditional dispute resolution mechanism and ombudsman. The training was facilitated by Trainers of Trainees (TOT) previously trained under the project with guest appearances from the Chief Kadhi (religious leader) of Mandera County.
“This is a very wonderful programme. Mandera needs you and us to inform people about their rights because many issues like family conflict and women denied their rights are rampant here…”Mohamud Adan Issack
“This is a very wonderful programme. Mandera needs you and us to inform people about their rights because many issues like family conflict and women denied their rights are rampant here. Many also do not know where to report to or even aware of the structures that exist. For instance, most people did not know of the existence of the Chief Kadhi. I myself did not even know of his existence until I met him at this training,” remarks Mohamud Adan Issack, a Council of Religious leader from Mandera North.
Since August 2019, NAPAD has trained 6 paralegals on the Legal Aid Act 2016, and as sign language Interpreters, established a legal aid center, created and distributed IEC materials to local communities, and held legal awareness campaigns through radio broadcasts and visits to schools. The project funded by the European Union under the UNDP Amkeni Wakenya Program is part of the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD), a partnership involving the Government of Kenya, European Union, United Nations and civil societies, towards improving the delivery of justice services and use of alternatives to dispute resolution.