Institute for Peace and Justice
Contact: Jennifer Freeman
Phone: (619) 260-7569
Fax: (619) 260-7570
Location: KIPJ Room 121
Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110
Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice
Wahu Kaara of Kenya
An ardent advocate and long-standing peace and political activist, Wahu Kaara has lived through many chapters of Kenya’s history. She has also helped write some of those chapters, making significant contributions to the progress of human rights, women’s rights and democratization in Kenya.
In a country of immense ethnic diversity, Kaara is an adept cross-cultural Kenyan. As part of her desire to keep Kenya unified she has learned to greet people in all of its 42 languages.
As a student at Kenyatta University during the wave of political activism in the 1970s, Kaara's professors detected her readiness to think about and act on Kenya's most critical issues. The influence of her professors led her to become an educator. As a teacher and then headmistress of a girls school, she tried to create unity and understanding between the diverse ethnic groups represented among the students. The vision she had then of empowering girls to be leaders in families, their communities and eventually the nation continues today.
Her pro-democracy activism turned toward the release of political prisoners in the early ‘90s, when Kaara and a group of mothers, wives and daughters approached Kenya’s attorney general to demand the release of 52 prisoners arrested during the democracy struggles of the 1980s. The woman would wait, on hunger strike, in the public park at one of Nairobi's busiest intersections until he answered them. As the public learned of their cause the corner became termed “Freedom Corner.” Though police brutality forced them to relocate to a nearby church, they continued their year-long protest, and the government began releasing the prisoners one by one.
In 1999 Kaara founded Kenya Debt Relief Network (KENDREN) to coordinate Kenya’s activities for the global Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign. Now a well-respected research and policy analysis group, KENDREN frequently advises government ministries on matters of public finance, foreign aid and debt. This led to Kaara’s appointment, from 2004 to 2006, as the coordinator of U.N. Millennium Development Goals campaign at the All Africa Council of Churches.
Kaara's wisdom and expertise spans to other international organizations such as Action Aid and Oxfam, the coordinating committee of the World Social Forum, the African Social Forum Council and the Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA), a network for peace and security in Africa.
She has been recognized for her contributions to Kenya’s peace and development as one of the 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and as the 2009 Project Concern Global Humanitarian. Over the decades, she has seen Kenya’s cycles of violence and peace, and as elections draw near again in 2012, Kaara hopes to mobilize organizations to prevent the recurrence of the 2007 election violence.
“Women, needless to say, bear the brunt of this violence and stand also as the sentinels against emerging conflict.”
Kaara was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2011.