Sarah Akoru Lochodo of Kenya
Sarah Akoru Lochodo is the only woman – but a powerful one – negotiating among the semi-nomadic and pastoralist communities in her native Turkana District of northwestern Kenya, a region with a long history of violent confrontations. Lochodo was appointed assistant chief of Kainuk Sublocation by the Kenyan government in 2002, at a time when gun violence had become inherent to the banditry and cattle rustling common between the community’s Turkana and Pokot tribes. At times Lochodo has had to carry a gun herself, even as she was stepping forward as the first woman bringing about non-violent resolutions to the region.
Working in a pastoralist, patriarchal culture unaccustomed to women being prominent in public life, Lochodo quickly proved herself. Within one month of becoming assistant chief, she averted a massive revenge killing after a Pokot herdsboy was killed by a Turkana warrior from her own community. By 2009 she succeeded in holding a historic Pokot-Turkana meeting, the first attended completely without arms.
While disarmament has become a large part of Lochodo’s work in her district, she is well known as a community mediator, convening elders from conflicting communities to discuss the root of the region’s violence. With the trust she has earned over her years as assistant chief, the dialogues often end in the surrender of illegal firearms, pre-emption of cattle rustling and solutions to boundary disputes.
Lochodo is a founding member of Rural Women Peace Link, which played a major role in stabilizing communities after Kenya’s violent 2008 election riots. Of the 1,500 chiefs and assistant chiefs in the 2007 Administration College’s paramilitary skills training, Lochodo was one of only three women. She was also one of 25 women in Africa selected for leadership training by the Coalition for Peace in Africa in 2009. In addition to her official governmental duties, Lochodo is now working to combat female genital mutilation and discourage early marriages in rural communities. She also personally supports local girls whose parents’ livelihoods have been decimated by cattle rustling, financing their education and at times providing them a home.
“The peace-driven seething fire inside me isn’t affected a bit,” she says of the patriarchal obstacles that still confront her. “Deep inside I feel that peace has the face of a woman.”
Lochodo was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2010.