Posts Tagged ‘peacemaker’

Photo: Emmanuel Eigege via Unsplash.

I love hearing author Sy Montgomery talk about her animal friends in her regular visits to Boston Public Radio. She has helped me be more aware of animals as fellow travelers on the planet, beings with personalities most humans don’t bother to see. Her books have intriguing titles: for example, the one about her pig Christopher Hogwood, The Good Good Pig.

Today’s article fits right in with Montgomery’s stories. It’s about how pigs mediate barnyard brawls.

Leo Sands reports at the Washington Post, “When a fight becomes particularly thorny and drawn out, sometimes it takes the involvement of an empathetic, calming third party to lower the temperature in the room.

“Or, it turns out, the farm.

“New research suggests that pigs — like many humans — are smart enough to recognize a conflict between others and defuse the situation.

“According to a study published [recently], the hoofed mammals appear to have the cognitive ability to watch and empathize when two other pigs fight — and then intervene afterward to reduce the levels of aggression or anxiety — a form of social regulation that can benefit the wider group.

“The study observed that bystander pigs sometimes intervene after a conflict by approaching one of the warring parties and initiating physical contact, by applying the calming touch of their snouts, rubbing either of the parties with their ears or simply sitting up against one of the opponents. Occasionally, a pig also placed its entire head over the body one of the combatants, which was also effective.

“ ‘Pigs are highly social, and they have a very complex and high cognitive capacity to recognize familiar individuals,’ Giada Cordoni, one of the study’s authors at the University of Turin, told the Washington Post.

“When a victim is contacted after a fight, its anxiety levels drop, while aggressors that are approached are less likely to attack the victim — or other members of the group — again.

“Cordoni describes this resolution strategy involving a third pig as a ‘triadic conflict mechanism.’ The study marks the first time it has been observed in the species — having previously been identified only in humans, wolves, primates and birds. …

“Louisa Weinstein, a conflict mediation specialist who works with humans [notes that] ‘when a third person comes in, it’s an opportunity for someone to hear you. In a conflict, the other person isn’t understanding your perspective. The third party is going to at least understand your perspective,’ she said in a telephone interview. ‘The third party contains the conflict and the emotions associated with it. … We automatically regulate and behave better when someone else is there.’

“The Italian researchers spent six months in 2018 observing 104 pigs on a farm near Turin, in northern Italy. The pigs were free to forage throughout a 13-hectare woodland area — an environment that let them move and behave naturally. Researchers collected hours of video data to analyze.

“They found that domestic pigs can take part in a wide array of post-conflict strategies in the minutes after a fight. The two fighting pigs can engage in reconciliation — or a third pig not involved in the conflict can make unsolicited physical contact with the aggressor or the victim, often with its snout. …

“Bystander pigs have the cognitive and empathetic skills to detect emotions like anxiety in other pigs. The physical contact — which is not solicited by either of the antagonistic animals — also suggests that the third pig knows when the moment is right to intervene, as well as how to do it, the researches said.

“Another observation made by the scientists, suggesting a further similarity pigs share with humans, was the influence of family dynamics on how fights played out. Bystander pigs were more likely to intervene with pigs they were closely related to, suggesting they recognized and responded to family ties.”

Do you think there is something we humans need to learn from pigs? More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Paul Stremple.
Beatrice Karore, a community leader involved in peace building during Kenya’s elections, stands outside a local vocational college in Mathare that served as a polling station.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Often they are women. We know that not all women are peacemakers, but many are. They see where differences of opinion can get out of hand and take action.

Today’s article is about peacemakers in Kenya trying to change the pattern of violent election periods. The story was written before the country’s Supreme Court made its decision on the recount. If you can’t stand suspense, skip to the end.

Mukelwa Hlatshwayo writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “The Kenyan presidential elections are over, but peace campaigner Beatrice Karore’s work is not done.

“One recent cloudy morning in Nairobi, the founder of Wanawake Mashinani – Swahili for Grassroots Women – walks to her office in Mathare, one of the most densely populated slum areas in the Kenyan capital. 

“Sliding a heavy-duty padlock off a thick metal door, Ms. Karore and her team file into the tiny room that serves as their headquarters, and sit on blue plastic chairs. Over loud music blaring from a nearby shop, Ms. Karore begins with a prayer for a good ‘walk for the peace’ ahead.

“Ms. Karore is one of dozens of grassroots peace activists across the country who sprang into action in the months leading up to Kenya’s Aug. 9 presidential elections. Now, as the country waits for a final verdict on disputed results, that work has become increasingly important.

“The Supreme Court is due to hand down a judgment on Sept. 5, after opposition candidate Raila Odinga challenged official results that showed him losing to William Ruto by a margin of 200,000 votes. A former prime minister, Mr. Odinga has blamed five previous presidential election losses on rigging – claims that have sparked deadly riots in the past. 

“For now, an uneasy calm is holding. But some campaigners fear the Supreme Court verdict could yet unleash the violence that followed disputed polls in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed, and again in 2017, when more than 100 people died. 

“As her team walk out of their modest office into narrow passageways crammed with shacks, Ms. Karore says she knows the current lull is far from guaranteed. ‘We [are still] doing peace campaigns to empower the community,’ she says.

‘We realized that when there is no peace, everyone loses.’ …

“Some analysts believe that the relatively peaceful election campaign, in which the main candidates ran on social and economic issues, rather than demanding voters’ ethnic loyalty, points to a maturing democracy. 

“Widely touted reforms to the electoral process, including the effective registration of voters in the diaspora, may have given more Kenyans a sense of greater transparency. And battered by two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and rising costs of living, most Kenyans would prefer to accept the Supreme Court verdict than go to an election rerun, analysts say. …

“The manner in which Kenyans navigate the decision by the court will set a precedent for future disputes across Africa. … Even if the fragile peace holds, electoral watchers caution it will take more than one election cycle to show Kenya has left violence in the past. …

“For the past two presidential elections, Ms. Karore’s team has organized the kind of ‘holistic’ monitoring that Kenya’s human rights commission says will transform how communities like Mathare – which typically bear the brunt of any unrest – participate in the post-electoral process. Wanawake Mashinani has held several community meetings at which faith-based leaders have encouraged people to remain calm. It’s given safety tips to residents on election day. 

“And in a neighborhood that’s neglected by officials, where violence, drug abuse, and crime are prevalent, perhaps the group’s most important work is also the simplest: It checks in on residents and listens without judgment. 

“On this August morning ‘peace walk,’ Ms. Karore stops first to talk to a group of women selling hair-care products outside a corrugated iron-roof shack. Speaking in Swahili, she asks them how they are and how things have been since the elections. The discussion is light and jovial; the women laugh at a joke about a fake flour scandal doing the rounds in Mathare. 

“One vendor, a young woman called Kim, says that things have been quiet and business has been slower. She tells the group they are glad major protests didn’t break out after the results were announced, because that would have meant they would have lost everything. 

“ ‘Anything small can trigger violence on the streets,’ Ms. Karore says. ‘Many people leave their homes and go to rural areas at this time, or where people of their same tribe live.’

“Research has shown that when marginalized communities feel that their favorite candidate loses an election due to irregularities, they are more likely to resort to violence. Human rights organizations say the unrest often breaks out along ethnic and identity lines. …

“As Ms. Karore and her team walk deeper into the township, checking in on neighbors and store owners, they are greeted by passersby who recognize them from previous door-to-door visits.

“Buoyed by the work of peace campaigners across Kenya as a whole, the political atmosphere has been significantly calmer than in two previous elections. A range of activists, from artists to religious leaders, have been galvanized into action in recent months. A campaign by artists in Kibera, Kenya’s largest township, displays works that celebrate the country’s ethnic diversity. Another group of activists organized a ‘peace caravan’ across the country, carrying messages urging voters to remain calm during the heated polls.

“Still, violence and intimidation persist. … In Mathare, Reagan Victor Ondigo says he barely escaped with his life when a mob of men tried to burn down his home as he and his family slept. … He blames politicians for whipping up ethnic grievances, but he’s cautiously hopeful that those perceptions are slowly changing.

“ ‘I hope that my daughter will know that freedom is there,’ he says.”

Looks like Kenya’s Supreme Court decision was accepted by both sides. More at the Monitor, here.

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