One Man, One Vision, and the Five Hills

by Noah Wekesa

“Every hill has its leopard” African proverb

In African culture, mountains and hills play a critical role in traditional leadership and practices. Equally, in the Samburu community, traditional leadership is defined by the landscape and age sets. It has a significant influence on the communities under their jurisdiction. The leadership consists of the Samburu Council of Elders. Clan elders from different clans and age set famously known as the ‘five hills,’ namely, Ng’iro, Kirisia, Loroki, Ol Doinyo Lenkiyo and Ndoro. The clan elders are the gatekeepers of the community and custodians of the culture. They also act as the public protector; promote respect for human rights; develop peace, tolerance and unity and manage elections in the community.

It is against this backdrop that the USAID-funded Afya Timiza project developed a road map for the process of building a coordinated and sustainable approach for traditional leaders’ commitment to supporting male involvement in the utilisation of family planning, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (FP/RMNCAH), nutrition and water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) services in the highly patriarchal communities.

Loipi Lo Lpayani

Loipi lo lpayani translates to ‘Tree of men’ whereby the Samburu Council of Elders, cultural advisors, clan elders and moran leaders from different age sets meet under a designated tree to hold critical deliberations which are sacred and binding to the community. Through this leadership structure, Afya Timiza engaged some of the leaders which led to 500 elders, a scale of representation from three hills, unanimously endorsing the uptake of maternal and child health services in their communities. These leaders also opined that the community would not be comfortable with the term family planning and instead asked its amendment to health and timely birth spacing.

Acknowledging the critical role of positive health-seeking behaviour, Philip Lerno the Chief of Loosuk and a senior elder, proposed engaging all the Loipi lo lpayani from the five hills to pass a declaration towards the uptake of appropriate child spacing, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, nutrition and WASH services; a task that can only be achieved through the leadership of a senior elder and with the support of the Samburu Council of Elders.

Chief Lerno is calling out to other stakeholders in the County to continue facilitating the Samburu consultations and dialogue by elders towards initiating a triumphant declaration for all men to support the utilisation of these health services in their households.

“Some of the clan elders are still culturally conflicted because they feel they will lose their authority if they disregard the traditional practices, including the harmful ones. This will require

more time to change their mind-sets towards better health-seeking behaviour,” explains Chief Lerno.

Meanwhile, the Samburu Council Elders continue to work with champions identified at the ward level to reach out to other clan elders under the ‘tree of men.’

During dialogue meetings and global observance days, Chief Lerno continues to emphasise the role of traditional leadership in respecting human rights including compulsory education for all girls, abandonment of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.

“The law is above culture, and there should be no reason for communities to continue with harmful practices that violate girls and women’s rights,” reiterates Chief Llerno during an interview.

Figure it out!

Historically, pastoral communities in the arid and semi-arid lands have been perpetrators and victims of community and intercommunity cattle raids, revenge killings and political clashes. On May 21, 2015, a peace caravan consisting of county leaders, community elders, politicians and reformed morans led to the Boma Inn Declaration – a peace agreement/declaration between the Baringo, Pokot, Samburu and Turkana communities. Since then, there have been minimal incidences and loss of lives.

According to David Lentiiyo, the organising secretary of the Council of Elders, a declaration will stimulate the support of men in the utilisation of FP, RMNCAH, nutrition and WASH services and help curb early marriages, FGM and other harmful traditional practices that impede the wellbeing of women and girls.

In support of efforts to improve family planning/reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health in Samburu and Turkana counties, through USAID support, Afya Timiza is using the structured dialogue approach to highlight the central role of male engagement as a ‘tipping point for change’ in the hard to reach communities. This approach seeks to leverage on the well-structured and respected cultural leadership system to address socio-cultural and gender norms and geographical barriers, to enhance male engagement for the adoption of FP/RMNCAH practices, to bridge the gap between the community and formal health system, and to integrate FP, RMNCAH, WASH and nutrition in the agenda of the cultural systems.

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