A Discussion with Sammy Linge, Director of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM)

With: Sammy Linge Berkley Center Profile

April 6, 2015

Background: Transformation that leads to changes in behaviors is a common goal of development and peace practitioners alike. Motivated by faith, Dr. Sammy Linge, Kenya country director of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), works to change and transform communities by developing local faith leaders and empowering those in greatest need. Dr. Linge met with Crystal Corman in his Nairobi office on April 6, 2015 to discuss ALARM’s faith-inspired approach and the importance of working at the grassroots level. He explains his professional journey seeking training that would best effect change in people’s lives that led him through studies in theology, counseling, and education.

How did you come to work with pastors on leadership development?

I am a pastor, but I was never called to be a minister in the pulpit only. All along, I have felt called to help people be transformed. I saw people at Bible school giving these elaborate speeches about their calling to the ministry, but I only knew that God wanted me to do something for the community, not just be in the pulpit. When I was doing my pastoral training, I trained to be conversant in the Bible. I also prepared to be a good theologian, to the best of my knowledge. After that, I wrestled with what it is the community needed. It was clear to me, that the community was hurting; there was a lot of pain. After doing my education in divinity and theology, I took training in counseling so I could help deal with the pain.

I began knocking on doors at the university, inquiring which department would equip someone to change communities. After three or four departments, I landed in the Department of Education. There I studied transformative education. I taught for a time and worked to help people change the way they think and behave differently, but I didn’t know if this went beyond the classroom. So I decided to go out of the classroom and work more directly with people who can implement this transformative education. ALARM gave me this opportunity; I work with pastors, mostly targeting those who have not gone to university but who have influence and a following. I find that when I give them a message or idea, the following day it will be implemented. So now I’m working with those who are already leaders who have an “infrastructure” for teaching and changing the community.

I have several years of experience teaching in the area of counseling and also years in the area of education. Two people have influenced me in my teaching—Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philospher, and John Dewey, the educator of children. From them, I learn how to change children and adults, and also to work with those who have not changed over time. I have also read much about how the Bible transforms. So I combine educational theory of change and what the Bible says about the power of the spirit and regeneration.

What is the story behind ALARM’s mission and work?

The ministry began in 1994 as a response to the Rwandan genocide. As genocide spread to Burundi, and the DRC, ALARM’s founder, Rev. Dr. Celestin Musekura, went to meet pastors who were refugees heading north. He noticed that the main issue for them was servant leadership. From that time on, both in the good servant leadership skills and principles, he helped them know how to connect with each other, particularly in the area of forgiveness. If you don’t forgive one another, revenge will be almost automatic. This will create a cycle of hurting one another.

The organization started growing from one country to another and within the region. Internationally, we are in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. At the beginning, we were responding to a crisis. But after a crisis you are left with other issues, and therefore you have to sit down and think about building communities that were destroyed by war and hatred. What do we do now?

ALARM formed meetings for strategic areas to think through these issues. Three areas emerged; the first was a lack of good servant leadership. There was also a lot of nominalization. People were saying that they were Christians, but their lives did not show any Christianity. Interreligious dynamics and cultural issues arose. So ALARM asked, how do the leaders respond to these things? It became clear that we needed to train the leaders and develop the communities. All this is geared towards having servant leaders who are peacemakers.

How did these meetings translate into ALARM’s work today?

In summary, we do peacebuilding, build servant leadership, and engage in community transformation. Our main thrust is training servant leaders and our main approach is training bridge-builders. This means, focusing on leaders that will transform communities into peaceful coexistence. We have a curriculum for both peacebuilding and leadership. We also do projects to empower people through microfinance, kitchen gardens, or giving livestock like cows or goats.

How do you choose where to work and who to work with?

For the work in Kenya, we are interested mainly in places where there has been conflict and where development is not very present. Our presence is to mobilize and organize to bring change. We have the capacity and the network. One example is our work with servant leadership training and livestock in Kilifi County where we train and work with about 200 women and men in transforming their lives. Nyeri is another place where there has been inter-family conflict because of drunkness, and we are engaging so as to bring change. We also work in the Coast province, where you are faced with development problems. We are thinking of going north where there are particularly ethnic and religious conflicts.

Our goal is to help transform communities by influencing their leaders. We work with the leaders to address the immediate needs of conflict between people in the community. Once these conflicts are resolved, the community can respond to other issues in the larger community. That is the philosophical underpinning behind what we are doing. We do that by systematically targeting and training the leaders. If you focus all your work on peacebuilding but there is no good leadership to sustain the process, then it is waste of your resources, energy, and time.

We are highly community-based, meaning that when we go to a community, we look for leaders from the community. We organize them to do the mobilization and logistics; we only facilitate. Then we do a follow-up. Wherever we work, we have a team of local leaders. They are from the people, by the people, and for the people.

Normally we enter through the church. We know the church better than any other section of the community. We are training leaders to be servant leaders as exemplified by Jesus Christ. Our entry point is the church but our target is the community, meaning we mobilize through the church. We analyze the issues in the community, and we mobilize the Christians however we feel is most strategic. For example, we are training the police, lawyers, and the district peace chairpersons. When we deal with other religious groups, we bring different kinds of people. We may bring together Muslim men, Muslim women, Christian men, Christian women, and traditional/cultural leaders together, if the issue cannot be dealt with through one group.

Is ALARM involved in interfaith work?

We don’t only target Christians; we target the community. We are based on the biblical teaching that says that God loved the world, that love is everywhere. That is why he gave his son. Everyone in the world is loved, and so we must love them whether we agree with them by creed or not.

When we bring people together, we need to understand where everyone is coming from. For example, in one community we only went to the Christians. The Muslims became suspicious so we decided to gather a multi-religious group. A problem, however, was that we planned to include women in the training. The Muslims normally do not meet with women in the same room. We slowly worked with them, to show respect. We spoke about the goals we want to achieve going beyond Muslim men and Christian men.

ALARM is working at the grassroots level on leadership development. How does this fit with your goal of transforming communities?

Change can only come by strong movements, and strong movements can only be formed by the masses. The masses are not in their leadership. The masses are in the informal settlements and in the villages. Somewhere, somehow, the masses must say, “Enough is enough. I think we have to be done with this.”

The main area of neglect in Kenya is the masses. We need people with the capacity to craft a good law, to be good debaters, but we also need a strong societal movement. But more than a strong civil society movement, you need the masses to know that no one will change society for them. Change can only come through strong movements, and strong movements can only be formed by the masses.

I strongly believe that it’s not easy for change to come when the masses are ignorant. We can work as much as we want, but as long as 90 percent of the people do not understand and engage, then it does not matter. Today we have to pray for change.

Where have you seen the most hope on mobilizing civil society to work for change in Kenya?

One of the most transformative events in this country, that has caused change to come faster, was the Kenyan Constitution-making process. And why? It’s because the corpus of the constitution draft was made available to the community. People wanted to know and would seek it out, asking "What does it say?" There was a lot of education of the people through this process. And because everyone was following the draft, the masses did not approve the first draft. They shut it down. When it came to the second draft of the constitution, they voted for it overwhelmingly. They voted for it—even against the church, which strongly disagreed with segments of it.

If you talk to the Kenyan population today, they will say that because of this, they have a better awareness of their rights. You cannot put the masses in Parliament, but Parliament cannot make good laws without the pressure of the masses. I’m noticing those very principles today with those who sit today in Parliament. That’s why the people need to be involved.

You mentioned that people are hurting. How have you put your counseling training into this work?

Too often people deal with the symptoms, not the root cause. I always say that the most important thing for Kenya is to deal with the cause of the pain. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is dealing with it. It is always good to put a balm on, but after that, the wound will come back again. Yes, it will soothe, but only for a very short while.

People’s pain comes simply from not having what belongs to them, in a nutshell. Whether it is through corruption, or it is through conducting elections in a way that we cannot identify the leader of [the people’s] choice. Not giving the citizens what they believe they rightfully deserve. The time when Africa was led in a way that assumed that the right man was the one standing is gone. If we don’t address these issues, it’s hard for people to heal.

Could you talk about the challenges that ALARM faces?

In some areas, traditional beliefs are a challenge. People with white hair (like mine) are associated with witchcraft. Therefore a number of men and women have been brutally killed, accused of being wizards or witches. One of the things we are moving towards now is how to respond to the traditional beliefs that are retrogressive and destructive.

There is also the challenge of sex tourism. We have many girls and young men who go to the beach looking for income from the tourists. Men and women also leave their homes during peak tourist season. This is a concern not only for morality, but also given the risk of HIV/AIDS.

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