Thursday, 29 May 2008

Quaker peacework in Western Kenya

This is an excerpt from a compilation of messages from David Zarembka, compiled by Mary Gilbert of Friends Meeting at Cambridge MA. For more details, see the Kenyan Peacework anf FWCC Kenya blogs.

For a satellite view see Google Earth map of Kenya, zoom in on Eldoret. Places marked * are too small to show on Google Earth.
Kenya language map below is courtesy of Click on the map for full screen showing Kikuyu (15), Kalenjin / Nandi (19), and Luhya (25) areas in the Western District.
David Zarembka, Coordinator, African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams (FPT):
May 1: We use the AVP (Alternatives to Violence) model of trauma healing, a look at violence, then a way forward... In *Kibera we have come face to face with the youth who battled police; whose friends were gunned down as they ran, or while uprooting the railway line; or when they had gone "shopping without money", as they call looting.

We have come face to face with intense mistrust and hatred as we bring Kikuyu and other tribes together... [Local chiefs told how] people ran to them for shelter or for advice on what to do. Their own lives were in danger. Nine of them lost all they had when their homes were burned by angry youth who [accused them of being] government supporters. One... cried when he saw 8 year old kids going to battle with arrows.

(Uzima is the Swahili word for wholeness, male vigour, perfection. Here it could be glossed as "warrior" - Ed.)

[In April] we started a series of one-day workshops for 120 uzima youth leaders in the border committees... [they told of] burning tires to block roads, ...making arrows, shopping without money; shooting arrows, stoning, killing... people are screaming and running, others are throwing stones and arrows, whistles and trumpets are blowing, gunshots and tear gas everywhere, dead bodies lying about with heads cut off, cows running all over... singing war songs.

Our aim is to let these young adults talk with no fear of victimization. Then we look at trauma; its causes, effects and consequences, We look at violence and how we can react nonviolently to violence situations. We look at cycles of violence and how the graph moves up every time root issues are not addressed. We look at the AVP themes of Affirmation, Communication, Cooperation, and Community based on trust and Creative Conflict resolution. We challenge ourselves: can we build a different society where we affirm each other rather than think of Kikuyus as thieves, Luos as arrogant and violent, Luhya as cooks and watchmen; Kalenjin
as cattle rustlers and Kisii as violent... towards the end, they get to hear what others say about their group and the whole issue of stereotypes... the difference at the end of the day has been tremendous. In Kibera, which began with Kikuyu youth walking alone, Luos and Luhyas alone, they were going for lunch together...

May 20: I do not personally attend any of the gatherings mentioned below except the May 30 ecumenical service. As a Mzungu (white person) I would be a distraction from the issues at hand. My presence might give rise to added suspicion.At the Quaker Peace Network - East Africa meeting, Eden Grace of FUM commented that this was the most exciting thing that Quakers were doing in the world!

Do you agree? Or are there wonderful other things going on around the Quaker world that are just as exciting? We are just a group of ordinary concerned Quakers trying to bring about healing and reconciliation. What is most interesting is that we don't really know what we are doing as we move forward step by step as "the way opens." We trust that God will lead us and give us the right words to use. We had to become accustomed to using the neutral words "returning community" for the Kikuyu from the IDP [internally displaced people] camps and "receiving community" for the Nandi [aka Kalenjin] and Luhya whom we used to call "aggressors."

Yesterday for the first time since January I met the Red Cross official responsible for *Lumakanda on the street here. Later I saw two Red Cross Land Rovers and then a UN vehicle racing through town. (Why are they racing through town stirring up so much dust?) I speculate that there was a meeting at the government offices of Lugari District to plan the return of the IDP at *Turbo to their home communities! We will see.

How is the reconciliation work going? [Following up on FCPT Friends Church Peace Team] yesterday [we] went to the Turbo IDP camp... to a Bible study meeting arranged by the 32 pastors at the camp. This was the first time that something like this had been done in the Turbo camp... Before we took the food last week we were told that there would be 60 people. When we took the food, we were told that there would be 102... At the actual meeting on Saturday there were 170 people! ... The presentation started about 11:00 AM and went to 4:00 PM... People did not want to break for lunch. There was rapt attention...

It is amazing how such a simple thing could be so effective. The presenters were three women, Rose Imbega, Lydia Bokassa, and Jodi Richmond and one man, Joshua Lilande. [It reminded me of the work of] Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, Elizabeth Frye and all the other Quaker women... one of the pastors commented that they didn't know that women could speak so well about the Bible and its issues. Most churches in Kenya are male-dominated and many do not allow women pastors.

Mt Elgon, on the western border of Kenya in the Rift Valley

Last week we had two AVP [Alternatives to Violence] workshops here in Lugari District. One was for youth from the Turbo IDP camp. Here the interesting point was one person who had fled the violence on Mt Elgon coming to Lugari District and then had to flee again during the post-election violence.

There was also a workshop here in *Lumakanda. One of the participants was a 27 year old Kikuyu man who had rented a room in town, but his parents were still in the IDP camp. His shop and house had been destroyed during the violence. His wife of six months had been a Luhya and they separated during the violence. This is very common; the stress of the violence destroyed many mixed ethnic marriages and their families.

Today... Malesi Kinaro, Getry Agizah, and Joseph Shamala are conducting a basic Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) workshop for people from diverse communities (including the Turbo IDP camp). Next week the two-week long Healing Companion training, which had been postponed in January, will start. We will be bringing Adrien Niyongabo from Burundi, Theoneste Bizimana and Chrisostome Nshimiyimana from Rwanda, and Zawadi Nikuze from North Kivu, Congo to lead the training. We hope to have ten people from the [Kenya Rift Valley] Mt Elgon conflict, who formerly participated in the HROC basic workshop, and also the best candidates from the present training.

The Great Rift Valley
Next week we will be doing two advanced AVP workshops at *Lumakanda Friends Church. For each workshop we will bring ten Kikuyu youth from the IDP camp and ten Luhya youth from the community. This will be the first workshop where we will be bringing the two sides of the Kenyan conflict together as we do in Rwanda and Burundi. I think this will work out fine.

Last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Gladys and I were at the Quaker Peace Network--East Africa (QPN-EA) meeting held at the Friends Peace Centre -- *Lubao. This consisted of mostly Kenyans with two Tanzanians, and four people from Uganda (including Barbara Wybar, AGLI representative currently at Bududa). The most interesting point I learned was that a high percentage of the youth in Nairobi who participated in the violence and were killed by the police were Luhya. [The majority of Quakers in Western Kenya are from this group -- Ed.]

Also in certain parts of Lugari District it was the Luhya youth who did all the damage. In western Kenya there was a tendency to think that it was the other groups -- Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luo, etc--who were the more violent ones. Is it a natural tendency to think that "others" are more violent than your own group?

We shared our activities and those from Kenya discussed how we could work together in our peacemaking and reconciliation activities.It is the Friends Church Peace Team which has been most active here. On Thursday thirteen of the FCPT counselors held a listening session at the Turbo District office in Uasin Gisu District. This is on the Nandi (a Kalenjin group) side of the road from Lugari, which is mostly Luhya. Many government officials, local politicians, church leaders, community elders, etc., participated.

At first they were suspicious of the mostly Luhya group that they were meeting with, but in time they began to open up. They mostly complained about the Kikuyu -- some of it true, some false, some stereotyping, some bitterness, and some excuses for the violence. They were not very happy to have them back unless the Kikuyu were willing to fit into and accept their Nandi culture. There was little of that "live and let live" concept needed for diverse people to co-exist peacefully. By the end of the meeting, the decision was for the FCPT counselors to visit seven Nandi communities to meet the people at the village level...

On Sunday we had a debriefing/organizing meeting at the Peace Centre and for seven weekdays, between Monday (yesterday) and Tuesday (next week), four or five person teams will visit the seven villages for grassroots listening sessions. I was most surprised to learn that in three of these villages, in the interior of the district, people may not know Swahili! We have one women counselor who is a Nandi (married to a Luhya) and knows the language of the Nandi. So she will go to the three interior meetings to translate if needed. Note that if a person does not know Swahili (or English) he or she cannot talk to a Nandi or Luhya without a translator.

On Friday of last week, FCPT had a listening session on the *Lugari (Luhya) side at the boundary. Again the team of nineteen heard many accusations against the Kikuyu.

The result from this meeting is that next week, on Thursday [29 May 2008], the FPCT listening team will go to *Mbagara, the place with the greatest violence in Lugari District, for a listening session with the community. In this case the whole team will go and hopefully the crowd will divide up into smaller groups as we did at the Turbo IDP camp. The next day, May 30, there will be an ecumenical healing service open to everyone. People from the Turbo side will come. Gladys and I talked to the pastors at the IDP camp and they plan on coming. This is what real Christianity is all about! ...

See also earlier postings in this blog about Kenya.

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