Wednesday, 11 April 2012

In Kenya, part 2 -- David Millar

See also the illustrated blog of Judy Lumb who has been in W. Kenya for several months observing the peace process, the Quaker role in peacemaking and resettling of 600,000 IDP refugees from the 2007-08 violence, rural and urban life, the old-growth Kakamega Forest, house-building and community development. Her forthcoming book Ending Cycles of Violence is based on extensive interviews and tells of the HROC/AVP process.
My experiences April 8-11 in Nairobi
The ACK (Anglican Church of Kenya)  guest house is a wonderful introduction to Church and aid work, as locals and wa-mzungu (whites) come from all parts of East Africa for training, staff meetings and postings. You get an earful every time you take a meal, is you invite others to share your table. Which, insatiably curious, I always do. It has been quite an education. And ridiculously cheap: 5 days and 10 meals for US$40. Tomorrow I fly out to Kusumi for a day and then homestay in Bwere, so small it is not on the map.
Brief glimpses of local headlines: the political Truth and Reconciliation process has broken down because genocidal leaders hang on to posts in the coalition and want immunity from ICC prosecution, while ambitious underlings try to unseat them. Patronage is being showered down by the old guard of both UCC and ODM parties, using World Bank money (much of it ill-spent and ecologically dangerous). Youth leaders demand that older “menopausal” male leaders step aside. Cries of “forgery” as a British Embassy file naming the abettors of genocide is leaked. Kenya Airport union strikes, threatening tourism  – the Minister sacks them all – they vow to continue striking. I imagine there are planeloads of red-faced shrieking mzungus shouting at some hapless airlines rep; they always do. One aid worker described seeing a mzungu meltdown on the coast as a mechanical fault delayed takeoff; he tried to explain to his compatriots that they were therefore safer on the ground; but they preferred to shout about their “entitlement” to be in the air, demanding a plane, any plane, immediately. It is best to be cool: nzuri
Traffic jams paralyze the city, nothing new; what is new is that there is road construction everywhere though this is the rainy season. Not much rain in Nairobi so far, just brief downpours. This is a city built around trade: city districts and new main roads are all named for malls (mostly vertical, not horizontal: immense echoing concrete halls), FIC for example being at Nakumatt Prestige (not to be confused with Nakumat Junction or Nakumatt City Hall, which are miles apart and often misspelled). No one is quite sure where anything is – especially as they are probably trying to use their second or third language.  Even taxis get lost. And the real estate promoters must make a pile of money, as they sit uneasily atop the squirming heap of getting-rich-quickers. And, I presume, occasionally fall.
To prevent that fall, they bankroll the politicians – with millions. For those at the bottom of the squirming heap, there is “holy oil” (olive, from Israel, at 10 times the shelf price) peddled by unscrupulous pastors to the poor. It will heal the sick, avert the Devil or the jealous neighbor, assure promotion – so much so, that some businesses have put up signs forbidding “anointing” of office doors and walls: a messy business. A Christian paper The Shepherd denounces this widespread “idolatry” but does not question the gospel of prosperity. God will bless, Jesus saves, your children must go to Christian school and succeed. There is a praiseworthy aid industry to pay school fees and board for HIV orphans throughout East Africa (I have met several NGO workers, and some individual sponsors). One girl learned enough in a few years to bring her granny (who had taken care of her and her orphan sisters) back from the hospital, administer her daily intravenous, cook for her sibs and continue school! Not untypical of Kenyan country character. This is a country where individual responsibility, shrewd choices and getting ahead mean survival for the whole family. Telling this nation of small traders and hard workers that “development” or “capitalism” are wrong would be a hard sell indeed. But they are revolted by malpractice, corruption, monopolies and foreign dictation.
Missed seeing people at All Africa Council of Churches (AACC), PACJA, and PROCMURA because they went home for Easter. But made other contacts, saw Westlands subdivision and its seething mall, and gathered some info on what they are doing: eco-justice work, climate caravans and democratizing development, building Christian-Muslim peace. Didn’t get to UNEP. Did get to CAPI, a Quaker-backed peace and development agency which is arranging West Kenya homestays for pre-World Conference arrivals. I think now that email and Skype may be far more efficient ways of communicating once an initial contact is made. Getting a few miles across town can take an hour, amidst black clouds of pollution and dangerously driven mutatas. Mutatu mutata: jitney bus = trouble. One of my taxi drivers showed me his injured leg; when I came to the city, I used to walk and take mutates, he said; no more.
At ACK, most of the aid workers say the same thing: encourage mutual aid at the grassroots, emphasize community self-help, strict reporting or no more donations, support women and local leaders, listen to their wants (which almost always  include good education). Wells, latrines, solar panels, organic food plots, tree planting – all do fine if, and only if, the local partners are listened to, respected, and have a stake. Workers in refugee camps, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda, etc. say pretty much the same thing. And some of the most effective work is being done by the native-born who are “paying back” the chances they got. There is much to be learned and done, not least in interfaith and intertribal efforts to prevent, mediate and reconcile murderous conflict – often over water, land, and resources. This requires open hearts and open ears. What doesn’t work: almost any mega-project imposed from above.
Example: at the Kenya National Museum (a great way of getting the whole picture of human evolution – and the digs that discovered it -- flora, fauna, colonial history and independence) there was a photo exhibition of top-down mega-development in the Tana River delta in the northeast. How not to do it. Huge areas irrigated for biofuel monocrops (jatropha) the so-called “green” fuel to keep our gasguzzlers on the road. The seasonal floods that guarantee fertility dwindled, cattle and crops died, mangroves were cut down, indigenous knowledge ignored, people are starving and digging 10’ to find water. Mzungu hydraulic ‘experts’ (paid by World Bank, thereby increasing the Kenyan debt load: there is almost no “direct aid” anymore) came up with million-dollar “solutions” that were abysmal failures. A belated attempt is being made to do community mapping with local participants.
One noon at FIC -- Hezron Matitsa of CAPI  introduced me to a trio of powerful women: Kristen Eskeland of Norway’s Quaker Aid, Jacinta Makokha chair of CAPI, and recently elected South Sudan MP Susan Wasuk Sokiri, who quietly observed that it was women’s networks that brought peace, elected a woman governor, and actively (including their men) do self-help village improvement -- see second para above. The peace is still fragile. All across the Sahel, drought, land hunger, religion (of the crazy kind) and guns fuel tribal conflict. See the avril 2012 Monde Diplomatique, pp.8-9, for a superb analysis. For instance, Boko Haram is really gang violence by desperately poor, uneducated (95%), and jobless young men. Jobless because their land is dwindling and their opportunities nil; scapegoats are their Christian neighbour, reader of “unholy books”; brutal armies working for corrupt (but educated) city elites; the mzungu corporations.  Boko Haram burn churches, run protection and smuggling rackets, recruit mercenaries returning from Gaddafi’s Libya, share the old Bedouin dream of freedom / lawlessness / independence. Mali has just fallen. More burning, bombs, violence, refugees will surely follow.
Supper with Rosemary Burke, who does UK Protestant aid in Ethiopia. Her villages include dismal dumps of Sudanese refugees. Whose women are gradually taking responsibility for their part in intertribal wars – vengeance for the fallen – and trying to make peace. Breakfast with Joel Chacha, a Kenya-born mediator in Ontario’s Rent Board, who has spent every holiday since 1977 setting up orphanages and good schools for HIV orphans. Met a Dutch gang of Translators without Borders who are helping local health workers develop their Swahili translation skills, brief hands-on workshops – apparently great fun for all -- whose work is then corrected by a native Swahili speaker from the University.

At less than $45 for 5 days at the ACK-GH, this has been my most intensive and effective education, ever. Tomorrow at 5 am, I head to the airport and Kumaru.

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