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Kenya Reports

Report #51
June 1, 2008

I hope you are interested in finding out what happened to the listening sessions that the Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT) counselors have been doing for the last two weeks in the local receiving communities. To remind you, for seven week days the FCPT counselors went to seven different locations (local communities) with the Nandi (a Kalinjin group) on the Uasin Gishu (Rift Valley province) side of the main road. Then we were going to do one listening session and an ecumenical service the next day on the Lugari side of the main road.

How did these go? The visits varied. One was cancelled because the President was visiting Eldoret and it was inappropriate to have a meeting with him so close by. Another one succeeded past our expectations. Mili Nne (Four Miles--meaning it is four miles from Eldoret) was extremely successful. The people were willing to receive the internally displaced people (IDP) who were at the Eldoret showground. The team there escorted the local District Officer and Chief to the IDP camp to talk to the people there about returning--this is the first time since January that these officials had gone to the IDP camp in Eldoret to visit the IDP's who came from their community.

At the two worst--Kipkarren River and Sugoi--, the people said that if the Kikuyu returned they would kill them. The Sugoi people had an interesting story. Sugoi is the home town of William Ruto, the leader of the Kalinjins in Parliament, and one of the main members of the ODM opposition. His house was about half a mile from where the meeting was held. One older woman got up and said that on December 30 when the violence escalated, two of her sons armed themselves to go out and hunt the local Kikuyu (kill them?). She barred the door and crying told them not to do this. She called some elders and together they decided to rescue and hide the 15 Kikuyu in their community. This they did for three nights moving them from place to place. Then they became afraid that they would be discovered and so they escorted the Kikuyu to the IDP camp at the Turbo police station. They said that they had helped out the Kikuyu, but if they returned, this time they would kill them! My thought: everything is a shade of grey.

Yet in Sugoi and also at another place called Kapsabey, the people asked FCPT to come and hold peace seminars! At Kapsabey the people said that no other church had done anything like what the Friends were doing, asked them to build a church in the community, and offered two acres of land for the church! The team members said that they would tell the church leaders (Lugari Yearly Meeting) and they would have to come another time to discuss the idea of building a church there.

Even at Kipkarren River, in the end, the people decided to form a committee of ten elders (men), ten women, and ten youth to discuss on these matters. They met without FCPT for the first time last Thursday, but at present no one has a report of what happened.

At a place called Jua Kali ("Hot Sun" for a place were workers manufacture things in small scale enterprises), the people asked for a joint meeting with the IDP's. So this was arranged for the following Thursday. Unfortunately this did not go very well. The local people gave all their complaints to the Kikuyu, but when the Kikuyu spokesman began to respond, the crowd began to leave, interrupted him, and shouted him down. The next day I talked to George Njoroge, the Turbo IDP camp leader who had been the speaker, and he was very upset, indicating that reconciliation and return was a long way off.

The other three listening sessions were in between. In each of them there was a lot of hostile talk. Yet on the other hand, in every case even the most bitter were pleased that someone (Friends Church Peace Teams) had come to listen to them. There were a few negative comments--at one meeting someone (the son of a Quaker) said that the FCPT was bad because we were being sent by the Government to trick the people into receiving the Kikuyus back. At Kipkarren River I understand there was a sign which said, "Peace Team don't come back." In another case we were challenged why we didn't bring any Kikuyu with us.

On the Lugari side of the border (where most people, like the Friends, are Luhya), the meeting was also quite hostile. The listening session was at a place called Mbagara, the most hard hit interior part of Lugari District. In this case I understand 5 Kikuyu were killed by the community and at least 9 youth from the community were killed by the police. The people attacked the Kikuyu and carried off their maize (corn). A few days later some of the Kikuyu returned with the police, pointed out where they suspected their stolen maize to be hidden, and the police then confiscated all the maize--stolen or otherwise--so that now the people in the area are short of food.

The hostility from all of this was clearly expressed in the listening session and most people did not want to welcome the return of the IDP's. This was attended by 13 members of FCPT including Gladys and myself and perhaps 40 leaders of the community including many pastors. Most of the speakers were not the pastors. The most sensible representation was from
the youth leader of an organization (I think promoted by Florence Machayo, a leading Quaker politician in Lugari District) called "Youth Forum for Peace and Justice." Among other things, he said, it was the older men unable to carry the bags of maize that gave money and alcohol to the youth to steal the maize for them and carry it to their storerooms. Therefore the youth should not be blamed. The ecumenical service the next day was attended by many more people. It really didn't end up being much of a "service," but rather another listening session.

Here are some of the kinds of comments heard at various of the listening sessions. Remember you are "listening" and not judging.

1. "Good" Kikuyu will be allowed to return, but the bad ones can't. "We will tell the District Office which are the bad ones who can't return."

2. The Kikuyu can't return because we have their cooking pot and if they return they will ask for it back. Another said that he had taken the door, windows, and iron sheets (roofing) from a Kikuyu house and if they returned, "They will point at my door and want it back."

3. Kikuyu have long tongues and they should cut their tongues to be short. ("Long tongue" means that they talk rudely to others).

4. One quoted a passage from Acts (sorry, but I can't remember the chapter and verse) which indicates that this land is ours and others should not come into our land. There were other examples where participants quoted passages in the Bible to justify their expulsion of the Kikuyu. For example, the Jews were 400 years in Egypt before they left so the Kikuyu have only been around for 40 years before they left.

5. Kikuyu who had title deeds to land would be allowed to return but the "squatters" (those who have no land and therefore have to do petty trading or work as day labors for others to earn income) would not be allowed back. Note that this contradicts the concept that the Kikuyu are all rich from being good businessmen.

6. I heard one man describe how three of his nephews had been beaten or killed by the Kikuyu in Naivasha and Nakuru. When families are as big as they are in Kenya--particularly in the days before 1980 when Kenya had one of the highest birth rates in the world--everyone has hundreds of close relatives (siblings, parents, cousins, etc) and thousands of distant relatives (2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins which in Africa are still all considered "cousins"). Therefore when one person is displaced, beaten, or killed, thousands of relatives know this story and take it personally.

7. Many complained that the Government gave aid to the displaced people but not to the local people who were also affected by the violence.

Yesterday we had a debriefing session at Friends Peace Centre-Lubao. After we covered the material above (and much more), we assessed how we did. Here is what we said:

1. We succeeded because in every case people were willing to talk to us even if they were somewhat cautious at the beginning. We went out to listen and that is what we did.

2. While we had hoped that this would lead to acceptance of the returning community, this was not the goal of the listening session. The fact that in one case the receiving community was willing to bring back the returnees was an extra success.

3. Even those who were most bitter and said that they would not accept (or would even kill) the Kikuyu if they returned, our listening was not in vain since they were expressing their feelings and this in itself is a step towards healing and reconciliation.

4. As I noted above, the Friends Church and its FCPT was received with gratitude even in the cases that we felt were most negative.

5. The requests for a meeting with the IDP's at Jua Kali, the two communities who requested peace seminars, the committee formed in Kipkarren River, and the escorting of the local government officials in Mili Nne to the IDP's in Eldoret were all resounding successes.

Is the task finished? Obviously not, as it really is only beginning.

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