"Feed the Hungry."
Two weeks ago Kenyan Friends held a conference in Kakamega sponsored by the Friends Church in Kenya, Friends United Meeting--Africa Office, and Friends World Committee for Consultation--Africa Section. At that meeting, it was decided to form a committee which has been titled "Friends Church Peace Team" (FCPT). I was appointed to the committee which has now formed an "Emergency Relief and Reconciliation Programme."
As its first major activity, yesterday, about 30 Friends visited a number of internally displaced people in the Trans Nzoia District next to Mt. Elgon in the Rift Valley. With funds donated from the United States, England, and elsewhere, a truck filled with food, maize (corn), beans, rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, blankets, and soap, was be to delivered.
Gladys and I were assigned to provide the forty 200-pound bags of maize; here in Lugari District maize is cheaper since this is the maize belt region of Kenya and there is a surplus for export elsewhere. Gladys and two youth spent Monday and Tuesday bagging the 40 sacks at Florence and Alfred Machayo's home. Then on Wednesday she waited all day for the truck she had hired to take the maize to Kakamega. It never showed up so she arranged for another truck to come at 5:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. When it had not shown up by 8:00 AM, we called John Muhanji of FUM who was organizing the distribution. He decided to have the truck which was coming from Kakamega with the rest of the goods drop by the Machayo's and pick up the maize (and us as we had traveled the five miles or so to her house). This worked out well and actually saved the transport costs.
The people who had gathered in Kakamega came up north in three vehicles and together with the truck we drove to a junction near where we were going to distribute the food. Henry Mukwanja who works for the National Council of Christians of Kenya in that region had identified about ten places where approximately 4000 people had not received any assistance from either the Red Cross, the Government of Kenya, or the World Food Program. These people noted that the Red Cross trucks passed them by to deliver food and supplies to the Kikuyu who were in an IDP camp down the road -- as non-Kikuyu, they saw this as another example of the Government's favoritism to Kikuyu over other people in Kenya.
Gladys and I joined the third group with a Seventh Day Adventist Church which was going to a small shopping center, 5 or 6 small shops on the side of the road, at Misemwa where officially there were 259 families totaling 1600 people; an average of about 6 people per family. The amount of food we unloaded seemed massive--14 two hundred pound bags of maize, for example.
Yet each family was given only about 10 pounds of maize, 2 pounds of beans, a blanket, a cup of sugar, a half cup of salt, a few ounces of cooking oil, and the families with children received some rice. This would be enough only for a few days! Of course the place was packed with people waiting patiently for the distribution -- many women. I estimated that 2/3 of the families were headed by women; there were many small children (the older ones, I hope, were in school), old men, youth, etc.
These people were not Kikuyu, the group usually targeted in the violence in western Kenya, but mostly Luhya and some Sabaot (Kalenjin group). There was no internally displaced persons camp like we are go to in Turbo; the people live in houses in the area. For example, in the small Seventh Day Adventist Church, eight women were living with their children. Others had rented a room in the area and a few were staying with relatives. One woman told me that she had moved with her husband and four children -- and a fifth was well on its way -- to live with her sister who also has four children and there was not enough food for this suddenly, vastly expanded, family. All the displaced people had come with nothing more than what they could carry.
As usual when one delves into the details of conflict, the situation is different from the usual simplistic explanation of Kibaki versus Raila, Kikuyu versus Luo. The people here had fled from Mt. Elgon where there has been an active conflict for the last year and a half. Human Rights groups in Bungoma had tallied 400 dead and 150,000 or more displaced before the election violence began on December 30. Note that this compares to the official count of 1000 dead and 300,000 displaced from the election violence. In other words, some conflicts are "more important" than others. But the fact that this conflict was not properly dealt with when it occurred indicates why so much of Kenya could erupt into similar violence.
[NOTE: David and others visited Mt. Elgon in early November 2007. AVP workshops had begun there prior to the election. David wrote a report about the history of the area and the violent conflict which had already been going on for over a year.]
The conflict in Mt. Elgon was between two clans of the Sabaot group, the Soy and Ndorobo, over land. The first group, which thinks that they have not been dealt with fairly in the land distribution by the Government have formed the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLBF). They have automatic rifles and retreat into the forests on Mt Elgon to hide. We had seen an area on Mt Elagon where every house on the hillside had been destroyed. The election results were used by the Sabaot Land Defence Force as a reason to attack anyone in their area from another group. This included Kikuyu who fled to the camp nearby, as well as the Bugusu of the Luhya group. I had heard of a case where 11 Bugusu were executed by the SLBF and the bodies thrown into a latrine. While I have never heard any reference to this massacre in the media (compare this to the 17 who were burned to death in the church near Eldoret), this was confirmed by a doctor at the Webuye Hospital where the exhumed bodies were later taken. So it did not take much for the Bugusu to flee. Then the Ndorobo, who were supplied by the Kikuyu in their trading across the border into Uganda, attacked the Sabaot for attacking the Kikuyu. So, Sabaot also had to flee to Misemwa.
I talked at length with Mildred, one of the 8 women living in the church. She has six children, the youngest was on her shoulder as we talked. Her husband had left for the day when the SLDF came in red uniforms (i.e., this is an organized rebel group) and told them to leave. So she did. She has no idea where her husband is and there is really little way for him to find out where they have fled. She does not want to return to her farm on Mt. Elgon, where she had lived for 12 years, but has little idea what the future will bring for her.
Andrew and his wife and four children (he was also holding his youngest child on his shoulder) were attacked in the middle of the night and fled down the mountain with nothing but what they had on. He lives in a room in a house nearby. He says that he survives by doing day labor when he can. He also told me he did not want to go back. When I asked people, they told me that the land on Mt. Elgon is very fertile and well-watered and that is why they had bought plots there in the past.
While the media, both internationally and locally, reports (as the Government would like them to) that the situation in Kenya is calm and returning to normal, this is clearly not the case on Mt. Elgon. The previous night there had been some killings (unconfirmed) and hundreds more had fled down the mountain. These newly displaced people were not on the list of 259 families to receive the aid we had brought.
After three hours distributing the relief supplies at Misemwa and talking with the people, after a short sermon and prayer, we left and joined the other people at a small "hotel" where we all got a snack and discussed the pro's and con's of what we had done for the day. For example, in our case, since the site was not a "camp" and this was the first time that the group had received any assistance, there was no distribution system in place as occurs with the Lumakanda IDP group in Turbo. On Saturday Gladys and I will go to Kakamega to meet with the Friends Church Peace Team to decide what we will do next.
Although the food seemed to be little in relationship to the need, I still felt good knowing that we had helped as we were able. In this kind of work, one cannot get discouraged by the unmet needs, but must focus on what has been accomplished. If people only eat well for a few days, it is still better than having to scrounge around for a little food and going to sleep hungry. Moreover, as I have learned in the past, visiting people who have been the victims of violence is perhaps one of the most important peacemaking activities one can do initially. As the Burundians say, "A real Friend comes in the time of need" (I am the one who capitalized the "F" in friend).
David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya 254 726 590 783
1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 USA 314/621-7262