Peace caravans take hope to rival Kenyan tribes

September 3, 2010 12:00 am

, RIFT VALLEY, Kenya, Sep 3 – At the national level, all seemed okay after President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga struck a power sharing deal, but the reality is that tension at the grassroots continued, years after the agreement was reached.

The ethnic divisions and hate on the ground continued… all was simply not well.

In Molo\’s Ndeffo area the impact of the chaos was bigger than anyone could imagine.

"It was such that if a Kalenjin wanted to silence their crying child he or she would tell the child to \’shut up and or I call the Kikuyus for you\’ and the Kikuyus would do the same to their child," explains Lawrence Mburu the Chairman of the Molo District Peace Committee.

Mburu says the road serving the area also served as a boundary between the rival communities.  The right side (depending on where you were coming from) belonged to the Kalenjin while the left belonged to the Kikuyus.  Trespassing was simply inviting war.

"A Kikuyu could not board a Kalenjin\’s matatu and vice versa. In fact, if a matatu belonged to a Kikuyu, it could not stop on the Kalenjin\’s side regardless of the direction it was coming from.

If the matatu stopped on the wrong side, there would be violence.  If any leader wanted to address us, he or she would have to hoist the podium on the road," he says.

"None of us could use the common well; the area was a no-go zone. Looking back a lot of blood was shed at that place and if any of the communities attempted to draw water from it, it would mean more bloodshed."

Joyce Muthoni a businesswoman in the area recalls the aftershocks of the 2008 post election violence. She vividly remembers how she watched her house being torched… memories she tries hard to wish away.

And although the 40 year old woman has lived through three displacements, the 2008 one remains the worst.

"I got very sick after the clashes and didn\’t know what to do. I had nowhere to go and was afraid of going back because I had no idea what to expect. I had no strength to start afresh especially when I remembered that my house was the first to be burnt," she says.

Muthoni decided to return home but things had not yet returned to normal: "The Kalenjins could not come to the market which is on our (Kikuyu) side and they had to go elsewhere. We could not trade with them at all."

In Kuresoi the tension was equally bad. People who had lost property and their loved ones continued harboring ill feelings towards the communities that they felt "were the enemy."  At the height of the violence a family of four was burnt to death as they tried feeling from the chaos.

Roselyn Jepkoech a farmer remembers how she was met by the sight of her dead father as she rushed home to get him. She claims that those who slashed him with machetes are well known.

"After the 2007 vote outcome was announced, we started hearing people screaming and we wanted to run away but our father dissuaded us. He was so sure no harm would be inflicted on us by our neighbors because we had always lived with them; we ate and drank together.  But that faith led him to his death," she says solemnly.

Her instincts continued telling her to escape before it was too late and she and her siblings finally made the call to leave leaving the frail man behind.

"He remained home with our farm help. And we embarked on our journey but when we got to a place called Gacharage we saw the farmhand running towards us. What he told us was really bad… that our father had been killed. I decided to go back home but found his body was lying on the ground with cuts all over," she says.

"I was asked by a police officer present to remove what was in his pockets before the body was taken to the mortuary. I don\’t even know how I did it," she says with a heavy heart.

The stories of gloom across the Rift Valley were the same and the events in Kericho were no different.

When the violence reached its peak, Agnes Kwamboka who hails from Gucha district worked in one of the vast tea farms in the area. She lived in the company\’s servant\’s quarter with her family.

Most of her colleagues came from different regions in the country but each shared a common fear… that of being attacked for being \’foreigners\’ in the area.

"We could not work because of the tension and our employer sent each of us to our original homes. Our employer provided transport and security for each of us.

It took me six months before I could resume my duties. In that year, the violence was really bad and things got out of hand," she recalls.

After the violence subsided, the communities experienced a general sense of loss, as Mburu explains, and the need to make peace became greater. Thus the District Peace Committees were born.

Mburu notes that through the committees – which are supported by the Peace Caravan – each grieving community was given the space to air out their anger and frustrations.

"We had a very big meeting just before the referendum. People sat down together and shared their thoughts and feelings. But even before the referendum we held numerous peace campaigns and somehow they bore fruit. We want to make tribalism a thing of the past and we are even planning to hold a party celebrating the peace," he says.

He remains optimistic that all Kenyan communities will reconcile although it will take time.

"It is like planting a seed, you have to let it grow as you continue watering, mulching and cultivating it. We have planted the peace seed and we have seen that it has started growing. Our responsibility at the moment is to continue watering and mulching it until it bears us the sustainable peace fruit," he says. 

Muthoni supports Mr Mburu\’s sentiments. She says that although people were anxious during the referendum period, the peace caravans, the District Peace Committees, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and the presence of security forces lessened the anxieties.

She says that their continued efforts of preaching peace had a positive impact on the people.

"When we were about to go for the referendum, we started witnessing a lot of cattle rustling which is usually the first sign of impending tribal clashes. We were all scared but the community leaders from both communities started calling us for peace meetings and each community would attend the meetings and share their thoughts," she explains.

Jepkoech explains that the losses accrued during the violence affected everyone. She says that although the communities in Kuresoi continue picking up the pieces of their lives, they need to catch up with time.

She is also yet to forgive those who killed her father.

"I would really love to let it go but I can\’t because those who did that have never come to me to ask for forgiveness. How can I forgive them when they haven\’t come to ask me for forgiveness? We all know who they are and that makes it more difficult," she says.

But for now things have returned to normal. The peace caravans also assisted in re-constructing the houses of some of the displaced persons.

"We learn a lot from the Kikuyus in terms of crop farming and they learn about dairy farming from us. In fact when we were re-building our homes, the various peace Non Governmental Organizations continued talking to us on the importance of peace. They forced us to re-construct each others\’ homes such that if it was a Kalenjin\’s house being re-built, all the tribes would join in and vice versa," she explains.

It is also evident that the communities are slowly realizing that negative tribalism is an enemy of development and peace.

John Mwangi a youth who works as a potato vendor says politicians should stop using tribalism to propel themselves forward. He remembers that in the running for the 2007 general elections, a lot of politicians caused ethnic tensions because of their campaigning tactics.

"And what we realised after that is that when we were running up and down chasing the \’enemy\’ tribe, our politicians\’ sons and daughters were tucked away somewhere safely watching our fighting scenes on their television screens; none of their children was with us while we fought and that\’s when it started occurring to us that we were the losers," he says.

Joel Korir who lives in Ndeffo also holds that Kenyans learnt their lessons after the post election violence.

He says: Our tribal differences should never make us fight again. No one chooses to be born in whichever tribe they are born in."

He adds that ridding the society of poverty will also go a long way in ensuring the youth are not wrongly used by politicians to fight each other.


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