Monthly Archives: September 2013

#247 — Roots of Westgate: No “Cake Walk” for Kenya in Somalia — September 27 2013

The Institute of Policy Studies, a progressive think-tank in Washington, DC where my daughter Joy is the associate director, asked me to submit an article on the Westgate Mall attack and they published it today in their Foreign Policy in Focus (

Roots of Westgate: No “Cake Walk” for Kenya in Somalia

When Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011, it overturned a 48-year-old policy of not involving itself in the armed conflicts of its neighbors—and now innocent Kenyans are paying the price.

By David Zarembka..

When Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011, it overturned a wise, 48-year-old policy of not involving itself in the armed conflicts of its neighbors—and Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia have all had times of conflict. In the best cases—as with South Sudan’s secession from Sudan—Kenya, as a neutral country, was able to broker a peace agreement between the warring parties. As a belligerent in Somalia it will have no such possibility. The invasion of Somalia came quite unexpectedly. It was not much discussed in the media, and even the U.S. State Department and military advisers in Kenya seemed to have been surprised by it.

It seems that Kenyan officials, like official Washington when the United States invaded Iraq, thought that the invasion would be a “cake walk,” confidently announcing that the disputed port of Kismayo would be taken within a month. They assumed that since their army was better armed and organized, they would easily defeat the ragtag al-Shabaab.

This was delusional. The invasion of Somalia happened at the height of the rainy season so, as with Napoleon and Hitler’s invasions of Russia, Kenya’s big armaments, tanks, and trucks soon became submerged in mud. It took Kenyan troops almost a year to take Kismayo.

More significantly, Kenya, like the United States, does not seem to understand asymmetrical warfare. War in the eastern part of Africa is not like the U.S. Civil War or World War I, where gigantic armies lined up, attacked, and shot at each other. The Kenyan military, employing what is called in Washington the “Powell doctrine” of overwhelming force, “conquered” Kismayo in this old-fashioned way, leaving overwhelmed al-Shabaab fighters to evaporate into the local population. But this victory was incomplete, as terrified shoppers discovered recently in Nairobi.

Kenya should have realized something like this was coming.

Al-Shabaab had attacked soft targets in the past. In July 2010, in retaliation for Ugandan troops joining the Africa Union mission in Somalia, al-Shabaab bombed two Kampala restaurants where people were watching the World Cup, killing 74 people. Al-Shabaab had similarly threatened to attack soft targets in Kenya after the invasion, even indicating that the target might be one of the upscale malls where wealthy Kenyans and expatriates frequented.

Over the last two years, there have been a number of terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab and its supporters in Kenya. Many were simple attacks, where a person on a motorcycle would throw a grenade at a bus stop or someplace else where people were gathered—a common tactic in this region. In a number of instances, attackers crossing the Somali border in northeastern Kenya targeted government posts and vehicles, or sometimes aid workers. But these attacks landed far from thickly populated southern Kenya, and so remained out of mind for the majority of Kenyans.

Compared to the previous attacks in Kenya, the Westgate Mall attack was well organized, thoroughly planned, and well resourced. The Kenyan newspapers claim that this is the dying gasp of a defeated enemy pleading for relevance, but I would think that this is another delusion. As long as Kenya keeps its military in Somalia, al-Shabaab will remain in the shadows, ready to attack now and then when the opportunity arises.

This dynamic is driven in part by financing from the United States and its allies, since the African Union forces in Somalia are paid for mostly by the United States, United Kingdom, France, and other EU countries. If they didn’t pay, there would be no foreign armies in Somalia. In Burundi and Uganda, soldiers are reportedly paid around $100 per month (if their commanders don’t embezzle their pay), while as part of the AU forces they are paid $1000 per month (and much more likely to get it). So there is great competition among the soldiers back home to be appointed to go to Somalia.

Since the attack, Kenyan authorities have yet to acknowledge that the vast majority of the region’s Muslims condemn the violence as much as anyone else. Likewise, no one is cautioning that the 2 million Kenyan Somalis and the almost 1 million Somali refugees in Kenyon are also totally innocent of this crime. There is a real danger—as experienced by Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern descent in the United States after 9/11—that the Kenyan government will use this attack to curtail civil liberties, commit ethnic and religious profiling, and challenge anyone who opposes state policies as unpatriotic, potentially leading again to a repressive autocracy reminiscent of the Moi years.

What is the solution? Talking. This is what ends every war and conflict. This is already occurring in Somalia and in North Kivu in the eastern Congo. But the antagonists are not going to engage in dialogue until they are pushed by others, particularly the international community. The United States in particular has the leverage to drive negotiations, since it controls the purse strings.

The U.S. government, along with its hawkish allies at the United Nations, seems averse to this approach. But in the absence of a negotiated settlement, innocent Kenyans and their neighbors in the region will continue to reap the deadly harvest of an asymmetric war.

#246 — Terrorist Attack on Westgate Mall — September 22, 2013

             As I expect you have heard, there was a terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi yesterday beginning shortly after noon. Almost 24 hours later the siege is still continuing. About ten al-Shabaab heavily armed fighters (including one woman) stormed the upscale shopping center used by wealthy Kenyans and expatriates. At this time the death toll is 39 (as I was checking the news reports as I was editing this post, I see that the death toll is now 59) with at least 175 more wounded. Over a thousand people escaped even as others are probably still hiding in the building and perhaps 35 are still being held as hostages.

                        The dead include Juan Ortiz from Peru who was formerly the Director of Change Agents for Peace, International (CAPI), a Nairobi based NGO supported by the Norwegian Quakers and AGLI’s sister organization in our peace work in the region. His thirteen year old son was shot in the leg and is in the hospital. A member of Lumakanda Friends Church told Gladys that her nephew was used as a shield by one of the terrorists, who was somehow shot and wounded so her nephew escaped alive. The terrorist was captured and taken to the hospital but later died. The nephew’s friend with whom he had gone to the mall was killed.  Ruth and Donald Thomas, long time Quakers who live nearby, had gone there in the morning to do some shopping, had coffee at the café, and left less than two hours before the assault began. Our son, Douglas Shikuunzi, was planning to go the mall in the afternoon, but when he heard about the assault, when home instead. As in all massacres like this, some perish and others survive – as the Kenyans would say, “According to the will of God.” The space between life and death is so narrow.

             The anchor store for the four-story, 80 outlet mall was Nakumatt, the largest supermarket chain in the country. Gladys and I had sometimes shopped there before Nakumatt opened their new stores in Eldoret and Kakamega. When Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011, al-Shabaab had indicated that they would initiate revenge attacks in Kenya and have been doing so with small grenade attacks in Nairobi and elsewhere and more sustained attacks in northeastern Kenya near the Dadaab refugee camp, filled with over 500,000 refugees from the two decades of chaos in Somalia. Al-shabaab specifically threatened to attack a mall in Westlands, called a “leafy suburb” by Kenyans because the people are rich enough to have big yards with lots of trees.

             Security was tightened up when Kenya invaded Somalia. The guards — one male for the men and one female for the women — at the supermarkets had wand detectors and they quickly ran these over the bodies of the people entering the supermarket. I felt it was only a formality since I had no idea what they would do if they found a gun or bomb on someone entering – they are unarmed. In some supermarkets, guards at the parting lot gate would use a mirror to look for bombs under the vehicle. Again I had no idea what they would do if they found one and it is clear that anyone who had a bomb in the vehicle would just crash the gate and drive to the entrance and set off the bomb. It seems some of the dead were these security guards. Of course there is no way to defend consumer businesses against a well-armed group of ten or so fighters intent on creating chaos and killing people.

             According to reports, the attackers asked people who were lying on the floor if they were Muslims or not. They told the Muslims to stand up and leave – in some cases they asked the Muslims to say a Muslim prayer to prove that they were in fact Muslims. Some of those who escaped indicated that they thought that at least some of the attackers were Somali. Because of former attacks inside Kenya, the large group of perhaps two million Kenyan Somali have been targeted by the Kenyan security forces and discriminated against by the general public. Somali people are known for their success in business — there are some Somali merchants in the neighboring town of Turbo near where we live.

             Clearly this attack at Westgate Mall was blowback from the Kenyan invasion of Somalia. High government officials quickly claim that this will not deter them from their course of action in Somalia, but while al-Shabaab is “outgunned” in Somalia, they can pick off soft targets like the mall whenever they are organized well enough to do so. So the battle will continue, both in Somalia and Kenya (and also Uganda where al-Shabaab killed over 200 people three years ago as they watched the finals of the World Cup soccer match).

             But since I have see this happen myself in the United States after 9/11, will the Kenyan government use this attack to curtail civil liberties, challenge anyone who opposes them as unpatriotic, and lead again to a repressive regime as occurred during the Moi years?

#245 — Twiga (Giraffe) Youth Dialogue — September 21, 2013


Note 1: For my fall speaking tour of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, I still have open days – Oct 21 to 25 and Oct 28 to Nov 2. I’d like to fill up some of these openings. If interested, please contact me at

Note 2: Join the HROC Basic training in Baltimore, MD from November 17 to 19, 2103.

The HROC three-day basic training presents a group based experiential model of healing that focuses on recognizing and understanding extreme trauma and its effects on the individual, family and community. Based equally on trauma theory and in-the-field application, the HROC training engages participants in a process that is both instructive and personally enlightening. Participants gain tools to help themselves and others through the process of grieving, loss, and the transformation of hurt into healing. If interested contact Amy Rakusin at or Adrian Bishop at for details.

Note 3: My daughter, Joy, is Associate Director of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC, a progressive think-tank that counteracts the well-established conservative ones. She is in charge of the 50th Anniversary of IPS. For more information, see their website at

From October 11th-13th, 2013, the Institute for Policy Studies will host a special weekend of events in Washington, DC honoring activists and activism and envisioning a plan for a bold, progressive future. Amy Goodman, Harry Belafonte, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and many others will all be there as we open a dialogue for activists to envision “The Next 50 Years.”


I am sending you this report on a youth dialogue in Kenya to illustrate how the various programs AGLI supports can come together for a significant experience for all the participants – 148 youth in this case, although many more were turned away. David Zarembka.

By Getry Agizah, Coordinator, Friends Church Peace Teams

When I did Civic Education with the County Councilors of Transzoia County, Kenya, they asked what other programs FCPT does. I told them what we do and one councilor took my contact information. Later he called me to ask if we can accept to sponsor a youth forum for three days to talk about conflict, peace and rights followed by a dialogue and have them raise issues that affect their community. I went to discuss the idea with him and shared that we don’t have funds and so we couldn’t handle that and assured him that we can bring facilitators and take care of their travel. He said the Government is still working on the budgets from the county and money has not been released yet. He approached the Free Pentecostal Fellowship in Kenya (FPFK), Kitale branch, for support and they agreed to fund the workshop meals. After the 2008 post election violence, we had conducted some Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshops for FPFK’s youth street program. The county office for youth was responsible to do the mobilization.

During the first two days of the workshop we mostly used exercises from the AVP Manuals and from Guidelines to Mediation. We used the trees of violence and non-violence, empathy, transforming power, elements and principles, forgiveness, “who am I?,” affirmation exercise, listening exercise and the Bill of Rights as it is in the new Kenyan Constitution. Then on the third day we embarked on the dialogue and way forward. My co-facilitators were Erastus Chesondi, Erick Simiyu and Emily Sikoya.



This was a great process — first the background of understanding conflict and peace, then knowing ones rights, and finally having a whole day to dialogue with each other. The group was active and vibrant. Real issues came up during dialogue. People raised their voices at a certain time but calmed down after expressing what they felt. The forum was frank and genuine. Some of the issues touched the area chief and his office. We experienced courage and boldness of expression as the discussion took place leading to agreement. This brought up some open apologies from the administration and even from the participants who happened to have uttered words, which according to the group, were not true. Transforming power was real and seen in the sessions.


We started well. First the crowd was big and the organizers gave the mobilizers time together with the area senior assistant chief to control and reduce the number to the 148 youth for which we had planned. The organizer talked of the Mabanga Peace Accord, and gave the specific objectives. In general it set a great climate setting that we all felt accommodated. The agenda was typed and acted as a guide. Due to shortage of time and the size of the group, we could not have an in-build introduction and thus, it was not easy for the facilitators to remember the participants and even participants remembering each other.

We were in Chepchoina Location, with participants from the three of its sub-locations. Their home areas are covered with challenges and people were free to share them. Ignorance is rampant and leaders take that to their advantage and manipulate the citizens. The area is surrounded by the Agricultural Development Corporation farm, and the Kenya Seed farm. I had believed that, when we have big companies in an area, the people benefit and the town grows. But for this community, that is not true. Most people explained that these farms are the major causes of child labor, school dropouts, insecurity, minimal wages etc. Also the farms are taking the community vigilantes into their employ and leaving the community in dilemma when it comes to protecting civilians.


This is a youth forum and the attendees were mostly young Kenyans from Chepchoina. We had six people who were above the age bracket of youth who represented elders, two area assistant chiefs, and one chief. It took three days. On day 1, we learned about conflict — what is conflict, causes of conflict, elements of conflict, and effects of conflict. Then we introduced peace and ended the day. Day 2, we did more on peace and reconciliation and its roots, forgiveness and importance. Then we did the bill of rights as given in the constitution. Day 3, we focused on the dialogue. This was a very fair and open space for the people to share what they think and know according to their issues.
The facilitation process was participatory, giving the participants time to break into small groups and have group interactions. Most of the topics were explored in groups. Then energizers (Light and Livelies) picked up the energy level. Participants were involved in activities that at their age made them feel respected. In the third day, participants were in deep dialogue on issues they had raised in various discussions. They started by sharing in twos and then discussed their thoughts in groups and presented their finding in the larger group. Each day, we did a recap to make sure we were reading from the same page with the participants before starting a new day. We had the participants in groups and shared their expectation on the workshop. They came up with the expectations below and, as we ended the day, some were answered and a few had not been answered.
1. Gain ideas on how to change our attitudes towards our peers.
2. To receive handouts and certificates.
3. Learn about the rights of youths.
4. Learn to maintain a good relationship with each other.
5. Discuss about the giant corruption.
6. Learn about the connection of peace and rights.
7. To have time to interact with each other.
8. Learn how to restore peace.
9. Share personal experiences.
10. Get skills on how to live peacefully.
11. Understand our role after the workshop.
12. How to cooperate with matters of the society.
13. Get manuals and booklets.
14. Be role models in the community.

We did have one-on-one sharing with a few participants noting their testimony in private — it was more of opening up and need for a safe space. One participant shared, “I have not been in good terms with my mother, but from now I’m going to share everything I have learnt especially about anger.”


Participants 148, Administration 7, Facilitators 3, Organizers 2.
a) I have learnt the effect of conflict and have decided to change the bad attitudes I have been carrying in me, one participant commented.

b) After the dialogue, I have realized that as your chief, I did not know a lot of the issues you have raised. I am going to form a vetting committee, so that the people who are taking bribes in my office should go home and we get others. Keep helping my office to serve you better. This was said by the chief after the youth raise the issue of being asked for money to obtain their identification cards.

c) My life is going to change for the better, said another participant, I have been careless with my life to the extent of having many affairs with different women, I am going to be tested and I have vowed to stop that. In fact one of the ladies I was to meet called me and I did not want to talk to her.

d) During the dialogue, one participant talked on how when they go to the chiefs office they are asked to pay money to get their identification cards, and yet they all know that this process is free. One village elder stood up in defense, protecting the office of the chief and accepted that they only ask money for lunch and it is not corruption. Participants were not happy with this until they insisted that he should withdraw his statement. Having all the pressure he had no option but to apologize and take back what he said. This proved that people were genuine and had learnt a lot in two days; that they did give their society first priority more that which tribe they come from.

e) The dialogue again brought up successful responses from the chief. Having heard what the participants were saying, he promised to do his best to look into their concerns and also asked the participants to work with him in making the community a better place. If I knew this day I would be sitting on a hot seat like this, I would have come in the evening to close the session and avoid attending this dialogue.

f) As a major focus of the community is education, a lady stood up and shared with the group that she is on a committee that is looking at education and the country has been serious about children going to school. She promised to follow up teachers who are coming to school drunk, as one participant shared, and she said that things will start working next year. The participants echoed with one voice that next year is too far; let’s heat the iron while it is still hot.


The workshop was very successful; we did group participation and did a lot of exercises, some of which are not in the manual. We tried to have a flow of the activities in the workshop. Giving participants time to share amongst themselves built bonds that could not go unrecognized.

Having understood dialogue as a forum, in which people talk about issues affecting them, time and space is needed to explore and accept the direction of the discussion. We did the 3rd day to build more on the dialogue and we are happy on how it went.
There is need for the community to learn the skills of non-violent social change to enable them to have choices that are more humane and care for the opponents. Some of this was like empowering them to have a peaceful demonstration in case they think a structure in an institution is not working well. Some of these big mistakes just need numbers of people with the same voices to reach resolution.


1. The numbers of participants was too big to deal with and it is not easy for facilitators to keep track of who came each day and who missed.
2. Representation of some ethnic groups was not well considered; e.g. having only one Pokot, and one Turkana.
3. Having the presence of administration, village elders, church leaders, increased the number of participants who were above the targeted age bracket and it was really hard for the young people to freely bring up issues.


1. Need to develop a manual for the ordinary citizen; we did have many exercises from different manuals. Addition exercises should be added to enable the facilitators to choose what works for each group.
2. The seating arrangement for the dialogue was interesting to the participants — they encouraged this should be done again
3. There was a lot of energy from the youth that can be taken back by the organizers and the FCPT office to visit and guide them.
4. There is high need for follow-up so that the community can feel the presence of the office and appreciate the effort we all have invested in the community.
5. Some of the participants had no education background and thus communicating with them meant we talked more Kiswahili than English


1. Many people were sent back home because of the large number. One recommendation is, if the FCPT office can do more forums like this, to reach many youths and even mixed ages of people in this location.
2. More days to be added in the session so that we can go deeper and heal our wounds from trauma.
3. The criteria of getting participants should be based on tribal representation so that the number of participants from each tribe is equal.
4. Is it is possible for the FCPT office not to pay the transport but give food and do more workshops? commented the area chief.
5. If the FCPT office can empower the group and give them a one day forum to keep talking about issues in order to help parents and administration and the whole community practice conflict transformation.
6. Pick a few individuals who can be key dialogue facilitators to join the women-in-advocacy and have representation.
7. Have a camera to measure and document our success.

Now Mt Elgon observed this community dialogue and requested to do the same in the six divisions in Mt Elgon.

#244 — Invitation to Support — September 14, 2013

Recently I have been touring the region, observing the programs AGLI partners with and discussing issues with the staff. On the one hand, I am pleased with how much the AGLI programs have and are accomplishing with limited resources. On the other hand, I look at the needs that our programs could be addressing if only we had more resources. AGLI is frugal in that it supports only two or three staff in each country that organize and account for the projects. But there are many facilitators for each of the programs – Alternatives to Violence (AVP), Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC), transformative mediation, and Turning the Tide (in Kenya) — available to conduct many more workshops if funds are available. When this occurred, for example, after the post election violence in Kenya in 2008, the program was able to conduct 6, 8, or even 10 three-day workshops in a week. The capacity is there.
As a result AGLI has launched an additional method of supporting AGLI’s program, inviting meetings, churches, organizations, or individuals to support a specific project. Each of the five AGLI programs – HROC-Burundi, HROC-Rwanda, HROC-North Kivu, Peace Building-Kenya, and the Friends Women’s Association — has developed one or more proposals for small scale projects from $2,000 to $8,000 each. So far we have received support for the following:
1. Bethesda Meeting has supported a HROC project for primary school teachers in Burundi.

2. An individual has contributed the funds needed to introduce AVP in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

3. Rosalie Dance, a member of the AGLI Working Group, has solicited donations from women during Baltimore Yearly Meeting to support a Rape Survivors Support project in Burundi.

4. The new British charity, Africa Great Lakes Peace Trust, has donated funds for seven HROC workshops in war-torn Goma in North Kivu, Congo.

We are asking meetings, churches, organizations, and individuals to consider selecting a project for funding. If the total for the project is more than can be raised, AGLI is willing to accept a half, a third, or a quarter of the amount needed for the project. Supporting these projects might be an excellent way for a meeting, church, or organization to hold a fund raising campaign. Naturally AGLI will be sending the donor reports on the project as it is implemented.

Here is a list of pending projects looking for support.

1. HROC-Rwanda, $4,000: Working with 50 women from Kibuye, who have completed the basic HROC workshop, to develop a nutritional program in growing and eating vegetables along with a goat project for milk and fertilizer.

2. HROC-Burundi, $3,576: Preparing 54 Burundian youth (13 to 24 years of age) for the 2015 election, citizen reporting, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission including basic AVP and HROC workshops.

3. Friends Women’s Association, Burundi, $4,560: Awareness/Outreach Program for Family Planning for 207 women of childbearing age in nine communities of Kamenge, a Bujumbura slum.

4. Kakuma Friends Church, $3,000: Eight apprentice AVP workshops in Kakuma Refugee Camp including the Somali and Ethiopian communities in the camp to allow the fourteen newly trained AVP facilitators to become experienced facilitators.

5. HROC-Rwanda, $3538: Training of fifteen additional HROC facilitators/healing companions from two communities, Kibuye and Musanze.

6. Friends Church Peace Teams, Kenya, $3,968: Conducting six AVP workshops, four HROC workshops and one Turning the Tide training on Mt Elgon for 220 participants in additional areas of conflict on the mountain.

7. Mediation-Rwanda, Burundi, and North/South Kivu, $2500: Refresher meetings for trained mediators to share and enhance mediation skills.

8. HROC-Uganda, ~$8,000: Introduction of HROC with three already-trained apprentice facilitators in Gulu, northern Uganda, in area devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

There are also a number of building projects, which on the whole will be more expensive than a meeting or church can raise funds for, but it is possible to select one particular aspect of the total plan for support. Here are the building projects currently under consideration:

1. HROC-North Kivu, Congo: Development of women’s center on plot already purchased in Goma.

2. United for Peace and Community Development, Kenya: Building of peace house on Mt Elgon.

3. Friends Women’s Association, Burundi: Renovation and improvements to Kamenge Clinic.

If you are interested in getting your meeting, church, or organization to support one of these projects, please contact me at for the detailed proposal.

Thanks so much for your consideration of this invitation to support one AGLI’s projects.

#243 — Kakuma Refugee Camp — September 6, 2013

I have just returned from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya near the South Sudan and Uganda borders. “Kakuma” is supposed to mean “nowhere” in Swahili and it did seem like we were no longer in Kenya. When facilitator Peter Serete called me from Kakuma, he asked, “How is Kenya?” as if he were not longer in Kenya. The ride was essentially 16 hours from Kitale over what I call a “formerly paved road” so it was an extremely bumpy ride and we had a blow-out on the way back after the bus hit a major pothole. The local Turkana people, in the area around Kakuma, raise goats, some sheep, camels, and donkeys – they eat all of them. There is no grass so there are not cows. Interestingly enough there is a torn bush that can grow into a small tree which is always green even when there is no rain. I noticed that dew drops came off the iron roofing sheets in the morning so I suspect that this bush is somehow able to absorb moisture from the air. When it does rain, it pours, causing flooding. I was told that the refugees prefer the dry weather (they are not able to grow any crops) because there is more sickness, particularly among children, when it rains. There is also so much mud that people have to walk barefoot because they are unable to pull their shoes out of the muck. Sometimes it doesn’t rain for a year or two. The average daily high is 104 degree Fahrenheit, but it is dry heat and cools down quickly in the evening when the sun sets – St. Louis and DC can be much more humid and hotter so they didn’t understand why I wasn’t particularly bothered by the heat.

Housing is made from adobe bricks which the refugee has to make himself – about 2,000 of them are needed for one of these small houses. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), who runs the camp with the help of numerous NGOs, then gives them the iron sheets for the roof. There is also a nice hospital and some schools, staffed by local refugees at a low wage. The local Turkana are resentful of the refugees taking up their land and invading their space. They feel, with justice, that the refugees are receiving things that they themselves do not – they can see the big water tanks, for example.

There must be frequent conflict because any Turkana found in the camps after 6:00 PM is arrested. There are over 123,000 refugees in the camp which began in 1992. The biggest country represented is Somalia, followed closely by Sudan, but significant numbers from Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but there are also some from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and elsewhere. Africa has more genetic diversity than all the rest of the world and it is obvious as you notice the very distinctively different ethnic groups in the camp. Moreover refugees from the same country may be coming from different tribes. Even though the camp is in a semi-arid region, water is not a problem. The large NGOs in camp have developed major water supplies with boreholes and large tanks. Pipes run from these tanks to many watering taps, but nonetheless many conflicts occur at the watering taps – something I cannot explain since there is more than sufficient water. There are also conflicts between the Muslims and Christians since most of the Somali, Sudanese, and Ethiopians are Muslim. Three months ago two different tribes from Sudan (who are fighting each other back in the Sudan, generating these refugees) got into a conflict which ended with the seven women, youth, and children dead. It is for these reasons that AGLI is introducing Alternatives to Violence (AVP) in the camp.

There is also a conflict between the “real” refugees and those whom I would call “opportunistic” refugees. Each year about one thousand refugees are given asylum in another country – the United States, Australia, England, and so on. These opportunistic refugees come to the camp, not because they have had traumatic experiences, but because they want to be sent to one of these receiving countries. Clearly the real refugees resent these pretenders and probably have no difficulty figuring out who they are. These seems to be a long shot as less than 1% are given asylum in any one year, but I guess the heat, hardship, and isolation of the camp (refuges are not allowed to leave the camp without permission) is like any lottery – some feel that they are going to be much luckier than the real chance they have.

Rations are given out every two weeks, but are not sufficient so people need to augment this with other activities. There are many thriving businesses in the camp – one that particularly struck me was that the Somali, who are energetic business people, were supplying electricity to those who could afford to buy it. A ration is called a “size.” Size one is a single person; size two, two people; size five, five people; and so on. As soon as a child reaches two months he or she is added on to the size of the family, meaning that they will receive more rations. One can easily, then, understand why the birth rate in the camp is high.

We are working through the local Quaker church which was started five years ago by Pastor Etienne Paul, a Quaker pastor from South Kivu, Congo. It now has almost 350 members of many different nationalities although the Congolese predominate. We did this “the AGLI way.” The facilitators (and me for the night that I was there) slept on mattresses placed on the floor of the church’s back rooms, the ladies of the church cooked the food for us and for the participants during the workshops, and were wonderful hosts – the chief cook, Elizabeth, cried when the facilitators left because she had catered to them for the three weeks they were there. Naturally at the closing celebration where I handed out certificates to the 96 people who had completed one or more of the AVP workshops, the church choir continued to entertain us with song after song with dance steps in that wonderful, Congolese lively beat.

Our three most experienced AVP facilitators, Peter Serete, Eunice Okwemba, and Bernard Onjala, conducted two basic three-day workshops, followed by an advanced, and a training for facilitators. These new facilitators then were apprentices in one of three apprentice basic workshops. Few Somali or Ethiopian refugees attended these workshops because, as Muslims, they did not want to enter into a Christian church. Nonetheless the Somali leader of Camp II where the church is (out of the six camps) came to me personally and asked for AVP trainings for the Somali community. Likewise I received a written request from the leaders of the Ethiopian community to bring the project to them.

Our next step will be to send back one or two of our experience facilitators to mentor the fourteen newly trained facilitators as they conduct 8 basic workshops – I suggested that they do some of these with the Somali and Ethiopian communities. Then we will assess what the next step might be. It is clear to me that these refugees need the Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) program which would be another major undertaking. Then they also need transformative mediation and transformative dialogue (where communities in conflict discuss their problems together). So there is a lot ahead of us. Regardless of the bumpy ride and heat, our three facilitators are all willing to go back to the Kakuma refugee camp.