#239 — Family Life — August 2, 2013

            When school was out last November, Kevin, a son of Gladys’ sister, Mary, who had just finished his exams at the end of secondary school, visited us for a few days. He came for a purpose – he was escorting his two younger sisters, Imelda, 15, and Imali, 12, on the 10 mile motorcycle ride from their house to ours. Mary, quite prudently, would not let her daughters travel alone on the back of a motorcycle because of the threat of enticement or rape. The two sisters frequently come to our house during school vacations. They do not ask or tell us that they are coming — they just show up. We do not know why they come except that they want to. Perhaps it is the daily newspaper they can read, or the TV that they are allowed to watch at night, or perhaps it is the weeks long slumber party at our house as many school age relatives hang out at our house. They are not much of problem because they all pitch in with the household chores, which with no labor saving devices are many, but then many hands make short work.

            They are not the only ones who showed up. Our grandsons, Eugene, 11, and Danny, 9, live with us so their aunt, Gloria, 10, the youngest daughter of Gladys’ sister, Josephine, who lives about two miles away, also comes. She brings along her 7 year old nephew, Devan, who is the oldest son of Josephine’s oldest son, Johnston, who is a police officer. Then Eunice’s (another sister) children are here – Lorene, 17, who has also just sat for her exams, and Patrick, 21, who has been living with us for the last couple of years. We are not the lenient grandparents as the guests have to behave or we will send them away, which we have done on occasion. They are allowed only a few hours of cartoons on the weekend. There is rarely any conflict because the older kids look after the younger ones and everyone is having a fun vacation.

            This is all usual for us. What was unusual last year is that Imelda and Imali brought along – again with us not even knowing – Ninayo, their two year old niece. Image that, a two year old coming with her teenaged aunts to visit for six weeks with her great aunt and uncle. Where was the mother? Unfortunately the mother is, what they call here, “slow” and is incapable of taking care of the child by herself. So everyone else, from her grandmother to her aunts and uncles, take responsibility for her. Naturally when she first arrived, she was quite shy, particularly, with me as a white person, but by the time she left we were great buddies. The other kids all take care of her too and the only time Gladys really had to intercede in her care was when she got a fever and Gladys took her to the clinic.

            If you have not been counting, this totals nine child relatives.

            The first big occasion to take place during that vacation was the marriage of Gladys’ sister, Josephine. Marriages here in Kenya are quite expensive and so far only one of our many nieces and nephews has had a wedding. Rather most of the family weddings we attend are with older people in attendance with their children and grand-children. The usual reason for this late wedding is that the bride or groom wants to have an official position in church and, in all denominations that I know of, in order to hold a responsible position, one needs to be officially married in the church. Josephine is studying to become a pastor and, when she finishes her studies, will be assigned to one of the village meetings of Lumakanda Friends Church. Thus, she needed to have a church wedding. This occurred on a Saturday in the middle of December. Lumakanda Friends Church was filled to capacity. Gladys and I sat on the left side of the church reserved for the bride’s family. Eugene, Danny, and Devan were given the task of holding the candles at the beginning of the wedding procession and the girls were in the dancing group behind the boys. Eugene and Danny must have made a good impression because since then they have done the same thing in two other weddings which weren’t even at the Quaker church. The actual wedding was much like you would expect in the US – exchange of vows, putting on the rings, a sermon on a good marriage, and, here, lots of singing. At the end everyone gives a small present. Then everyone gets to eat. Although the cakes are many and big, everyone only gets a small piece since there are so many people. 

On January 2, Gladys and I moved into our new house. It is only about two blocks from the old one and its main advantage is that the old house had no space for a garden while the new house sits on half an acre – so we had a barn built and have a milk cow plus space for lots of gardening. Someday I’ll give you a report on this. Let me just say that all those children were a great help in carrying the smaller items from the old house to the new one. Even little Ninayo would carry some little small cup.

            On January 4, we had a house warming with about 70 people in attendance. There were the usual prayers and speeches – the most memorable one was by Glady’s 90-year-old father, David Okwemba, who became quite loquacious about Gladys as a child and young girl. They had put a ribbon in front of the door and we cut the ribbon – everyone who could squeezed into the living room and the pastor blessed the new house. Then everyone ate.

            The kids were all still sleeping in the old house and the school vacation was near its end. So the next evening at dusk they all brought down their mattresses and clothes and said that they had to sleep in the new house before they went back to school.

            This is family life here in rural Kenya.

#238 — Aid or Trade? Neither — July 26, 2013

            President Obama’s recent trip to three countries in Africa brought up much discussion on the issue of “aid versus trade” as the method for Africa to develop. He took over 100 US investors on his trip with the expectation that they would find new opportunities for US corporations in Africa.

            My conclusion on this aid versus trade question is “Neither.” I will explain below.

            The biggest argument against aid is that in the last 50 years it has contributed almost nothing to the development of Africa. Kenya, for example, is worse off now than it was in 1966 when I first arrived and this is ten years after digging out from the bottom in 2002 when President Moi was ousted.

            A few years ago, the grants to Kenya to supply drugs to HIV+ individuals was stopped due to the usual Kenyan problem that too much of the aid had been embezzled and didn’t reach the intended recipients. The government quickly proposed that a tax on cell phone airtime and airline tickets would cover the costs of the missing grants. This caused an immediate uproar – “Why should Kenyans pay for something that was being give free to them by the international community?” I, on the other hand, would ask, “Why should the international community support a program that Kenyans can and should do themselves?”

            In my book, A Peace of Africa, chapter 13 analyzes how the aid organizations garner the lion share of the aid funds that are allocate to them. Just last Monday, Gladys and I were invited to lunch at the “green zone” in Eldoret where all the US graduate students are required to live together at great expense so that they are segregated from the Kenyan people with whom they are supposed to work.

            I could give many more examples, but the point is clear – aid is not likely to develop Africa. This, by the way, is a common conclusion here in Africa.

            Therefore some – including Obama and the hundred businesspeople with him — are promoting the concept that trade will rescue the continent. It may make things worse. I have already indicated that the role of China (and many other nations) is to sell their “junk” to Africa while at the same time gathering as much of the resource base as they can to keep their own economy humming.

            I just read an article that stated that university endowments are looking to invest in Africa because it is the last “economic frontier” and the returns at 8% or more are much higher than the rest of the world. In other words, they can invest a sum in Africa and expect to have it all back in about ten years and the rest of eternity is “gravy.” I would call this “exploitation.”

            I have also read the book, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens, by Nicholas Shaxson. International businesses do not want to make a profit in, say Kenya, where the profit will be taxed. Rather, by inflating the costs of goods and deflating their income, the corporations can hide their profits – untaxed by anyone – in one of the many of the world’s tax havens (which include the state of Delaware and the one square mile financial center called the “City of London”). Shaxson gives figures that indicate that, while aid to the developing world in 2008 was $100 billion, the amount lost through illicit transfer to tax havens was $1.2 trillion. Then the western world needs to look at the plank in its own eye – only 3% was due to corrupt money leaving the developing world, about 1/3 was due to criminal activity, but almost 2/3 was due to “cross-border commercial transactions” (page 29). Perhaps aid has been ineffective because it has been no more than a finger in the dike of the funds pulled out of Africa. Again I could go on and on.

            What then is the answer? It is what President Nyerere proclaimed shortly after independence in Tanzania – kujitolea which literally means to “work for oneself,” or “self-reliance.” In 1969 I ate some of the best navel oranges in my life at a cooperative in Kenya call Ka-the-ka-kai. Today Gladys and I buy navel oranges from either Egypt of South Africa, depending upon the season. This is a trivial example, but in 2008, right after the post-election violence, the most profitable company, Safaricom, decided to sell one quarter of its stock, mostly to Kenyans. It was oversubscribed five times and 5 billion dollars or so sat idle in the banks, waiting for the resolution of the stock sale. What if all these funds were invested in productive activities in Kenya – and as the interest of the global business community indicates – there are a lot of ripe pickings?

            Africa has been carved up into 55 mini-states, either in size or population. Yet China and India have more people each than all of Africa. Inner-African trade, which in East and Central Africa is growing substantially every year, needs to expand as quickly as possible and all the barriers that occur at every national boundary for the movement of people and of goods needs to be abolished. There is an exceedingly slow movement in this direction. In East Africa, it is due to the fear of the other countries that most of the benefits of inter-country trade will benefit Kenya.

            I once missed a flight in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, and Ethiopian Airlines put me up for the night at a small hotel owned by an Ethiopian who had live in Boston for decades and then had returned with his savings and built this small hotel. We had a delightful time talking about the Boston Red Sox. One encouraging sign is that the 10% of the Kenyan adult population that lives and works overseas sends substantial funds back to Kenya, which in the past was used for family welfare, and is partly being channeled into productive investment in Kenya itself. Some people, like the Ethiopian mentioned above, return with expertise and funds.

            In summary, I would say Africans need to be wary of strangers bearing either gifts or investments. If Africans wait for foreigners – either with aid or trade – they may wait forever as their destiny is outside their hands.

#237 — Murder Most Foul and Our Response — July 19, 2013

             From the end of April through the middle of May, a gang of machete wielding attackers in a number of villages in Bungoma County killed 15 people and mutilated at least another 150. There didn’t seem to be any motive for the attacks as, not only was nothing stolen, but the people being attacked were poverty-stricken with nothing significant to steal. The local police and security officers were unable to stem these attacks. Naturally this caused a great deal of public outcry not only in the county itself, but the country at large. Even Deputy President William Ruto visited Bungoma to discuss the conflict with local government officials.

            The police rounded up 309 youth suspects but soon released 297 of them without charge. They charged a few with having participated in the killings, but some of them were already in jail at the time of the attacks, awaiting hearing for other crimes — they were not the culprits. The community then took the law into their own hands, as is so common in Kenya. They found a young man whom they accused of participating in the attacks and tortured him until he gave the names of nine others who were alleged to be with him in the attacks. They then killed him and systematically found the other nine suspects and lynched them all. Of course, information obtained through torture is unreliable and there is doubt that these ten were the actual perpetrators. Even if they were, it will remain unknown who instigated these bizarre killings.

            These attacks occurred about 5 miles lower down on Mt Elgon from where we had been working during the election period. Our first response was for Getry Agizah, Peter Serete, Ezra Kigonbu, and Erastus Chesondi to spend three days visiting three of the villages that were attacked conducting a fact-finding mission. “There was so much pain and smell of blood as victims had wounds that were not treated. We could not bear it as it was so traumatizing.” They concluded that the villagers needed immediate listening sessions. With 17 of the HROC healing companions that we had trained in January as part of our current election violence prevention work, guided by our lead facilitators, 35 listening sessions were conducted for 516 participants in the three villages plus 4 more sessions in local churches. One participant, Rosemary, commented, “I need to be with you. My son of 7 months was cut and left bleeding until he died. I was going crazy until you people came. I still feel I need to get more of your humble listening.” At one of the listening sessions a man admitted that he had participated in the attack that lynched the third suspect — he showed no remorse for having done this and seemed willing to do it again if the situation called for it.

            We then decided to do three three-day HROC workshops with our experienced facilitators; there were 67 participants. As you can imagine, emotions were still very high. This was the first time we had attempted to do a HROC workshop so close to the incidents that made them necessary – in Mt Elgon four or five years had passed since the conflict ended so emotions had a time to cool down. One the lead facilitators, Eunice Okwemba, who had done many HROC workshops on Mt Elgon commented, “I thought it is like HROC that I have done in Mt Elgon, but, when the conflict is too fresh, it is very traumatizing to listen to these people. I went home the most traumatized person.” We realized that we need a debriefing team to help facilitators who are coming back from this kind of session to help them recover from their secondary trauma.

            The workshops, though, left us with another question as the members of the community asked, “How do we interact with the families of the ten young men who were killed by the mob? Please help us to live with the situation.”

#236 — HROC in Baltimore — July 12, 2013

            AGLI is now bringing the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program back to the United States. American facilitators were trained in our International Trainings in Burundi and Rwanda in the summers of 2011 and 2013. They have come back and, sometimes with the mentoring of our HROC facilitators from Africa, have conducted a small number of basic HROC workshop, mostly for people who work in the immigrant community. Recently a workshop at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore was held for Bhutanese immigrants – 18 were expected but 38 showed up – and they would like to continue with more HROC workshops with their community. If you would like to attend such a workshop, please email me (dave@aglifpt.org) and I will put you on the list to receive notices of up-coming HROC workshops.

In May, a basic HROC workshop was held again at Stony Run Meeting for Quakers and those working in the immigrant community. Madeline Schaefer, Aarati Kasturirangan, and Lucy Duncan from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) attended this workshop. These are three reports on the workshop reproduced with AFSC’s permission from their web publication, Acting in Faith: Connecting Friends to the work of AFSC.


Stone in the belly: Transforming trauma in community

by Lucy Duncan

Water/stress filling glass

Water/stress filling glass

Photo: Lucy Duncan

Copyright: AFSC

“Unless pain is transformed, it will be transferred.” – Richard Rohr, quoted by Amy Rakusin

When I was in Burundi after the World Conference of Friends in 2012, I visited a Peace Village outside Bujumbura where Hutu and Tutsi refugees were living. AFSC staff Triphonie Habonimana and Florence Ntakarutimana of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) program served as my hosts. They brought together perpetrators and victims of the decades-long conflict that had participated in the trauma healing workshops that HROC conducts in Bujumbura and elsewhere, sometimes in partnership with AFSC. The participants gathered in a small Friends church in the village and told me how the workshops had impacted them.

Each of them told stories of transformation: victims talked of forgiving horrendous acts perpetrated on them, and perpetrators talked about how they had reconnected with those they had harmed and had been healed from the shock of their acts. Listening to these stories of such deep and seemingly lasting change, it sounded like the workshops must work magic for there to be such healing. I wanted to learn more.

In mid-May three of us from AFSC participated in one of these three-day HROC workshops in Baltimore at Stony Run Meeting, led by one of my hosts in Burundi, Florence Ntakarutimana, as well as Americans Amy Rakusin and Bill Jacobsen.

During the workshop a woman who was a trauma nurse talked about how, with physical trauma, the wound often needs to be abraded, opened, exposed in order for there to be healing; if the wound isn’t cleaned and opened, it festers and can get worse or cause the loss of a limb, or even death.

This is true with wounds of the spirit, too. People can suffer spiritual death if they hold their wounds too tightly; they can let their hearts turn to stone.

In one activity on the first day, Florence provided a vivid demonstration of how stress and trauma operate in individuals and impact the community. She put a large glass on a tray in the middle of the room, with a pitcher of water next to it. She said, “Things happen that cause stress.”

“In Burundi, it’s sometimes not so easy to get breakfast for your children. They go to school without tea. One day you might not have bread.”

She filled the glass about a quarter full of water–the water was the stress, and the cup was the person without bread for their child.

She said, “You don’t have bread, but the next day you get some and feed your children. You feel better.”

Florence poured most of the water back out of the glass. She said, “You feel better, but not all of the stress is gone, the stress you’ve known.”

Florence said, “Normal stress comes and goes.”

“But let’s say, I am here in the United States and I get a phone call that my first born is in the hospital.” Florence filled the glass nearly to the top with water. 

“And then I get another call, my son has died. Now I have no more space to hold the stress.” Florence filled the glass until it overflowed, the water spilled out onto the tray.

“Then I return to Burundi and my husband is hit by a car and dies. This kind of stress is hard, it makes a hard place in my belly.” She added a piece of wood to the cup and more water spilled out onto the tray. The wood represented repeated, difficult events in one’s life, but not necessarily ones that people planned.

Florence said, “And some stress is like stones, it breaks me.”

“What if some parents raped their own children and killed them… this is like a stone, a stone in one’s heart.”

Florence put a large stone into the glass. The water overflowed into the tray.

“This kind of stress is beyond what we can hold, beyond our capacity to hold.”

“This is traumatic stress. Sometimes we experience or perpetrate such hard things, sometimes our heart is broken, there are scars and they remain. Some wounds are fresh, others aren’t fresh, but they are still there.”

“Some are caused by natural disasters, but the hardest are those that people planned. This kind of stress causes trauma, because of what we have heard, what we have seen, or what we have done. There is also cumulative stress; all together things are so hard to bear. When you live on the edge of stress, it can be what seems to be a small thing that puts you over the edge.”

“What if your parents experienced trauma and haven’t healed, then you could be born with a stone in your belly, and that makes it hard to bear stress, to be resilient.”

Florence invited us to look at the tray. The tray holding the glass was full of water. “The family and community around the person who has experienced or is experiencing stress and trauma also is affected because the trauma, the pain, the stress overflows into the community.”

Sharing, she said, is critical in the healing process. In order for people to heal, it is important for them to expose the trauma they’ve experienced to the light and re-discover the threads of human care and connection. “The more we are able to open our hearts, the more we can let love in,” Florence said. As people share in community, the more all can sit together in the mystery and face what is unknown together.

This was the first day of three. In the next two days we explored how the stones of trauma can be softened and melted. We learned how the water in that overflowing glass can be replaced by healing waters from the community through sharing and that as each person heals, they can support the healing of others.

On that first day I was already beginning to see that through this very intentional and powerful, but quite simple, process the healing that occurs isn’t magic, but is miraculous nonetheless.


The empty chair: Bringing love into the room

by Aarati Kasturirangan

Copyright: Carol Von Canon

Note: In May of 2013, three AFSC staff including Aarati Kasturirangan, Program Officer for Integration and Impact, went to the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop held at Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. Aarati attended the workshop to understand firsthand the HROC work she had heard of from AFSC program staff in Burundi. She went to find out if she thought HROC could be useful for other AFSC programs around the world.  – Lucy

I attended the workshop because HROC sounded miraculous to me. I went because it sounded impossible. I went to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears. I didn’t realize I also went to heal with my own heart.

On day two of this workshop, we all sat in a circle (Read Lucy Duncan’s blog post here for a beautiful description of a lesson from day one). Amy Rakusin, one of our facilitators, said, “I want you to think of someone who loves you or someone who has loved you. If you are lucky enough to have more than one person, think of whoever is most present for you right now.” 

An image of my little sister leapt to mind. “Now think about why that person loves you.”

Think about why that person loves you. Not why you love them, or why you are so close. Why does she love me? It was a simple assignment that, for me, produced immediate, unexpected feeling. Why – does she – love me?

Amy continues, “Now I want you to stand behind your chair. Imagine you are that loved one. Be that person telling you why they love you.”  When it was my turn, I stood already choked with tears I could not quite understand:

“Aarati, I love you because you were my first friend, another mom. You loved me unconditionally when I felt angry, when mom and dad did not know what to do. You have been there for me whenever I needed you. You are my best friend, and for a long time you were the most important person in my world. When things got bad at home I knew you were with me.”

I spoke these words to myself and felt a flood of love from my sister, pain in remembering those hard times she would have spoken of, anger that love is so often forged in the crucible of shared hardships, and a longing to see her because she now lives thousands of miles away.

This was the empty chair exercise. And one by one, each person embodied the one who loved them, and spoke of why they themselves were loved. Each of us reached into our own pasts to see with someone else’s eyes how our words, our acts, our mere presence had eased another’s sorrows, brought laughter into dark spaces, created safety in strange times. 

As individuals, we each had our own reaction to the empty chair in front of us. So often, as someone recounted a story of love, it was coupled with pain, loss, grief, or anger. In some cases, hearing others’ stories gave us new eyes to see our own with. 

We could also see how even someone who had done horrible things could have experienced love in their lives, love that could lead to recognition, remorse, redemption, and peace. And we could see how recognizing that person’s experience of love, we might be able to forgive past wrongs, rebuild connection, and move forward in community with those who had done us harm.

Together in that circle, we witnessed the powerful presence of love in the lives of 25 people, mostly strangers, but now somehow closer to us, part of our own connection to the human experience of love. 


 About the author: Aarati Kasturirangan is a program officer for the Integration and Impact Unit of AFSC. Her name is pronounced Arthi Kus-thu-ree-run-gun. She was born in New Delhi, India; raised in Wilmington, Del.; became an activist, wife, Ph.D., and mother in Chicago; stayed home with her kids in D.C.; and has now settled in Philladelphia. She blogs about identity (aaratikasturirangan.wordpress.com), sings as much as possible, and tells dumb jokes with her kids.



by Lucy Duncan

Copyright: AFSC

What is needed to build trust in community? After the HROC participants discussed healing from trauma and trust and mistrust, we set about to answer this question in small groups, and then reported back to each other.

As a whole group, we built a list of 49 qualities and practices needed to build trust in community.

I looked at this list and thought that these are the ingredients for creating one small plot of heaven—not one in which there is no conflict, but a community that is based on love.

Are there any qualities/practices that we didn’t include? What would you add? – Lucy

  • Don’t try to live ahead of your stage of evolution
  • Be consistent
  • Create commonly understood expectations
  • Foster good communication
  • Provide opportunities for input
  • Establish common goals
  • Work together
  • Share experiences
  • Share and discuss values
  • Provide opportunities for dialogue
  • Open spaces for telling stories
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Promote self-reflection
  • Take time to know yourself
  • Teach techniques for conflict resolution
  • Create a climate of self-care
  • Validate people’s experiences
  • Be aware of your own weaknesses and limitations
  • Be aware of your strengths
  • Provide times to play with one another
  • Create small groups for intimacy and connection
  • Make spaces to gather together by identity to share perspectives
  • Provide elements of choice
  • Make opportunities for people to contribute their gifts
  • Recognize people’s gifts
  • Create porous, but clear, boundaries
  • Name the injustice we have perpetrated
  • Be who you say you want to be
  • Share responsibility for what needs to get done
  • Celebrate
  • Create ceremonies/rituals
  • Address the needs in the community
  • See the needs of others, address those needs
  • Practice the values you share
  • Practice faith
  • Practice patience
  • Be brave
  • Sing and dance
  • Take time for a personal spiritual practice
  • Be slow, careful, intentional
  • Share food
  • Understand a hurt person’s limitation to respond
  • Take responsibility for your actions
  • Practice courage
  • Trust yourself
  • Work to help conflicting parties find common ground
  • Practice healing before forgiveness
  • Understand the historical context
  • Be warriors of the heart

#235 — China vs US in Africa — July 5, 2013

 President Obama’s recent trip to Africa, visiting Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, is a good time to look at China’s developing role in Africa. Much of the commentary on Obama’s trip included the fact that China, in 2009, overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner and now has twice the trade that the US has with the continent. This has been conveyed as if it were a super bowl match between the two biggest economies of the world. On his trip, Obama took along over 100 US businessmen to consider business opportunities in Africa.  What is my take on this?


 History repeats itself. When I first arrived 49 years ago in Tanzania, the conspiracy theory then was that the godless Chinese communists were taking over Africa. In particular, they had signed a contract to build the railroad from Dar-es-Salaam on the cost of Tanzania to landlocked Zambia where the Chinese were trying to seize control of the Zambian/Congolese cooper belt. I heard this first from the Bishop of Rulenge Diocese in northwestern Tanzania when I was teaching Rwandan refugees. The Bishop’s emphasis, of course, was on the “godless” part. Two years later when I was at the training for the Peace Corps in Dar-es-Salaam, a man from the US Embassy, whom we assumed was the CIA agent there, gave us a briefing. He emphasized the “communist” aspect of this theory.


 Here we are really comparing mangoes and bananas. For decades the Chinese have been flooding East Africa with consumer goods. If Chinese goods in the US are sometimes of poor quality, those imported into Africa are of terrible quality – in six years I have had to replace the Chinese-made faucet in my bathroom sink three times. More recently the Chinese have been focusing on large infrastructure projects – railroads, ports, pipelines, and roads. For example, the Chinese financed and built the first superhighway in Kenya from Nairobi to Thika – four express lanes and two local lanes in each direction. They worked 24 hours per day 365 days in the year and it is now complete. They are heavily involved in building the new Kenyan port in Lamu with the road, railroad, and pipeline to South Sudan where they hope to export the oil from South Sudan as they are the biggest purchaser of that oil. This indicates China’s major interest in Africa – the ability to purchase the long neglected resources that Africa has to offer. If this major increase in extraction of African resources will benefit Africans is a question still to be answered.



The United States, on the other hand, mostly invests in business in Africa. Here in Kenya you can find Everyready Battery, Goodyear Tire, Coca-Cola (of course), General Electric, and even Google. Kentucky Fried Chicken is here – I went once last year and found that there offerings in Kenya were just as greasy and salty as in the US. Walmart is on its way to Kenya via its new acquisition in South Africa. I have never known of American companies building roads, ports, gaslines, or railroads in this region. Of course, how this benefits Africans, is also an open question.


 An overlooked aspect is that China is hardly the only country eyeballing African resources. India, in particular, has a strong interest and, in East Africa, has the added benefit of the Indians who were imported to the region in the late 19th century to build the original railroads. Indians still control the building trade stories in Kenya including nearby Turbo and Kipkarren River. Others, though, have become tycoons and are able to leverage support from large Indian companies. Many other countries are also involved – Japan (Japanese cars dominate here), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea. A strong, new entry in the region is Turkey, which wants to establish strong relations with countries that encircle the Arab Middle East – they were the first major country back into Somalia and are now helping to rebuild the Mogadishu airport.


 One major negative effect of the interest of China in Africa is the rise of poaching of elephants and rhinoceros. Over 30,000 elephants were killed last year. During the first decade of this century, poaching was contained and the number of elephants and rhinoceros were increasing, but recently this has changed as the scarcity of ivory and rhino horn medicines increased their price. In the past few years the poaching has escalated as more Chinese have access to Africa.


 African trade and development is not a major league sport where there are winners and losers. Rather it is the interaction of the global community that, if done correctly, benefits all those who are involved.  

#234 — Is Kenyan Decentralization Working? — June 24, 2013

It is difficult for Americans to understand the significance of decentralization in a country such as Kenya. Since the beginning, the US system has been decentralized. There are 50 states plus the District of Columbia, counties, cities, townships, school districts, and even cross-boundary government entities such as metropolitan transit authorities. We are taught about this in civic education classes in school and deal with its ramifications continuously. It seems to us the normal, correct method of government. It, of course, spreads power out and allows local communities and states to decide local issues on their own. As a result, in the United States, there are widely different ways that various issues –from taxation to abortion — are handled.

 A colonial ruler, such as Britain, does not want the messiness of decentralization and needs to control everything from a powerful center in the capital. This usurps any possible contending power bases, particularly in the periphery. One of the main problems with the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that the Belgians installed a centralized system for that country which is as big as the US east of the Mississippi and the center of the country is an impenetrable forest. As a result, the eastern Congo is attached more closely to East Africa than it is to its own capital in Kinshasa — the only method of going from the eastern Congo to Kinshasa is by airplane. It is no wonder that the eastern Congo is misruled. 

At independence in 1963, Britain bequeath this centralized system to Kenya, even though the smaller tribes on the periphery wanted a more decentralized system. During Jomo Kenyatta presidency for the first fifteen years of independence, this centralization was increased until the center controlled the total government. This included the security forces, the provincial administration, parliament, the courts, the electoral commission, and so on. All decisions emanated from Nairobi.

 This resulted in a strong movement to decentralize. In Kenya, this is called “devolvement” or “devolution.” In 2002 Mwai Kibaki campaigned on a platform of devolution of the centralized government, but as soon as he won the election, he reneged on this pledge as he found total power — now that he had it — to be quite congenial. In 2005 there was an attempt to adopt a new devolved constitution but. When the Kibaki government removed all the aspects of devolution from the proposed constitution, the proponents of devolution united to defeat this constitution. A second successful attempt was made in 2010 – this turned the nine centrally controlled provinces into 47 counties, each with a governor and legislature. In the 2013 election, these governors were elected and devolution began.

 When we leave aside all the personalities and political parties in Kenyan politics, the real underlying issue is this fundamental change from a centralized government with total power to a decentralized one with multiple smaller power centers. The next five years before the next election is going to determine if this is successful or a bust. How is it going to date?

 As can be expected, the central government does not want to give up its powers. Consequently it is doing what it can to thwart devolution. For example, even though the new constitution disbanded the provincial administration, the government has not abolished these positions, even when a court case ruled against it! Another technique has been to “starve” the counties of the funds that they need to do the work that has been allocated to them. The new senate has a senator from each county and, since the duties and powers of this new senate are not clearly defined, some people already talking of abolishing it since the senators are the force of the counties in the national government.

Yet regardless of this, there is what I consider a healthy development. Those 47 governors have become spokesmen (there are no women governors) for their counties. They are articulating what they feel are the needs of their particular county. The governors are emphasizing economic development, promotion of the appropriate agriculture, better rural roads, and other local concerns. This was not the case in the past. Interestingly enough the governors — regardless if they are from the ruling party or the opposition — are united in working together for their appropriate share of the power including adequate funding.

The future of Kenya depends on how this plays out. Since I am a grassroots kind of person, I am for decentralization. AGLI’s program in western Kenya is working, particularly in Kakamega and Bungoma counties, to see that the devolved government is implemented fairly and equitably. 

#233 — AVP with Christians and Muslims — June 18, 2013



Below is a report on an advanced AVP workshop with Muslim and Christian youth that was conducted in Turbo Division, Uasin Gishu county, western Kenya. Previously two basic workshops were held, and subsequently aTraining for Facilitator workshop has been conducted and the apprentice workshops are being arranged.


 This report is important, not for the specifics of the training itself, but of the great divide between Muslims and Christians throughout the world. In some places included the coast of Kenya and northern Nigeria this has led to violence and killings. In so many other places, there is a deep divide and mutual misunderstanding between adherents of the two religions. It is in this context that this report is significant – that is, thousands and thousands of these workshops need to be done around the world including the United States.


Program: Alternative to Violence Advanced Training


Venue: Juakali, Kenya, Industrial Estate Hall


Participants: 25, male 14, female 11   


Dates: June 13 -15, 2013


Facilitators: Caleb Amunya, Olive Kamave, Jennifer Bonareri and Peter Serete


Workshop Description:


          After completing two basic AVP trainings, it was very difficult to select 25 participants to proceed to the Advanced Training. We considered the potential in the first 25 participants from Muslim and Christians communities who will carry the flag of owning the program and helping other members of the community through the expansion of peace committees in their respective localities. The workshop focused on topics that enabled participants to improve communication skills, self-esteem, conflict resolution and transforming power. Participants showed their commitment through active participation.




Bringing Christians and Muslims together and sharing openly their grievances, confidentiality, brought deeper and great experience from the process of every exercise done in AVP. This was evident when we did the first exercise of “In Common.” “I have realized that we have many good things in common and if we can affirm the fact that through these things that we share in common can be the foundation that can bring the two religions together with different talents that will enable us to build good relationships that can bring peace — then violence and conflict in our community can be the thing of the past.” Idi Mwenesi”


 The question, “Does the Quran really contain dozens of verses promoting violence?” that was asked by Pastor Tarus provoked a deeper, healthy discussion and Malim Musa Sadala did not  lack answers:  


Many Muslims as well as Non-Muslims quote some verses from Qur’an which preach peace, and non-violence. I can give an example, The very word ‘Islam’ (from the Arabic silm) connotes peace. According to a tradition of the Prophet, ‘Peace is Islam’ (Al-Bukhari). This means that peace is one of the prerequisites of Islam. Similarly, a Hadith states: ‘A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands people are safe.’ One of the attributes of God described in the Quran is ‘As-Salam’, which means peace and security.’ That is to say that God’s Being itself is a manifestation of peace. Indeed, God is Peace (Al-Bukhari). In the Quran divine guidance is likened to the paths of peace. (5:16).


The advanced training gave participants an opportunity to the sense of belonging when it comes to matters of making decisions, and this was experienced in a consensus exercise, “If  we can be patient enough and take into consideration of everyone’s opinion and agree, then as a community we will impress peace and bring change.” On other hand, it was a challenge for other participants, especially youth, who lack the virtue of patience and the concept of consensus, because it needed patience to reach consensus.


Both Christians and Muslims are vulnerable and a much endangered generation considering many of them have fallen victim of many social injustices and abuse. Through the training they realized the role they play when it comes to perpetrating violence and the responsibility they have to bring peace, and it was emphasized that the two religions should take the lead in bringing change through being peaceful and they will respect human dignity. “As a participant of this training, I find that we should consider choosing good values that will enhance our freedom and can lead us to good life in relation to violence — being used in violence, drug abuse and bad life habits destroys the goodness and the potential we have. If we unify to resist and reject violence then we will be building a new society. Even if a Muslim should be convinced that someone is a non-believer, still he must accept that his fate is in the hands of God alone, since no one human can condemn another — this must be left to the judgment of God,” Malim Sadala.


After all had be said and done, the young participants in this training went into contract with themselves on the things they want to commit to and peace was one of the contracts. They vowed to impress it through creating peace awareness and spreading the same to other communities. Interestingly participants thought they are now ready to go and facilitate the same after completing the three days’ advanced training.


Evaluation and way forward


“We wish to thank Friend Church Peace Team through AGLI, our sponsor, and AVP facilitators for the great work that is being done in Uasin Gishu County through peace training. The organization has shed light in many of us. It is our appeal you continue supporting our peace work in this region and strengthen peace committees which was a good gesture and a way forward that will enable AVP be owed by the community.” It was in this training that participants were more than willing to get food that can help them do more workshops – “we all agreed that after we have done Training for Facilitators workshop, we will initiate that proposal during apprenticing workshops.”


The report was written by Peter Serete, Caleb Amunya, Oliva Kamave and Jenniffer Bonareri

#232 — UN Takes a Wrong Turn — June 12, 2013

The United Nations’ Security Council has authorized an African army to take offensive action against the various armed groups in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I think that this is a major mistake for two reasons, locally and internationally. Let me first describe the situation as I see it and then cover the reasons for the mistake.

There are numerous armed groups in North Kivu. The first is the Congolese army. This consists of soldiers from other areas of the Congo so the soldiers do not know Swahili and cannot communicate well with the local population. The Congolese army is part of the problem because they have looted, raped, destroyed, and killed people in North Kivu including, for example, 130 women and girls raped when the army fled to Minova after leaving Goma when the M23 rebel group conquered the city last November. Moreover, some local Congolese army commanders control North Kivu mines and exploit the people and resources just as the other rebel groups do.

There are a large number of various rebel groups in North Kivu. The latest one of note is M23, which is a Tutsi controlled group that has conquered the area north of Goma. For two weeks in November last year, it invaded and conquered Goma before it was forced to evacuate by international pressure. Rwanda and, to a certain extend Uganda, are accused of supporting this rebel group. The genocadaires who were responsible for the Rwandan genocide are still another significant rebel group – more than once the Rwandan army has tried to attack them in North Kivu with little result except the death of more North Kivu civilians. Then there are a number groups, collectively called Mai-Mai, which often are based on the local Congolese tribes from North Kivu. These gangs thrive because they control one or more mines and illegally export the minerals through Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. Control of the trade routes also allows for “taxing” the minerals as they pass through – one of the main reasons the M23 rebel group wants to control the area north of Goma. These groups are ever changing and shifting alliances depending upon the current conditions.

The United Nations has a peacekeeping force of 1700 soldiers in North Kivu called MONUSCO, but they do not have a mandate to take offensive action so they were ineffective when the rebels invaded Goma. At other times, they have supported actions by the Congolese army. I remember one incident a few years ago when a rebel group invaded Sake, 15 miles west of Goma, and the UN forces used helicopter gunships to kill over 100 of the rebels. While they claimed victory, it is really hollow because these “rebels” killed were mostly very young men, even boys. The next day the rebels could easily replace their dead soldiers with new recruits from the numerous youth who have nothing to do and no prospect for a bright future. In addition, UN peacekeepers from India were accused of participating in a sex ring and others peacekeepers were accused of selling weapons and ammunition to various rebel groups.

When the MONUSCO forces were unable to keep the M23 rebels from conquering Goma, there came a call to have a new force, which would have the offensive capability of attacking the M23 and other rebel forces. This was enhanced by the seeming success of the Ugandan, Burundian, Kenyan, and a few others armies in stabilizing Somalia, at least in the major cities. The UN Security Council approved of this (“created a special intervention brigade that has an aggressive mandate that allows it to fight armed groups, rather than merely defend civilians.”) Three thousand soldiers mostly from Tanzania and South Africa, are beginning to arrive in Goma for this intervention army.

Locally, as has happened so often in the past, this intervention brigade is going to be just another foreign army, adding to the fighting in the province. Usually in the “fighting” in the area, the combatants don’t face each other, but the weaker one “evaporates” into the local population. Many people flee as can be seen from the numerous pictures of people carrying whatever they can. But some people – the sick, elderly, and pregnant women — cannot flee and others contract diseases, starvation, and other problems which causes some to die. Civilian deaths in these operations far exceeds those from the actual fighting. Then when the “invading” army leaves, the rebel groups return and take revenge on the local people for “supporting the enemy” so more civilians are killed. Locally, the result of this new armed force is going to be more civilian deaths and little change in the dynamics of exploitation in North Kivu. There is also the possibility that the new forces will see the loot available in North Kivu and become just another armed exploiter. Tanzania, which already is the conduit for the transit of illegal minerals from South Kivu, can hardly be considered a neutral actor in this drama.

In the long run, though, it is the UN precedent that is most dangerous. This is the first time that the UN has approved offensive action for its forces. Where will this lead in the next five or ten years? If the North Kivu intervention is “successful” – which I doubt – it will be used as a precedent for further armed forays in international involvement in domestic affairs. If the invention force fails, there will be appropriate rationales for its failure, which will be “rectified” by the next intervention.

An offensive force is not neutral and therefore the UN will begin taking sides in armed disputes as it has in the case of North Kivu. The smaller, weaker countries already consider the UN as an arm of the five major powers on the Security Council – the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China. This development is going to erode the UN stance as a neutral world body even further.

The alternative to fighting is talking – talking to everyone involved. This should be done right there in Goma and should include civil society, women’s groups, religious leaders, youth organizations, businesses, and everyone else with a stake in a peaceful North Kivu. A peaceful, prosperous North Kivu would be so much better for those involved – including the armed groups which could then participate in legal activities which would create more wealth. Currently a small pie is being divided up by the armed groups, while peace would bring a much bigger pie where everyone would benefit.

I am sure that over the next months and years, I’ll be giving you my analysis of this intervention force.