Tag Archives: Kenya

#249 –AVP Introduction in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya — Oct 10, 2013

 Program:  Alternative to Violence Training

Venue: Kakuma Friends Church Refugee Camp

Dates: August 4, 2013- August 20, 2013

Facilitators: Peter Serete, Eunice Okwemba and Bernard Onjala

Kakuma is a small town located in the desert in northwestern Kenya. Historically it is believed to be where anthropologists hypothesize the human race began. The Kenyan government picked the area for use as a refugee camp. Today Kakuma has 120,000 refugees. The largest group at Kakuma are Sudanese who are fleeing the civil war in Sudan between the Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional African religions predominate. Other groups include Somalis displaced by conflict among clan warlords, as well as Ethiopians and Eritreans driven from their homes by struggles over independence, ideology and border conflicts. There are also Ugandans trying to protect their sons from abduction as child soldiers and their daughters as sex slaves by the Lord’s Resistance Army, an apocalyptic movement based on bizarre interpretations of Christianity and African traditions. Congolese and Burundians have been driven to Kakuma by genocide, ethnic conflict and ongoing civil and interstate war linked with exploitation of natural resources.

The reality that “a refugee is also human” teaches us to see the realities of conflict with greater sensitivity to the full range of human suffering from war. Thus, these refugees can teach us about our duty to find Alternatives to Violence. It is for these reasons that AGLI is introducing Alternatives to Violence (AVP) in the camp. “As a church we have faced religious intolerance with support from Friends United Meeting and now the AVP program which has brought about dedication to peace. With refugees from all sides of the conflicts represented in the training it shows that peace is achievable if the relevant actors can find the will and safe space to talk about peacebuilding through finding alternative ways to violence” Ettiene Paul, Friends church pastor and a student at friends theological college Kaimosi.

 Starting with two basic AVP workshops with 20 participants each we reached 40 participants then proceeded to one advanced AVP workshop including the 20 best participants of the basic workshops. Next we conducted training for facilitators for 15 of the participants who have finished the advanced workshop, followed by three apprentice AVP workshops with 5 new facilitators in each, mentored by a lead facilitators; thus reaching 60 participants.

Kakuma report

Participants in an AVP workshop session, sitting in a circle, demonstrate the

philosophy that the facilitators and participants are all learners and all teachers.


AVP is a multi- cultural volunteer organization dedicated to reducing interpersonal violence in the society. The basic training presents conflict management skills that can enable individuals to build successful interpersonal interactions, gain insight into them and find new and positive approaches to their lives. “There are cases of women from different nationalities fighting every morning when fetching water that is rationed for one hour and  interpersonal conflict that is experienced once in two weeks when refugees collect their food rations. This has brought animosity, anger and revenge among different nationalities. This training indeed has transformed me as a woman and all women that have learnt alternatives ways to violence should be role models for real change to be experienced in this camp.” Debora Hamani from Congo

The AVP program offers experiential workshops that empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation and trust. When we recognize the goodness of the human spirit in all of us, we strengthen our confidence in that spirit. “We’ve gone to a lot of peacebuilding trainings in the camp but the uniqueness of AVP and how it recognizes the good in everyone, give us new insight on our negative judgment and perception of labeling others as more violent and forgetting to see the violence in us. I have learnt to be safe and peaceful here because violence displaced me from my home country.” Ecibe W’ecibe Tshi-Tshi from Congo

When an exercise reveals aspects of cooperation in solving a group problem, participants realize how important it is to put their differences and prejudice aside and the building a new society exercise showed how the attitudes and choices made by one society can affect the well-being of another society, and how this applies to individuals as members of families, groups, communities and nations. “We are all refugees. We came to Kenya from our countries because of many problem.,Creating new problems here will hurt us more. We need each other and our tolerance. Cooperation from this broken square exercise means we can make this camp a haven as we pray for peace in our mother countries” Timas  Ibrahim Hamdan from Sudan

Participants listening and sharing their problems in small groups


 Just listening to a traumatized person enlarges understanding of the problems of others and how to give help in solving them. Participants and facilitators had to experience what their own problem looks like seen through the eye of others and share with the group to experience the wisdom of the group aiding with each person’s problem. “Participants shared how different this training was from other peacebuilding trainings they  have done, in the safety and confidentiality of my group, participants opened  up and I was surprised how  this training was sensitive in handling the group needs, and as facilitator I feel trauma trainings should also be incorporated.” Eunice Okwemba.

When you seek to solve a problem rather than attack a person, you focus on the behaviour and the feeling that this behavior arouses. Using “I” messages to express feelings that surround a problem can be a means of transforming a conflict situation by arousing empathy in the other party. “A lot of violence experienced in this camp arises just because of small miscommunication which then erupts to bigger conflict. Yesterday after I learnt about the “I” message, I met my neighbor who is Sudanese. We had had a fight over water after she attacked my daughter, and I had sworn never to forgive or talk to her. By just expressing how I felt using “I” messages and the desire to forgive, she apologized and to me that was like a miracle. We all need this training” Julita Msafiri. Participants hearing a conflict I resolved nonviolently made the group aware that this is something that we already do, proving beyond any reasonable doubt that we have the power to transform.

            During the brainstorm of what are the root causes of violence, participants shared many challenges facing the international community today but few, in their mind, were more pressing than those of finding humanitarian solutions to their problems. They talked of regional conflicts, of economic and social crises, of political instability, of abuses of human rights, of racism, religious intolerance, inequalities between rich and poor, hunger, over-population, and under-development. Each and every one of these impediments to humanity’s pursuit of well-being is also among the root causes of refugee problems. And one thing that was not mentioned, and was evident, was the pain in the eyes of the refugees. “After running from home, I went to Nairobi then was transferred to Kakuma Refugee Camp.  On arrival life was not that easy, despite very harsh living conditions and the trauma of what I went through, it has never been easy to deal with my emotional pain in this camp for 3 years, because my perpetrators are still alive. It’s only in this training that I was given a safe space to share my story. Little did I know by sharing my story and participants being there for me, I felt to have started my journey of healing. It is in AVP that I leant how the methodology used in this training was extremely important in resolving a conflict or avoiding a conflict that might come about from a misunderstanding.” Abraham Dulacha Kule from Ethiopia.

I have carried that heavy heart with me since war started in my country. I was young, when it started,                     and am now in a Refugee Camp in Kenya with scars of that war; my heart  has broken totally,

 Friends Church Kakuma has played a very important role and is being a pillar of peace working in the refugee camp – invited by all nationalities in the camp. While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common courage; the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.




A newly trained facilitator, Henry Munyaka, preparing

the agenda of day two in the apprentice workshop


Recommendations and challenges

“The challenge of ending Refugee camps in the Horn of Africa is inseparable from the challenge of establishing and maintaining peace through trainings like AVP, HROC and mediation. The desire of Friends Church Peace Teams is to continue with these trainings. We believe that when war’s end, farmers return to their fields; children return to school; violence against women declines; trade and economic activity resume; medical and other services become more accessible, and the international focus changes from relief to development and self-sufficiency, we will have already started the journey to transformation.” Peter Serete, AVP Lead facilitator

            Our next step will be to send back one or two of our experienced facilitators to mentor the fourteen newly trained facilitators in Kakuma 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 Communities (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 extraordinarily bumpy ride and heat, our three facilitators are all willing to go back to the Kakuma refugee camp. Plans are already underway for workshops with the Ethiopian refugee community starting on November 25.



#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 (fpif.org/)

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 dave@aglifpt.org.

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 arrax@me.com or Adrian Bishop at aadrianfpt@gmail.com 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 www.ips-dc.org/50th.

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.

#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.

#242 — Abortion in Kenya –August 30, 2013

This past week a report was released on abortion in Kenya. It reported an amazingly high number of estimated abortions — 465,000. Compare this with the US, which has a population eight times that of Kenya, and had 784,507 abortions in 2009. I really have no idea how the researchers arrived at this estimate since abortion is illegal in Kenya except to save the life of the mother. There are only a few legal abortions in the country so the vast majority — frequently done by extremely crude methods — are illegal. For the last ten years there have been around 1.3 million births per year so the percentage of pregnancies that terminated in abortion is about 35.7%. This is more than twice as high as in the United States (16.4%).

One obvious reason for this high rate of abortion is that family planning methods are not always available. Two-thirds of those receiving abortions are married and did not properly use family planning methods. Part of the reason for this is that, since around 1990, resources have been going to contain and fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sometimes at the expense of family planning – both financially and in awareness. Moreover education and information about family planning is scarce. Recently a TV commercial on the use of condoms was pulled from the airwaves after objections from the religious community.

But what is really shocking is that 25.8% of the abortions are botched so that 120,000 women are treated for this in hospitals and clinics per year. It is possible that the actual number of abortions is much higher as this would then account for the large number of women needing care after a botched abortion. Moreover over 2,000 of these women (more than 1.7% of those admitted to hospitals and clinics) die from botched abortions, making this one of the leading causes of maternal death in the country. A high percentage of these botched abortions and deaths involve women under 20 years of age. These 2,000 deaths per year are greater than the number of people killed in the 2008 post-election violence.

There have been calls to legalize abortion – particularly in the cases of rape, incest, and child defilement (the Daily Nation today had a report of a 14 year old girl who had triplets). The religious community is vehemently opposed to this. Moreover, as one writer to the Daily Nation noted, Kenyan hospitals and clinics are already under-staffed, under-funded without adequate beds and medicine, and therefore unable to cope with an additional influx of about half a million abortions per year.

This leads to a philosophical question. The high number of abortions means that more than 2% of all females and perhaps 5% of the women of child bearing age have an abortion in any one year. Clearly over their child bearing years, a high percentage of the women have had one or more abortions. Should a country, then, outlaw something that is so prevalent and deadly? Those who are most opposed to abortion are those most opposed to family planning and sex education, particularly for youth. I would think that both sides could unite on family planning goals which would lead to fewer abortions, complications from abortions, and maternal deaths. I don’t know if this will happen.

#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.

#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.”

#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.