Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
With an estimated 1,000 dead (some put the figure at 2,000) and 600,000 displaced, as well as 12,000 refugees in Uganda, the social map of Kenya is changing. The losses and changes in relations between people are deep. But there is also a process of peace initiatives being steadily built from below. According to Wangui Mbatia, co-ordinator of the Kenyan Network of NGOs
(Kengo) and the People’s Parliament (Bunge La Mwananchi), a grass-roots debating and action network: ‘People themselves are trying to intervene – it can’t come from above. A number of
people are doing small, good things for each other. Kenyans are helping themselves.’
‘The Kenyan people are not fighting actively as before – tensions are lower,’ Mbatia continues. ‘It is very difficult to get Kenyans into a state of civil war; the mediation talks have allowed for the situation to calm down. Despite the political class having hijacked the issue, constitutional reform is back on the table. The capacity shown by the Kenyan people to assist each other has been inspiring. We are still able to talk between and across communities. In certain arenas we are still in a sense able to go beyond their differences.’
The People’s Parliament has been organising all over Kenya, including the flashpoint towns of Nakuru and Eldoret. Its non- partisan approach has given it an advantage over bigger NGOs, which have often been compromised by their support for either one of the candidates.
Salim Mbua, the director of Foymasa (Swahili for ‘forum for real change’), is working on bringing about rapprochement between clashing tribes. Based in Nakuru, where thousands of people are living in the town’s stadium and a curfew is enforced from dusk till dawn, he and 30 others from various tribal backgrounds have been holding education and peace-building seminars. ‘Each organiser goes to his or her own tribe and talks to them; this way we reach everybody,’ he explains. ‘Foymassa has been focusing recently on meeting with elders. We are trying to do this so that they talk to their children and ask them not to fight.’
Nakuru is a cosmopolitan town, with some 40 different tribes, many of which have come into conflict with the dominant Kikuyu. According to Mbua, ‘There have been incidences of ethnic cleansing. The reason is that people believe there has been an unfair allocation of resources, but this is not true. It has been occasioned by the negative campaigns, we think, by politicians.’ He says the most urgent needs are to support peace-building efforts from below and to bring those who have committed crimes to justice, whatever their backgrounds.
Similar efforts are being made in Nairobi. Geoffrey Osiba, programme co-ordinator at Kengo, explains: ‘We’ve been going into some of the areas where there has been conflict and arguing on that which people have in common; that there’s no good in fighting, and it will not add anything to their life whether it is Kibaki or Odinga – it’s up to them in their villages, in their homes, to come together; that we need each other more than we need these leaders.’ He concedes, however, that the interventions need to come from the top too. ‘If people unite at the top and set an example, then people on the ground will follow.’
Land and freedom
The issues of ancestral lands, the plight of squatters and colonial mono-crop occupation have come to the fore in Kenya’s post-election conflict, as some groups find themselves displaced for the third time in a century. Kengo is formulating proposals for a truth and reconciliation commission and submitting a document on constitutional reform to the United Nations. Knowing who really won the elections is a fundamental point of departure.
Determining the starting point for addressing restitution has proved
problematic. ‘Do we begin with 2007, or 1992 or 1963?’ asks Wangui Mbatia. ‘Any discussion about land in Kenya must also be a discussion about the British interest in Kenya. The land problem is getting bigger and now it’s not just between African Kenyans but between the descendents of the settlers as well.’
According to Geoffrey Osiba, one family alone – the Kenyattas – owns a third of all Kenyan land. The occupation of land by tea plantations such as those supplying the Unilever group of companies and fruit plantations supplying the likes of Delmonte are coming under popular scrutiny. ‘There is one camp of displaced people right next to the Brooke Bond tea plantation in the Rift Valley. People there are deeply questioning the roots of their displacement,’ says Osiba.
Between Nairobi, Naivasha and Nakuru, faith in a human capacity for regeneration and co-operation remains strong. The spaces where people come together on terms not set by parties or sectarian agendas or temporary partitions are the spaces of hope, with the workplace as a key site
for interaction between people from different backgrounds.
‘If people are working together, if we can agree to co-exist together, then that will influence the negotiation process. If the process goes well, I don’t see why we cannot live together,’ says Osiba. ‘We are working together in the same schools, the same offices, the same workplaces. Damage has been done but we can heal it.’
Kenya’s People’s Parliament is fundraising for a peace caravan and documentary initiative. Contact Kengo at infokengo[at]mail.com to offer support
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny