- Does this suggest a path for Tricorner Peace Council, AVP (& somatic peacemaking)?
- To view Getry Agizah's story, please click "Read More," then, if you too are moved, "Add Comment."
AGLI Report from Kenya #295 – September 5, 2014
"Fear Not for I, the Lord, Am with You."
A Visit to Meet the Sabaot Land Defense Force in Chepkurkur, Mt Elgon
A Report by Getry Agizah, Coordinator, Friends Church Peace Teams
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Comment and Background [by David Zarembka, editor, AGLI Report]: With all the gruesome violence in the world such as in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, and so many other places, one wishes that somehow a magic wand could end the conflicts and restore normal, healthy human relationships. Here is Getry Agizah’s report on doing just this on Mt Elgon [Kenya]. Although it never made much news even in Kenya, somewhere between 600 to 1000 people were killed and 100,000 displaced by the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF) out of a population in Mt Elgon district of only 150,000 people. The violent conflict began in 2006 as one clan of the Sabaots claimed that they were not appropriately given land in their homeland which was given to another clan. But the politically-based violence soon turned into mindless banditry and barbarity. Finally in 2008, the Kenyan army arrived and killed the leader of the SLDF, many of his supporters together with many innocent young men. Others disappeared or were tortured. A lawyer who was handling cases of those who were tortured was assassinated about a year ago.
AGLI began working on Mt Elgon in 2008, beginning tentatively with Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops. In preparation for the 2013 election Friends Church Peace Teams with AGLI support conducted large numbers of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), HROC, and mediation workshops in those communities most affected by the violence. Recently we purchase a plot of land and started building a peace center right in the middle of the most disputed section of Mt Elgon. Even though it is only now a foundation and a foot or so of wall, we began using it for a series of HROC workshops, which Ms. Getry mentions below.
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Since the start of my Peace Ministry and my work on Mt Elgon, I have desired for this moment — to meet the leaders of the militia group called Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF). Everybody including the government says that SLDF committed a lot of massacres on Mt Elgon during the land clashes in the area. These clashes have gone on years and years [the initial conflict began shortly after independence and has never been resolved – DZ] and justice has been a long journey for the residents of Mt Elgon. I remember one time a participant, Emmanuel, in our trauma healing workshops (HROC) confessed to having worked with SLDF. Out of curiosity, I asked him, how can we meet the whole group or even the leaders? Emanuel answered, “Hey, madam, don’t even think about that — the leaders are unapproachable people. Very hostile and the worst thing is you are a woman. I don’t want to be responsible for your death.” From Emanuel, I kept on trying to deal with the fear of who are these people that can’t meet human beings for peace. As time has gone by, I tried to gain courage and try my luck.
At the four HROC workshops we did recently, we were able to get six members of SLDF, who really wanted to be part of what we do in the community, to attend. “The thought of some people to come up with a peace center made them feel that there is God everywhere,” said one of the members, by the name Kirwa. Just as we were finalizing the training, a Kikuyu business man was assassinated, and there followed an announcement on KBC [Kenya Broadcasting Company] radio saying that SLDF is re-grouping. This triggered our participants and their leaders from SLDF to rise up and speak. And that is how I found myself in the trusting shell of the SLDF leaders in a closed door meeting. With me I had two colleagues, Erastus Chesondi and Peter Serete. As a woman I thought, “OK, at least I am safe being in the middle of these two men.” I trusted that I was safe. This is the reason why I was moved to attend the meeting. We prepared for the meeting on the Wednesday, 27th August 2014. I was not sure what to expect, but shivers of fear occurred on my body as we approached the date. We left our houses so early to embark on the journey to Mt Elgon. The meeting started at 9:00 AM. We were all strangers to each other — we could not afford to pray. There was deep tension from both us and the 13 members of SLDF. Also in attendance were two chiefs and three village elders. Finally the moment came and we all assembled in a class room. Erastus being from Mt Elgon community, requested to be excused and he was open that he was shivering from fear of the top five men who were the leaders of SLDF. [This is realistic as since he was a member of the community, he could easily be targeted by either side in the conflict. – DZ] Peter and I, not knowing the difference, began our meeting. A harsh voice came from Stephen who is the chairman of SLDF and shocked us with what he said. He asked the two chiefs and three village elders to leave the room and they would be called if needed. One of the chiefs tried to explain their presence and how important it was, but the SLDF members were adamant and so there was no option. Peter said, “Weeeeee!! Getry, this is becoming dangerous. The people outside will think we are taking sides with this people. Why not concentrate and do our trainings with the community and let this group to God?” “My brother, lets trust in the process. I have faith that all will be well,” I said. We went straight to the question. I asked, “Who are we? And why are we here?” I could see fear in their eyes and their expression. I felt I was safer than they were. A sense of empathy arose in me with the need to understand what happened and what they really wished us to do for them. It took them a long pause to open up and talk.
Finally, Stephen, the leader, started by giving a history of how the SLDF was formed and what mandate they had, “It was started by a group of concerned citizens on the allocation of land and its fairness. They also felt it was their responsibility to act like vigilante and reduce theft and crime on Mt Elgon. But after they started, most of their members were killed by the army and robbery was still there. There was unfairness in the land allocation and people lost their senses and did the crimes that they did. I cannot say that was the right response but, yes, people did bad things. Now the most upsetting thing is that crime happens and there is insecurity in the whole country. But if it happens in the Mt Elgon community, someone goes to the media to announce that SLDF is re-grouping,” he said. I asked a direct question, “Is it true SLDF is re-grouping?” Another member said, “Madam, I can’t lie to you. We are not re-grouping. My brother has been your student [participant in a HROC workshop – DZ] and, if you ask him, he meets with most of us. We are changed. Some of us have been sentenced for four years; others five years, and we have learnt our lesson. We really want to be happy in our community and that happiness is something we are looking for. You see we sent the chiefs out because, when it is announced [that SLDF was re-grouping – DZ], they know us. I am personally affected by the fear that another person might attack me. We don’t sleep in our houses because of fear.” As the discussion continued, they went on and on, each wanting to talk and Peter and I only managed to nod our heads and patiently listened.
Then they came to the second issue — they felt they wanted to be part of the work we do on Mt Elgon. They requested to be trained and learn how to live with peace. As they raised this request, there was desperation in the room. One of the members, called by nickname, Mojakwisha said, “My sister, we live in fear. We don’t know what spirits are after us. We are carrying big loads of pain and emotions in us. We need our community. We really want to be put together with them and start a life. Some of the SLDF came out of prison have not got any trainings — they don’t know what to expect. Some are hiding in Kitale and Eldoret [nearby towns at the bottom of Mt Elgon– DZ] — they are suffering and they need to come home. But they don’t know how to come.” Each wanted to talk and it was time for us to listen to them. They were the ones who called for the meeting. We did indeed listen to them. Some shared what they did and some were openly trembling, not sure if they really trusted us.
We sat for seven and half hours, listening to what they had to say. Finally they said they don’t trust the chiefs and elders. They claimed there is the group of brokers, who are an anti-SLDF committee And these brokers work with the administration. And since people don’t expect anything good from a member of SLDF, they believe the brokers.
We left the venue and travelled back home to prepare for another meeting that was born out of that first one, that is, to meet with the administration. The meeting was set for Thursday, the following day. We did share with the administration what we felt was of concern, and gave a suggestion of having an open dialogue and follow up with some workshops at community integration. As I travelled home that evening, at 10:00 PM, I received two text messages from Erastus. He wrote, (1) “Actually madam am just feeling happy, we have done a big deal, we have portrayed as a savior before SLDF.” and (2) “Allow me to call u a hero, lady! No man has risked to meet and share with SLDF commanders like Besige, Amin, Fandem, Mojakwisha whom you faced today. Glory!”
With this, it has opened up a chapter, and I believe we can never finish talking about peace. Peace is the food we eat, water we drink, sleep we need and a journey we make. A lot needs to be done and we need to try do it now when the need has been realized. Our work is the community’s needs and not our thought of what we assume they need. The Mt Elgon community needs us to walk with them.
[Editor's Note: The Mt. Elgon rebels now are going through the Alternatives to Violence Project workshop series!]
Please donate to AGLI’s programs by sending a check made out to “Friends Peace Teams/AGLI” to Friends Peace Teams, 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 (or go to our webpage) to donate by debit/credit card. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
Contacts: David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765*4098
Office in US: 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 USA 314/647*1287
Webpage: www.aglifpt.org Reports from Kenya: www.aglifpt.org/rfk/