By Getry Agizah, Coordinator, Friends Church Peace Teams
So far, as we ended this project, nine guns were surrendered
and we hope more will be handed in.
BACKGROUND OF THE REGION
Mt. Elgon is in the western part of Kenya and it is known by its favorable weather conditions which are ever green. It has all varieties and species of trees including bamboo which is normally eaten by the residents at the shooting stage and later used in building houses and making of baskets. The region is leading the western region in food production. Inhabitants of the region are Sabaots, who are the majority, the Bukusu and Dorobo/Okiek who are a clan of Sabaots that live in the forest just below the top of the mountain. There is only hardship there.
Mt .Elgon has experienced many conflicts since independence. These conflicts are based on tribe, land and politics. The worst conflict of all was one which took place in 2006-2008 and which began because of a land dispute at a settlement called Chepyuk scheme. This happened because the scheme was aimed to settle Dorobo, a community that lived high up on the mountain and their source of livelihood was feeding on honey, bush meat, and milk. The reason of wanting to settle them was to open room for the community to learn farming and educate their children. Since they were small in population, the government opened the door for other landless Sabaots in the region to share the land equally with the Dorobo.
There were many Sabaots who did not receive any land and who formed an armed militia group called Sabaots Land Defense Force (SLDF). This group was formed to fight for the rights of Sabaots, who were landless. But in reality they played a big role in destroying and killing. They did more harm than good and were merciless in the region. Many people were killed, other left being widows or orphans – estimates are 600 to 1000 killed in a population of 150,000. Another 100,000 were displaced and many were traumatized.
The Kenyan Police tried their best to calm the situation and protect the citizens, but the SLDF was big in numbers and had very destructive weapons. These pushed the government to bring in an army operation to Mt. Elgon. The operation was called “Okoa Maisha” (“save lives”). During the army operation, many people again were killed including innocent ones. Young girls were raped and it was damage done both by the army and SLDF. The army was able to defeat the SLDF and there came some light of calmness. It has been so difficult for people to stay together after the return. This is because the victims and perpetrators are all related or stay together in one scheme of land.
African Great Lakes Initiatives with financial support from the African Great Lakes Peace Trust in England in collaboration with Friends Church Peace Teams (FCPT) have done a recommendable work of peace building in the region. Through the project, people have been reached with programs like Alternatives to Violence (AVP), Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC), transformative mediation, non-violence for social change, and others. All of these have brought positive change within the community. Many people have begun moving towards forgiving each other and joining hands in daily activities in the community. This is because of the methodology used by AGLI and FCPT.
As the focus was mostly on the community, which needed healing, in two HROC workshops, we trained five members of SLDF and this gave the birth to the material of this report. It is said, “patience pays” -- as we worked on Mt Elgon, never had I thought that there will be a time that I can meet the SLDF leaders. When one of our facilitators, Erastus Chesondi, called me and told me that SLDF leaders are asking to have a meeting with me, I thought to myself, “What do they want from me? What have I done? Did I say something negative that would cost me my life?” I really tried to find out from Erustus they wanted, and all he could say was that it was just a meeting. The meeting took place and the report, Fear Not for I, the Lord, Am with You, can be read at Reports from Kenya at aglifpt.org/rfk/?p=315
Then we thought of implementing the recommendations from that meeting. One big request was community integration. The SLDF group said they lived in fear but wanted to work with the community in making Mt Elgon to be peaceful. The facilitators and I decided to roll out a plan on how to go about this. The SLDF leaders took the initiative in mobilizing the participants and picking a venue.
We planned for two major activities. One was to hold a community dialogue in each of the eight locations and have the administration, together with the ward representatives, attend a forum for the SLDF members to share an open apology with the community members that are invited. Then we planned on ten members from two locations that make a ward to be trained in a four-day training on trauma awareness. We experienced an overwhelming number of both SLDF and community members wanting to be trained.
Having the administration and the ward members with SLDF members was not easy in the first few dialogues. Very few people spoke and no one was sure of what to say. The main topic was insecurity. This was a big moment as the administration pleaded with the SLDF members to surrender their guns. It is clear to them that there were some who were arrested and handed in their gun, but still some have not surrendered their arms. The community shared their fears -- some people had already vacated their homes and are in hiding as they heard in the news that the SLDF is re-grouping. One of the SLDF members said, “Bwana Chief, we are living in fear. I am the spokesperson of SLDF, and we were very shocked to hear it announced that SLDF is re-grouping. Someone else is committing the atrocity [the recent assassination in the Mt. Elgon community of a Kikuyu businessman and his wife.].”
In all of the eight dialogues, one thing was spoken loudly -- fear in the perpetrators’ voice and eyes. Peter Serete, a facilitator, said, “I could see desperation. I felt like I have gone to visit people in prison. I saw a huge responsibility of helping these people deal with their fear.” As we shared around the table in our debriefing after the dialogues, Lucy Cherop, one of our facilitators from the Mt. Elgon community, had this to say, “I can’t believe my eyes! I am not sure if I can trust that easily. It is very difficult to believe if change is possible. I pray to meet with my perpetrator, if he is alive, to just see if he can recall raping me in 2006. I know him and I can remember him if I see him. I would have hated any man who has been in SLDF, but I chose to forgive. And wish to meet with this man.” She was grateful to have done several dialogues and it is helping her to heal. THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PEOPLE REACHED WAS APPROXIMATLY 630 IN THE 8 LOCATIONS.
We then planned to do four extended HROC basic workshops with SLDF participants from two locations. We added an extra day since the SLDF needed to have time to speak about their actions and emotions. Exercises from other programs were added to the usual agenda.
During these workshops, the topics covered were as follows:-
- Johari’s windows
- Understanding Violence
- Understanding Trauma
- Consequences and Symptoms of Trauma
- Who Am I
- Forgiveness and Reconciliation
- River Crossing
- Building a New Society
We rolled out to conduct one workshop in each ward. As we started the first session with an AVP exercise on adjective names, most of the SLDF leaders were having fictitious names and this brought fear in the community -- names like Amin, Murungaru, Killer, Besigyi, Gaddafi, Mojakwisha, Kaburi etc. As they repeated their new positive adjective names, they looked strange on their faces as if to say this is not happening.
In sharing about trauma, consequences and symptoms, most of the participants were surprised by the things they shared. One participant asked, “How could a killer, a murderer be having the same symptoms that the community member has? What people are sharing, most of us in the forest had the same symptoms?” This came as a surprise to one of the community members, who could not hold his mouth from speaking, “Heaven come Down!!!!!!!! I thought you SLDF people are not human; you don’t have a heart, if you can chose to chop someone’s ear. How can you suffer from trauma?” It got so emotional and lucky enough we have experienced facilitators who are very patient with the process. They have been awarded the wisdom that comes from above.
1. “I was involved in the abduction of people and whenever I meet people I feel guilty and I now realize it is trauma,” said one of the participants, Fredrick. He was sharing in the workshop session, but at one point just swallowed publicly and said, “Let me end there” and the group nodded. Nobody, especially the facilitators, really knew what he was going to share.
2. “I visited Kaptama and was suspected in theft until my pastor testified I no longer practice theft.” This came after the Johari’s window where the lesson is “things I know but others don’t know about me.” “Unless you tell people who you are they will not understand,” said Robert.
3. After the forgiveness exercise, one participant, Kirui, said, “After staying in the prison cell for three years, I came home expecting people to come and even say “pole” (“sorry”) but none did. Instead I was getting reports on what my wife was doing while I was away. I am trying to get rid of that and forgive my people. As I also want to be forgiven, since I did all the bad things, maybe that is why community never felt it worth telling me “sorry.” I feel heavy, but do I have an option? No, but just to ask for forgiveness. It is a heavy time in prison that I was in for the three years.”
4. “An army officer had planned for my health to be interfered with [i.e., tortured] while I was arrested and being interrogated but the commanding officer stepped in after saying how I was being hurt. After serving my term in prison, I came back home just to realize that the same army officer was our neighbor. When he saw me, he was shocked. After some time he approached me for forgiveness three times but I was rigid and unwilling to accept his offer but after this workshop and especially the anger and forgiveness exercise I’m ready to go back and offer him forgiveness,” said Alex, a participant.
5. “We lost one of the famous businessmen who was shot together with his wife. EVERY arm of government has so far blamed SLDF. Our government should investigate and bring the culprit to book. Now life is terrible here if one wants to buy anything and has 200 shillings ($1.75) it’s not easy to get change. Business has gone down and fear has caused others to close down -- it’s very sad,” said Nancy.
6. Caring Caro narrated to us how SLDF maimed her husband. She was ordered to hold her husband’s head as it was being chopped off. “I was in great pain seeing my husband die in my hands as I held his body. He did not die immediately -- his head, a few meters away, took time to die. I decided to engage myself in drinking and prostitution -- the memories are still fresh in my mind. Please help me. It will kill me,” recalled Caro.
7. Nice Nancy recalled how one of the participants raped her because her husband was away. “I felt like I should start a hotel and poison all the men who came to eat in there. I wondered how I can avenge the man who killed my 7-year-old boy and my husband and raped me. When the facilitator was talking about reconciliation and we shared on peace, justice, mercy and truth, I felt I needed to look at Jesus at Calvary. If we talk of justice, it’s a big price to pay. But my heart is thirsty for peace and peace is what I want. If any of the SLDF leaders can accept to help me get these two men, I want to give my heart a rest. I want to forgive, this is because of this training I have decided to forgive him.”
8. Sometimes women stand in tribulation because they are wives of the commandants. “Many families see me and they run away just because my husband was the SLDF leader. I see small children tease each other using my husband’s name to mean “the mafia,” and I feel guilty that I did not do enough to help my man transform.”
9. “I heard of the training and I have been in here for four days. On the last day you asked each one to give ten answers to the question ‘WHO AM I.’ As I wrote, I realized I had nine very bad qualities. In January 2007, one ear was chopped off and I felt that I am good, but other people are bad. This reflection has touched a nerve in my system. I know the person who did this to me -- he lives in this same center. I will have courage and at least start to greet him.” As we started the second workshop on the gathering question of “how did you know about this training?” One man stood and said, “A man who suffered under my humiliation came yesterday and greeted me. I want to also be injected with the same medicine you injected him.”
10. During our evening walk after the workshop, one SLDF commander told us that, when they were in the forest, beautiful ladies were taken to the forest to be their temporary wives. “I impregnated one lady and they have noticed that I am around so they want to talk with me. What should I do?” Lucky we have transformative mediation skills. We accepted to meet the father of the lady and the lady who came with her child. It was emotional, but they talked and have started the journey. At least to start with the commander accepted to take responsibility for the child.
11. Courageous Chesondi, one of our facilitators, was abducted during the clashes and the abductors thought he was dead. The truth was he was weak and breathing -- they threw him in a deep valley on top of dead bodies. He says, “My escape was just God. Today I am meeting [in the workshop] with this young man here -- he is my abductor. It is very sad that I was to see this day. I regret waking up this morning.” As the abductor was shocked and unable to utter a word, we tried to bring up a reason to talk and he shared being sent by Chesondi’s brother to kill him. We are all, as a facilitating team, working with Chesondi to go through this and meet his brother. As you heal, there are more wounds which always come up. And we have to live the talk.
- It is raining season and travelling to these places is not possible after the rains. After the first workshop, I had to walk for 5.5 hours down the slopes of Mt Elgon. “I chose to be sent by God, and I will continue his resolution.”
- Because the group was neglected for a long time, upon hearing the training they came in large numbers exceeding the expected 20.
- Illiteracy was also a challenge.
- Train the administrators.
- Reach other sensitive areas with this training.
- Public procession to the District Commissioner’s office.
- Train genders separately.
- A lot of the SLDF members, who are across the border in Uganda, are still a threat and, if reached, it will bring a big change.
I wish to thank all the contributors who supported this work. It is a hot seat but we have to sit on it and live by the testimony. My gratitude goes to the facilitators to have dared move from their comfort zone. When we shared, they said, “We have now started the work and a lot needs to be done.” Another group I can still vividly thank is the SLDF Friends. I asked them, “What is in a Name?” and they have taken a risk and trusted this process. So far, as we ended this project, nine guns were surrendered and we hope more will be handed in.
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/