Unsung Heroes of Kenya – by Mike Eldon

Focus: Kenya view.

I am not going to write about whether PNU or ODM, or both, are the bad guys. And I will not be analysing who won and who lost the election, or even how we should move forward from the sorry state in which we now find ourselves. No, I want to draw attention to the many great people who, at this worst of times, display the best of Kenya, the outstanding, thoughtful selfless best.

Not too long after the elections, on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself at a gathering of the newly formed Professionals and Business Forum for Peace at the Holiday Inn. Present were men and women of all ethnic backgrounds, mainly fairly young, who were determined to do more than merely observe and bemoan the unhappy national predicament. Here were people representing doctors and pharmacists, counsellors and nurses, marketing professionals and ICT specialists, architects and engineers. They were mobilising to help their beloved country at a time of great need.

As I sat among these healers, these builders, these people filled with boundless energy and not a little hope, I shared both their sadness and, simultaneously, the cheerfulness with which they brainstormed together on how best to engage. They filled each other with confidence and courage, and as a result felt empowered to go out and collectively make a difference.

I urged those assembled to reach out to the other groups who were already active in humanitarian, mediation or other constructive endeavours, to coordinate and synergise with them, and they willingly agreed. I was asked to be their envoy, and as a result I was invited to the next meeting of the Concerned Citizens for Peace. And here I found more caring, thoughtful people, more inspiration.

CCP, as they have come to be known, have been meeting at eight every morning. Started almost immediately after the election results, the initiators also came together to see what they could do to help with the emerging situation. The first came from a background of mediation and peace building, people like Ambassador Bethwell Kiplagat, Generals Sumbeywio and Opande, Dekha Inbrahim and George Wachira, but more and more people of goodwill gathered around them, swelling their ranks.

I was introduced to a whole new world I never knew existed, of specialists in conflict prevention and resolution, who’ve been working in the most turbulent parts of this and other countries. Many came together to grapple with the causes and consequences of the ethnic clashes; they know all about the ‘shifta’ crisis in North Eastern Province; and they have been on the ground in the various cross-border disputes too.

Indeed it is these earlier experiences that made them alert in the run up to the recent closely contested polls. With the ‘winner-take-all’ scenario, and with expectations so high on both sides of being that winner, the scene – for them – was set for unrest come January. They foresaw what many of us did not, and so little wonder they were one step ahead, leaping into action while others were still orienting themselves.

And the action didn’t just start yesterday. For instance some months ago they took a group of Kenyan journalists to Rwanda, to see for themselves the consequences of the hateful incitement coming from Radio Mille Collines. But now, all sorts of activists have found a constructive and empowering home among them.

They include priests and youth leaders who come from or venture forth each day into the hot spots of Kibera and elsewhere, doing what they can to calm the atmosphere; and volunteers who bring reports of what has been happening where the displaced persons have been gathering. They tell us of their needs, which in turn are matched with those who can help, whether from within the group or beyond.

There are trauma counsellors and life coaches; former MPs, development partners and private sector folk; university student representatives and women who want to bring other women together; the list goes on and on. One team, which had been formed some years ago to build possible long-term scenarios for Kenya, reassembled to propose a Citizens Agenda, now widely endorsed and widely distributed (including on-line at http://www.peaceinkenya.net/). Another engages in the challenge of bringing reconciliation and healing to the workplace and into our communities. And there are others too, every day more, all composed of the same breed of Kenyans (plus a South African here, a pair from DRC there), blind to anything but their noble missions.  

Each day those present update each other, strategise, and go forth to their respective assignments, whether back into the communities, up into the political mediation process or reaching out to others involved in the various dimensions of the crisis. 

And while the Concerned Citizens meet at one place, up the road the religious groups are meeting elsewhere, similarly anguishing and brainstorming over how best to help. Happily the various initiatives are not working independently. Each is being kept abreast of what the other is doing, seeing how they can support and strengthen those in other sectors. Now the spontaneously formed Professionals and Business Forum has become closely integrated with KEPSA, all of whose members, bodies like KAM and FKE and APSEA, have been adding their voices and their resources.

These are the Kenyans with whom I have been interacting for thirty years – bright, thoughtful and caring people; diverse in the extreme, but bound together by worthy common causes. We enjoy our diversity – frequently joke about it – and this current upheaval has done nothing to undermine it. I am not surprised, and I am deeply moved and inspired by them all.

But I do not wish to give the impression that I am seeing the world through rose tinted spectacles. As I write in praise of these largely unsung heroes (being sung about is not what they’re after, by the way!) it is not to deny everything else that is happening. It is indeed because the people I have been with are so troubled by the terrible things they have seen and heard that they come together as they do, seeking ways out of it all. Seeking peace and reconciliation, seeking relief for the needy, seeking truth and justice, and seeking a Kenya that is prosperous and secure.

Inevitably, they have to endure criticisms of all kinds: they’re not doing enough; they’re too slow; they’re just talkers; they’re doing the wrong things; they’re biased… But they’re used to that. They listen, they adjust where they feel the criticism has merit, but they also know that among the many great strengths we Kenyans possess, one of our prominent weaknesses is to undermine the actions and motives of good people, who are doing their best to bring others together and improve their lot.

For the cynical and untrusting, such human beings just don’t exist, certainly not in this republic. But let me assure you they do, and in large numbers.

Posted in Kenya. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Unsung Heroes of Kenya – by Mike Eldon”

  1. Bichii Says:

    “Here were people representing doctors and pharmacists, counsellors and nurses, marketing professionals and ICT specialists, architects and engineers.”.

    It is a whole year since those problems, Mike, but looking back at your essay, especially the professional composisiton of those folks you met, I can only say that it was natural for them to feel they way they did. I mean com e to think about it, who are they? Aren’t they the real owners of this country, and therefore the ones who would lose the most if things escalated?

  2. Mohamed Says:

    Not really, Bichii. In the Kenya of today (well, there’s not much of that left, anymore) if we look back, now, two years thence, we find that this increasingly misunderstood and resented ‘?middle? class’ (wherein non-blacks would share in offering something in terms of addressing the crisis that few others were able to) believed in something beyond humanity. They, too, dreamed about and mourned their Kenya and they have every right to. Indeed, they are the only ones who hold on to an overarching dream (however abstruse or led by dreamers from a consolidated foreign, colonial culture). There is no evidence that the youth and the activists of today have not accidentally stumbled on the symbols of that dream for their own new Kenya. Everyone is an agent of that colonial dream; everyone will be a European and everyone will be a liberated African all held together our history. There seems to be very little else on offer except a desert of new tribalism (rich versus poor) on the horizon.

    Some of the people Mike Eldon met may have simply been passing through (and, like those who have enriched themselves and have flats in Hong Kong, knew that they would not have to live with what we will have to, post- election or -revolution or whatever).

    Meanwhile the question that we’ll have to answer BEFORE the completion of any SUCCESSFUL revolution is “what is the Kenya that you lost and wish to recover?” and, if successive revolutions succeed, what will your place be in the pecking order of ‘new mau mau’, based on what criteria? I have not yet met an activist or revolutionary who does not think s/he is an expert at distinguishing between a comrade and a traitor, yet.

    May I push the envelope? The Kenyan dream whosever’s it is, is a mediocre one! It is not too early, now, to ask “why just Kenya, anyway? Why not… East Africa or even Black Africa?” Before the colonial day we dreamed of land, women and cattle, from coast to coast. Not of sunrises and sundowners which bind us to the need for some familiarity and consistency to playact if we intend to be anybody in the order of appearance.

    Not everyone’s dream about Kenya will be realised (if anyone’s) and, if the funding agencies have it their way, the only dream that will be realised, whether we turn left or right in 2012, is that of preparing the ground for further exploitation for the sake of an overarching dream that was dreamt by the likes of Karen Blixen and shall never be dreamt by even the third or fourth generation Kikuyu, Luhya, Masai, Luo or Muhindi, for that matter.

    While the disqualified ‘middle class’ has inherited the colonial heritage and will remain the default agency of exploitation after the revolution is won, the energy will not change overnight (refer to the S African experience). Only they will hold the same place in the pecking order until someone leads them not to the left or right but echoes unawares Kenyatta’s command: “About Turn!”.

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