Kenya in Flames

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© Iain Douglas-Hamilton – singing the national anthem in Naivasha at a peace meeting

We are utterly shocked by what has been happening especially in Naivasha where we have our farm.  Everything that we love is under threat and people have been slain in the most brutally savage way.  We never thought something like this could happen here, but it has.  The Nairobi slums have been vomited into our faces and all of a sudden we are meeting, dealing, talking, crying with people we would never have otherwise met.  Cars spin in panic and roar down the wrong side of roads at the slightest sign of disturbance.  Desperate emails and SMS circulate calling for help.  We do what we can.  Tourism has crashed, and flower and vegetable exports remain shaky as many farms have been blockaded, roads barricaded and neither workers able to get in nor produce out.  Over 1000 people have been killed, a quarter of a million displaced, and another half million could be jobless in the next few days if the violence continues.  It is sheer madness.

The only thing that keeps us sane and soothes the vertiginous pain in our hearts is to be involved, up to our necks, in trying to make things better.  My family have joined an extraordinary group of people, Concerned Citizens for Peace (CCP), led by an indefatigable, silver haired Ambassador, Bethwel Kiplagat, and three retired Generals.  Members of CCP work at every level to restore peace and justice to the land, from the slums of Kibera, Korogocho and Mathare, amidst the violent convulsions of the Rift Valley, to whispering in the ear of Kofi Annan.  There are new members joining every day, and it is peace initiatives like these that are holding the fabric of the country together.

Our personal efforts through CCP are focused on peace and reconciliation in a healing initiative through flowers.  With the help of scores of volunteers and truckloads of flowers from besieged flower farms we’ve built a monument of white roses – in memory of the dead, raped, displaced and wounded – displayed with thousands of other flowers, at Freedom Corner, Uhuru Park, where citizens can come to cry, mourn, pray, call for peace and justice, or simply pay their respects.  We had to jump through hoops to get it, begging permission personally from the Minister of Internal Security himself and the Commissioner of Police, but now that it’s up the response has been incredible.

Twenty women representing the ethnic, political and social diversity of our country launched the event by laying bouquets of flowers and calling for peace, reconciliation, and an immediate end to the killing.  Amongst them were Olympic marathon champion Tecla Lorupo, peace activist Dekha Ibrahim, Yvonne Owuor (winner of the Caine prize for literature), members of the Ishmaili community, and Jane Kiano and Rukia Subow of the largest women’s group in Kenya, Maendeleo ya Wanawake.

The area was heavily guarded by gun wielding riot police to each of whom the women handed out roses of peace.  After a moment of uncertainty, the men began to approach the monument one by one to lay a flower and pay their respects.   It was a brave, potent message, a brief respite from the onslaught of blood and guts in the media.  Many people have come forward to show their solidarity with the women, including 20 Government MPs.  The flower monument stood until Valentine’s day during which time hundreds of people in Nairobi came to lay flowers.

Flowers for peace is a novel concept for many Kenyans but it seems to have struck a real chord and opened up a window for reflection, sorrow and grief.  Some people break down in tears or fall to the ground in front of the monument, the horrors that they have seen pouring out of their souls.  The soft fragility of flowers symobilise all that was and that could be again.  Never before have the words peace, justice, truth, reconciliation and healing meant so much to me.  But then again, I never thought I’d hear of my own countrymen pulling each other from matatus and hacking each other to pieces on our doorstep.  Neither have women or children been safe.  The savagery has beggared belief.

Some members of the more affluent communities have hunkered down waiting for it to blow over.  I understand their fear of the dark void but I am shocked by their complacency.  After all that was learnt in Europe how is it possible to sit by and watch?  I always think of that line ‘… and then they came for me, and there was nobody left to speak out for of me”.

With the south side of lake Naivasha in flames, and hundreds of Luo fleeing into flower farms for protection, we joined the chief of our local village, Kasarani, in a peace meeting for the 6000 residents.  That same morning hate leaflets had been found strewn around this ethnically diverse community.  People were very scared and there was an incredible turnout of over 1000 adults.  On a small stage with a creaky megaphone elders from every community stood up to plead for peace, level heads, courage and solidarity.  Then it was my mother and my turn.  We made everyone join hands as we do at the start and end of each CCP meeting to sing the national anthem, which they roared out with one voice “oh God of all creation, bless this our land and nation, justice be our shield and defender, may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty, plenty be found within our borders“.

Since the new year and the start of the trouble we have taken refugees on to our farm from both sides of the fighting between Western and Central tribes.  Those most in danger have been flown out to safety.  Our farm is a small quiet sanctuary of peace.  The determination of the community to keep peace, so evident at the meeting in Kasarani, has given us all strength and courage.  We know that we stand united against those who incite violence and hatred.  To beef up local security the Chief has placed sentries on every hilltop to give early warning of unknown vehicles or intruding gangs of young men, and along with us other local farmers are funding the effort.  We  have come to believe strongly that successful peace keeping is merely a matter of who gets there first – the agitators or the peace keepers.  We continue recruiting to the peace effort as fast as we can.  It is the only way forward.   This is the time to stand up and be counted.

Yesterday I came up to Samburu Reserve on a 10 day shoot with the BBC.  With our economy imploding any work is a blessing, but I feel torn in two.  Up here it is completely peaceful, the Park beautiful beyond belief yet totally empty of tourists.  Normally I would celebrate having it all to ourselves but this is at such cost.  And in truth my heart and mind are in the south amongst my comrades in the peace effort.  Without tourist dollars our wildlife will soon be under threat.  We need everyone who loves Kenya to start coming back here as soon as possible.

Love and support from friends means the world.  Please keep thinking of us.  We value friendship more than ever.  May N’gai shower blessings on you and hide you from your enemies like the stars in the daytime!  Shomo na N’gai! (Go with God)

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