Violence in parts of Kenya

The World

LM �where you are in Kisumu now, what could you see and hear?� EG �from our house we could hear what sounded like crowds of people demonstrating maybe two or three blocks away from us and we could also hear gunshots and maybe tear gas as a lower, thumping sound rather than the sound of a gunshot. People who did go to work today did talk about burning tires and roadblocks.� LM �What does Kisumu look like today and what does it usually look like? Give us an image of this major city in Kenya.� EG �Well Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya and it’s a place that’s growing and vibrant. Because of where it’s located all the way on the west of the country, we are within a two hour’s drive of both Uganda and Tanzania, and so it’s a center for the East African community and it’s a very vibrant community normally. The activities that happened on December 29th and 30th really changed the city completely. The whole downtown area, many of the shop windows were smashed and many of the shops were burned and looted.� LM �Can you tell us why Kisumu has become a focal point of the violence?� EG �on the political level, the dispute now is between Odinga and Kibaki, and Odinga’s whole town is here in Kisumu. This is the place where his base of support is, his family actually lives two or three doors away from where I live, I can see their gate from my dining room. So this is very much his hometown and that’s one reason this has been a focal point of the current crisis.� LM �to give us an idea of where the momentum is coming from for these protests, I wonder if you know personally anybody who has taken to the streets and why they have done it?� EG �I think in the beginning it was disaffected youth. In more recent days, there’s been much more discussion among the professional community as trying to reclaim these demonstrations as being the peaceful right to speech and demonstrate on behalf of a just cause. So I do know now many lawyers and clergypeople and businesspeople who are intending to be on the street to present a different face to the protests.� LM �so do people seem propelled by the lack of jobs or does this reach into tribalism which is what we’ve been hearing?� EG �it’s very easy to simplify conflicts in Africa to be ancient tribal hatred and that’s a way the West can somehow make it understandable and at the same time dismiss it. I would say that’s not happening here. I would say that tribalism is a very thin veneer over what is actually a very serious problem in Kenyan society over disparity between wealth and poverty and I think people think of Africa as being a poor place. But within Africa there is tremendous wealth and much of it ill-gotten and there is tremendous resentment for the way people have used access to power to accumulate wealth.� LM �do you mind if I ask where you’re from?� EG �yes, I’m from the Boston area.� LM �And you are working with the Quaker Friends United Meeting over there, so you are a Quaker and your children are going to school. In your and their daily activities, does the tribe of the Kenyans with whom you and they associate with matter?� EG �in life in Kisumu, no it doesn’t matter. I’m sure that Kenyans have ways of knowing and understanding these things that are much more deep and subtle than I could ever understand. I didn’t know the tribes of my children’s teachers until we found out who was hiding and running for their lives.� LM �what is it like to be a Quaker there, someone whose faith is non-violence and believes in nonviolence as a main tenant of their faith and be living in the city now that has been surrounded by violence?� EG �you have to understand that the largest concentration of Quakers in the world is right here in Western Kenya. The Luya tribe which are the ones in Western province just to the north of Kisumu, the majority of them are Quaker. On the other hand, we have to examine ourselves as a church and look at why acts of violence and looting and destruction are taking place even in so-called Quaker villages and also what are we called to do towards reconciliation.�

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