Nairobi — The latest entry in Kenyan Daudi Were's blog.
Thursday, January 3rd, 2008 at 9:11 AM
Like many Kenyans I watched with disbelief as my country slide into violence in the past week. One thing that shocked everyone was the speed at which things escalated.
If you had told anyone one week ago as they stood in those long lines to vote that just seven days later the country would reeling from being plunged into violence, supermarkets would be forced to shut and there would be long queues for basics such as bread, that by Monday you would be paying KSH 90.00 for a KSH 50.00 and KSH 330.00 for a KSH 250 Safaricom airtime card, that a church with mainly women and children would be burnt to the ground killing around 30, most people would have thought you were mad. But that is what happened.
So what are people doing? One important thing to repeat is that no one expected this and therefore, understandably, no one had a contingency plan in place for the country going up in flames. However, once the shock subsided, Kenyans swung into action.
The first response was humanitarian, getting food, clothing, blankets, medical professionals and medical supplies in. The humanitarian response comes first because if your house is on fire, you immediate priority is to stop it burning. Once you have stopped the fire then you can start examining whether it was petrol, diesel, a faulty gas cylinder etc that caused the fire. Right now we are still fighting the fire, literally and metaphorically.
The biggest challenge, apart from the usual logistical challenges of mounting such an operation, was the lack of safe passage into the area as the security situation deteriorated. As the government was nowhere to be seen, the humanitarian response revolved around identifying and talking to local Community Based Organisations (CBOs) on the ground in areas of violence and using their networks to reach those affected. CBOs are very important in situations like this because, they know many of those who are perpetrating the violence personally, they know where tensions are the highest, they know key people who can help reduce those tensions, and they have distribution channels through which supplied can pass. It has been heartening to see big international NGOs recognise and work with small CBOs on the ground.
However, there was one big problem, communication. The severe lack of mobile phone airtime vouchers meant that information could not flow up from the ground. Many of us in Nairobi and other urban areas were running around looking for airtime vouchers which we can send directly to another mobile phone enabling them to make calls and send txts. Another problem was that as these CBOs are, as the name suggests, embedded in their community, many of them were caught up in the violence and were displaced themselves. So for example, some people had airtime on their phones, but couldn’t charge their phone batteries. It has to be repeated again that the government’s response has been pathetic thus far (that is a separate post on its own).
After the humanitarian response to the crisis, there is now movement for a political solution. Whatever you think about the long term roots of the current situation, economic inequality, ethnic tensions or even perhaps that everyone has been possessed by “devils” we all need to recognise that what sparked this violence was a political crisis and that crisis is that we have what many Kenyans consider to be an illegitimate president. That is not a partisan statement, even members of Kibaki’s cabinet say that we simply do not know who won the election.
Yesterday I attended a strategy meeting of concerned citizens a group pulled together by Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat, George Wachira and former Armed Forces Generals Daniel Opande and Lazarus Sumbeiywo. This is a very powerful group, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and across religious lines. The aim now is to get Raila and Kibaki to sit down and talk to discuss ways to stop the violence and to discuss political solutions to this crisis.
The aim of this post is not to explore the issues around the issues but to highlight that there is a sophisticated and dedicated response to the crisis in our country. We ALL have to recognise that there are some long term issues here that will have to be dealt with to hopefully stop this from ever happening again.