Hope in Kibera vs. Serena Grandstanding

The International Crisis Group has outlined a number of recommendations on how to tackle the Kenyan crisis amid worrying reports that armed groups on both sides of the conflict are preparing to mobilise

Serious obstacles remain, however. Armed groups are still mobilising on both sides. ODM, which won a clear parliamentary plurality in December, has put on hold its calls for mass action and is using the talks to restore prestige it lost internationally in the violence. It is under pressure from its core constituencies, however, to demand nothing less than the presidency, and its supporters could easily renew violent confrontations if Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) coalition remains inflexible.

The Kibaki coalition is buying time to wear down both the opposition and the international community’s resolve. It benefits from the presidency’s extensive powers, including unlimited access to public resources. It insists the situation is under control and there is no power vacuum, tends to treat Annan’s mission as a side-show while sponsoring alternative reconciliation processes, seeks to have Kibaki’s election recognised by neighbouring countries and continues to resist genuine sharing of executive power.

Their recommendations include:

Three complementary sets of issues must be addressed to finalise a detailed power-sharing agreement. The first are the legal and constitutional reforms needed during the transition period, including a complete overhaul of the electoral framework. The second are the economic policies to be implemented during the transition. The third are the concrete details of the process to be followed to end the violence and to deal with the humanitarian crisis, including the institutional framework and timelines. The ODM and PNU do not control the local violence. There is a chance to restore state authority and prevent renewed major fighting only if local leaders understand that their grievances are being addressed and concrete measures are being rapidly implemented. Civil society and economic stakeholders should also be associated with the negotiations on institutional reforms and economic policy.

Annar Cassam, former Consultant at UNESCO/PEER Nairobi and former Director, UNESCO Office takes a hard-nosed look at the myth of Kenya as a model African state. He reminds us that Kenya is one of the most corrupt countries in the world headed by the very same corrupt elites who are presently frustrating Koffi Annan attempts to broker a power-sharing deal.

Sara Nics has just written an excellent article which allows us to hear the voices and enter the world of women affected by the uprising in Kibera. They recognize that the violence was not inter-tribal but based on more deep seated economic issues which continue to be over-looked by commentators on the crisis. In terms of peace initiatives, the hardest work is being done by women at grass-roots levels who completely embody the will and hopes of reconciliation for all Kenyans regardless of ethnicity. Nics’ report provides a ray of light.

Although the group is small and self-funded, Hamza and her partners work to curb conflicts across Kibera. Every week women bring reports from the slum’s 12 villages. They talk about people who are struggling, about a community’s conflicts and needs.

Together, the women come up with a plan to address those conflicts. Often pairs of women will go to where there is a disagreement and work with the residents to try to resolve the dispute.

Hamza says part of their work is informal community policing. She estimates there are only 150 police officers for all of Kibera. Many of those officers, she says, are corrupt. When an issue is very serious and can’t be resolved through peer mediation, members of the group will act as representatives for women, taking their concerns to the local district office or the chief.

Sometimes they petition for food or money for a family, Hamza says. If no money is available, they will reach into their own nearly-empty pockets to pool a few shillings for maize meal, sugar or cooking oil.

Over the years, many women have come to meetings of Interfaith Women for Peace and Development but most do not return. Hamza says because there are so many NGOs and aid agencies at work in Kibera, people often expect an organization to dole out money or goods. When most women hear that they are expected to give a few shillings to help other Kiberans, they do not come back to meetings.

Kenya’s poorest women are doing this in Kibera in the most abject conditions while the elite grandstand in the comfort of Nairobi’s Serena Hotel and let’s face facts, these men are not interested in doing anything to address the problems facing Kenya’s poorest nor are they capable of doing anything because they are part of the problem.

Since independence in 1963, the international donor community, led by the UK, has contributed some $16bn in aid. It is also under their watch that Kibera, so-called “the largest slum in Africa” has expanded and festered in the capital city where about 1.2mn people live without clean water and sanitation amenities, many of them without employment or adequate medical care. Vast amounts of Kenya’s arable land are owned by the three ruling families, namely, Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki. Half of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of 10% of the population.

However, I hold Kibaki responsible for all the deaths and displacements of Kenyans since the election. Kibaki, unlike Odinga, has offered absolutely nothing in the way of solutions to the problem other than to let loose Administration and GSU police on Kenyans and order Kenya’s displaced to go back to their burnt homesteads. I also hold him fully responsible for the glacial pace at which negotiations are taking place and for the latest stall. International pressure must be brought to bear on him for all of this.

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