Friday, February 29, 2008

Voices: shattered by a bullet

Judy Waguma of African Woman and Child Feature Service went into some of the roughest and poorest areas of Kibera last week. She brought back this story of a woman who was shot by a stray bullet during the post-election violence.

Shattered by a bullet

The road leading to Mashimoni village in Kibera is long and rough. Sewers stream like small rivers under handmade wooden bridges.

Pamela Aoko Ndhiwa has lived here for the last three years. She seems oblivious to the the sewage just inches from her plastic sandals as she crosses the small bridges leading to her house.

Ndhiwa walks slowly along the winding route home. She passes dark bars where, at mid-morning, men are deep in discussion over a local brew called busaa. Children are playing in the footpaths. Women are washing clothes, cleaning houses and plaiting one another's hair.

Ndhiwa does not talk much. Her hands are shoved into the pockets of her grey sweater. Every few meters, she stops to catch her breath.

Her home is one of several mud houses facing each other across a hard-packed footpath. Ndhiwa and her three children live in this single-room mud house. There is one bed, three stools and a small area for cooking.

Ndhiwa has been married and separated. Two of the children she is raising are her own. The third was orphaned when Ndhiwa's brother died.

Ndhiwa says all three of her siblings have died. She says she does not know whether they died of HIV/AIDS or its related infections. At the age of 21, she is the only person left to take care of her family.

"Despite everything, I have managed to look after my children and family well and take the kids to school," she says.

Ndhiwa was born and raised in Homabay. She says when she was a child she wanted to be a nurse but dropped out of school in standard eight. Her parents could not afford to pay her secondary fee education.

"I met my husband almost at the same time I dropped out of school. We then got married and he brought me to leave with him in Nairobi where he worked as a mechanic," she says.

She conceived her last child after being married for two years. Ndhiwa says after her youngest child was born, both she and the baby got sick.

"My baby would get sick frequently, but I brushed it off as a common ailment for babies and that she we will get better," says Ndhiwa.

She says that her husband was involved with a woman whose health she questioned. When Ndhiwa's illness persisted, she decided to get testes for HIV/AIDS.

"The results came positive," she says. "I could not believe it. I went home and pretended that things were fine. My CD4 count was 200 at the time."

That count measures immune system activity. A low CD4 count indicates a depressed immune system. Ndhiwa says she ignored the test results until her health worsened. Then she went back to Medecins Sans Frontiers, a medical aid agency in Kibera, where her HIV-positive status was again confirmed.

"My CD4 count had then dropped to 90 and they had to put me on [anti retroviral drugs]," she says.

After counseling and nutrition training from Medecins Sans Frontiers she says was able to come to terms with her status. She resolved to try to live a long and healthy life so that she could care for her children.
During this time, she says, her husband disappeared. She has not seen or heard from him since.

In her determination to make things work, Ndhiwa started a small shop where she sells various drugs. She also sells fingerlings on the side to support her family.  She says business was going well until the post-election violence erupted. Her small shop was looted and claimed by rowdy youths in Kibera.

Facing the loss of her livelihood, Ndhiwa's life was endangered on the 31st of January, when a stray bullet hit her left breast.

"I must admit that God loves me, because the bullet missed hitting my baby's head by a whisker, as I was holding her in my arms," she says.

The shot came at about eight o'clock in the morning when, she says, "I was seated in the house holding my baby in the arms thinking of what I would do for the children this new year."

Ndhiwa could hear fighting and gunshots outside her house. She was cuddling the one-year old baby when suddenly she felt something hit her hard. The next thing she remembers she was lying on the floor.

"I had no clue what it was. But I saw blood oozing out of my chest. I got more frightened when I heard people rushing to my house and making a lot of noise. On seeing me lying on the floor they started screaming that I had been shot."

Ndhiwa says she lay on her floor for close to 30 minutes. Her neighbors called for police to take her to the hospital.

She says that when they got to Kenyatta hospital at around nine in the morning, she waited for hours in the casualty department before being attended to.

"I was in so much pain. I sat there from nine in the morning to midnight, when a nurse sympathized with me and took me to the ward."

For three days, Ndhiwa stayed at the hospital without treatment.

"No doctors were attending to me," she says.

She says that there was serious discrimination in the hospital because she is Luo.

"I could hear some nurses saying that I was shot when I had gone to collect stones for my husband," she says.

Lady Luck shone on Ndhiwa when a doctor sympathized with her and looked at her case.

"He wondered why I still had the bullet lodged in my body," she says.

There were many patients at the hospital, Ndhiwa says. She was told that she could not go to an operating theatre since it was busy. The doctor took her to a different ward and covered her eyes with a piece of cloth. He gave her an injection and removed the bullet without general anesthetic.

Tears roll down her cheeks as Ndhiwa remembers the surgery. During the procedure she removed the cloth from her eyes. She winces as she talks about the agony she went through.

"I was in so much pain. It was unbearable, I could not even scream," she says. "I cried slowly, biting hard on my lips. He gave me more injections several times and continued to remove the bullet until it was fully out. All this time I could see everything he was doing."

The bullet was successfully removed. The hospital bill was ksh 6035. Ndhiwa says she could not afford to pay since she had lost her business.

Ndhiwa and the doctors agreed that she would pay installments of ksh 500 until her debt is paid off. But still, she has not fully recovered from the wound and the surgery.

"My health is not good. Now with the bullet wound, I cannot work as hard as I used to. I get weak all the time."

From being a strong and hard working woman, Ndhiwa is now forced to beg for food. She is relying on her neighbors to take care of her children.

Despite her struggles, Ndhiwa considers it a blessings to be alive. She knows she could easily have become one of the 1000 or more Kenyans who have been killed since Kenya's disputed presidential election.  -Judy Waguma

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interfaith women for peace

Before the elections, I spent a day with a group of women from Kibera who are working toward peace in the slum.

The article about Interfaith Women for Peace and Development was just published in the latest edition of Intercultures Magazine.

It's poignant to read the story from the other side of post-election turmoil. But Mama Hamza's message still rings true...

Women need peace. Their children need peace. Who is going to give a woman peace? Who will give a woman power? It is you, yourself, and your sisters.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Voices: living with HIV during conflict part II

Mediation talks are still going on here. It seems that the government and the opposition have agreed to create a Prime Ministerial post. How they will adjust the consitution to make that possible is not yet clear.

Fighting is still going on as well. A friend called from Kakamega last week to tell me the town was on fire again. There was no mention of it in the local press the next day. Local press give the ongoing violence only selective and marginal coverage. International press give no coverage to these flare-ups.

There are also growing threats of new widespread violence, as some people grow impatient with the pace of the mediation process. There are rumors that both government and opposition supporters are gearing up for more fighting.

There are Mayoral elections across Kenya today. The city councillors are the only people who cast ballots in that process. Kenyan colleagues say the results are unlikely to create any new unrest.

In the meantime, the African Woman and Child Feature Service staff is busy gathering voices of women and children who have been affected by the conflict. Here are more interviews that Joyce Chimbi did with HIV-positive women who have been displaced by the violence.

Ann Wairimu

Before the post-election violence, Ann Wairimu took for granted her easy access to anti-retroviral drugs.

On the 4th of January, Ann fled her house in Gatwekera, Kibera with no medication to keep her condition in check. She says nothing could have prepared her for how quickly her health has deteriorated.

"I don't know exactly when I contracted the HIV virus, but you know the kind of life we lead in the slum. Everyday is a struggle, trying to make a living in whichever way we can.

I have been on Septrin for some time and every day I have grown stronger. The usual opportunistic infections have been there but I have faced them with courage.

Since I fled my house, I haven't been able to eat well. With uncertain food provision, your health can't withstand the blow.

I have been experiencing frequent bouts of brief blackouts. I have been having a running stomach. The chest pains are unbearable and so are the constant headaches.

The sores around my mouth are too painful and even when there is food, it a task putting it in my mouth.

I still take my medication as is required but am beginning to have second thoughts.

Why should I worry about my health when my life is falling apart? Do I have a future in a country where I'm among thousands of internally displaced Kenyans?

As Kenyans continue to devour each other, I have lost all hope of redeeming myself. When you are HIV positive, this kind of constant worry counteracts all the gains made.

I haven't seen my husband since chaos erupted, and now my five children are looking at me as the symbol of hope.

Life for me has taken a very unfortunate turn. Before the results were announced, I used to cater for my household with the little money I made at my stall.

Now I can't even be a source of hope for myself and most importantly, my children, in these very trying times."

Wairimu says is now only hoping for is peace, and for people to embrace brotherhood.

Jane Nyamboka

Lying on the grass, her eyes welling up with unshed tears, Jane Nyamboka relives her life as a HIV-positive mother of three and as a displaced person in her own country.

Her fairly bearable life in Kibera was harshly disrupted on the 2nd of January, by an outbreak of violence in Kibera slums, where she has been living for the last six years.

The sorrow and desperation she feels is evident in her sunken eyes. As she talks about her experience, she is forced to pause as her chest heaves with a persistent cough.

"It is difficult to reconcile what my life was with what it has come to be.

When I tested HIV-positive in 2002, I knew it would only be a matter of days before I died. I started squandering the little money I had set aside for my business.

Why save money when my days on earth were to end soon? But the days passed, and the months, and now about five years later, I'm still alive and kicking.

After life handed me one of the most feared conditions, I realized that I didn't have to catalyze my death.

I started stocking up my hardware shop and taking my anti-retroviral drugs as was advised at Kenyatta Hospital, where I still check in.

My three children have been accessing quality education but all that has changed now. Since I fled my house, my health has nosedived.

I forgot my drugs in the house. With all the chaos and terror, it was the last thing on my mind.

For about three days, I didn't take any medication. Luckily, the International Medical Corps was very swift. They supplied us with the drugs we needed.

Normally, I take the medication twice a day. This is normally coupled with frequent eating so that I can be strong enough for the drugs.

In addition, I have to eat quality food. The uncertain quality of food provision at the camp has meted a hard blow on my health.

My skin is now covered by a very painful rash. Around my chest, there are tiny blisters which have made my life a nightmare. The persistent cough is now driving me to the edge.

This, I feel, will catalyze my situation from being HIV positive to having full-blown AIDS."

For Nyamboka and many other women in her condition, only peace would reassure them that life will go back to normal.

Hannah Wambui

Hannah Wambui goes into deep thought as she wonders where she will go when she leaves the Jamhuri grounds. She has sought refuge here for a month since the post-election violence erupted.

Wambui is 40 years old. She is a single mother of two children, who are both in their upper primary school. She also cares for three orphans whose parents succumbed to HIV/AIDS. With her dependants sitting around her, she ponders what life holds in store for all of them.

Everything that she owned was stolen and her house burnt to ashes in the Kianda village of Kibera during the violence. Like many other victims of the chaos that followed the December 2007 elections, Wambui saw her life change in a few moments.

"I have nowhere to go to since I virtually lost everything that I ever owned in my life," Wambui says.

On top of homelessness and poverty, Wambui is also managing and HIV/AIDS infection. She was diagnosed in 2003 and has been taking anti-retroviral drugs. She says the stress and disruptions of early 2008 have taken a toll on her health. She is emaciated and says she has developed several chest complications due to sleeping in the cold at the Jamhuri fairgrounds.

For over 15 years, Wambui and her family survived on rental income from a property she inherited from her mother. Wambui also owned a small shop where she sold dried grains.

Wambui says, although she has been ill on several occasions due to opportunistic infections, she always continued working to earn enough money to take care of herself and her children. 

She confesses that what is now killing her is not the fact that she is HIV positive, but stress from the worry over what the future holds for her family.

"Even if I take [anti-retroviral drugs], I am not able to take piece my life together and I am really worried about my children's future," says Wambui.

So far, her children have not returned to school for the new semester. Wambui says although schools have opened, they lack the basic supplies.

Although, she receives medicines from the International Medical Corps, Wambui says the challenge has been getting a decent meal to support the drugs.

She wonders at how she has been reduced to being a burden to the community, while she was used to caring for herself.

Wambui says she separated with her husband about six years ago because her husband was irresponsible. The only close relative is her sister who lives in the outskirts of Nairobi. Wambui says staying with her sister would only be a temporary solution, as her sister struggles daily to meet her own family's needs

With tearful eyes, Wambui says she hopes that calm will be restored, but she would be happier if even she had a roof over her head and capital to start any kind of business.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New report reviews post-election violence, looks ahead

If you are looking for a comprehensive overview of some of the worst that has happened in Kenya since the December 27th elections, the Oscar Foundation has released a report today that might interest you.

WARNING: There are some graphic images and stories in this report.
Download ethnicity_failed_democracy.pdf

The foundation runs free legal aid clinics here. Their paralegals have been gathering stories and documentation of some of the worst violence of the past two months.

The report's particular focus is on the failures of the government and police force to maintain the peace in Kenya. It also gives some good background on localized violence. The foundation details the planning that went into some of the attacks and opines on what is needed to prevent more violence in Kenya in the short and long term.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Voices: living with HIV during conflict

Being poor and HIV-positive is not easy on a good day.

Approximately 50 percent of the residents of Kibera have HIV/AIDS. Many of them get regular supplies of antiretroviral drugs from medical aid groups, but they struggle to get adequate nutrition to support their immune systems.

When the protests and violence swept Kibera after the December election, many people were left without homes, work or access to their regular medicines. The health of many people with HIV deteriorated because of the stress, and poor shelter and nutrition.

As part of the African Woman and Child Feature Service's Voices project, Joyce Chimbi visited HIV-positive women who have been displaced from Kibera. Here are the stories of Rose Gakii and Grace Oloo.

Rose Gakii

Rose Gakii has gone through a whirlwind of emotions since 2003, when she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. She has gone from denial to withdrawal and even attempting suicide.

With counseling, Gakii says she overcame the crippling desperation she felt after testing positive for the dreaded virus. With renewed outlook towards life she has worked hard enough to feed her seven children.

Her life crumbled again on January third, when violence erupted across Kenya. Since then, her once tranquil days in Kibera's Makina village have become a nightmare.

I envy the dead, when you die; you go to a better place, a place of rest.  

These tears that are streaming down my face are those of bitterness. I am 44 years old, a poor woman who has not stolen even a single cent from anyone. But look at me now. I have become a refugee in my own country.

I have been at Jamhuri Park for the last one week.

I tested positive [for HIV/AIDS] in 2003. My husband has been dead for the last five years. I am the sole breadwinner.

I have seven children; three of them orphans. My stall has enabled me to pay my rent, which is Ksh 600 per month [abou 10 USD] and to put food on the table. But everything was destroyed in the fire [following the election results of 2007].

My 16 year old boy is in Kabete prison. He was arrested on the 16th of January. I'm his mother and I know that my boy is innocent. They said that he was among the youths who stole and slaughtered a cow.

The constant worry and the overbearing nervous tension is driving me to the edge, I feel like I'm running mad. You can imagine what this is doing to my health.

I feel as if my head is a well of tears. Tears and my children are the only things I have left.

For the mother of seven, although life will never be the same again, she says if peace was restored the sense of security would be an impetus toward rebuilding her life.

Grace Oloo

Grace Oloo's life had taken a predictable but comfortable path since she tested positive for HIV/AIDS almost four years ago.

Every morning, she would wake up with the cock crow, see her children off to school, tidy her house, and open her business in the Soweto village of the Kibera slums.

Like most people, Oloo says she had never imagined Kenya sinking into chaos. As fresh incidences of violence flare up across the country, she says her personal turmoil escalates.

Everything I have worked hard for has been reduced to ashes. Having triumphed against great odds to get this far, the sorrow within me is overwhelming.

In March of 2003, I had been bedridden for quite sometime. I was suffering from Tuberculosis and despite treatment, doctors said I wasn't making progress. They tested me for HIV, which confirmed their suspicions. I was HIV positive. At only 33 years, my world fell apart.

But with four children of my own and a grandchild, I had to soldier on. My husband, also positive, resorted to taking cheap brew. As the sole breadwinner, I began selling fish.

It was a very humble beginning but I have expanded the business over the years. I have been able to look after my children. My 18 year old daughter and my orphaned niece are also HIV positive.

After the general elections results were announced, Kibera was transformed into a madhouse. I live in Soweto, which was terribly torn apart.

My children and I fled on the third of January. It was the worst experience I have ever had. Even though I didn't leave my antiretroviral drugs behind, without a warm place and quality food, I knew my health was in jeopardy.

I wasn't really as worried for myself as I was for my one-and-a-half year old niece. Besides being HIV positive, she suffers from pneumonia and asthma. I had this cold fear deep within me that it was only a matter of time before she died.

For the two nights she spent at Jamhuri Park, I stayed up all night frantically trying to warm her shriveled body. The sores on her body were getting worse and she was too weak.

Her sunken eyes would stare at me for most of the night, the cold being too much for her to sleep for long periods. Her health has deteriorated to alarming levels.

I am not any different from her, I have been experiencing constant headaches. The three nights I spent at the park have put my health between a rock and a hard place.

During the destructions, I lost fish that was worth about Ksh 25,000 without profit [about 400 USD]. I take my orders from Tanzania and I have been making good progress.

At the moment, I feel like I'm just about to write the last chapters of my life. The devastating desperation I feel erases any traces of all the dreams I once had.

Oloo says with some investment capital, she would be ready to start afresh.

Voices of women and children: launching a new project

It's the same story every time. Women, children and people living in poverty are the most affected by violence and unrest.

But each woman and every child has their own story to tell about the confict in Kenya.

There are stories of fleeing hometowns because people with certain last names were suddenly not welcome. There are stories of struggling to find food, clean water and medicine. There are stories of lost husbands, fathers, children. There are stories of rape, riot and murder. And there are stories of hope, of brotherhood in the face of ethnic violence. 

The African Woman and Child Feature Service is launching a project to help women and children tell the stories of how they are affected by the post-election violence. The Urgent Action Fund is supporting the project. Over the next couple of months, the reporting and editorial staff will be gathering these stories. We will be distributing them to media around the region and I will be posting some of them here.

Here is the first Voices posting. It was written by Joyce Chimbi, a program officer and junior reporter at AWCFS.

Double jeoprdy for refugees in Kenya   

When Hamida Sheikh fled Ethiopia in 2002 and took refuge in Kenya, she hoped that her life would take a turn for the better.

In her home country, Sheikh was associated with an anti-government rebel group. She says that endangered her life, and the lives of her five children. She had to take some drastic measures.

"My husband was arrested for allegedly supporting a rebel group. Life became very hard. Without him for protection, I knew it was only a matter of time before I was killed," she says.

Her husband is still in detention back in Ethiopia, and it has been a long time since they saw one another. Her youngest child is a constant reminder of the humiliation and assault she endured at the end of her time in Ethiopia. It's a child born out of rape.

Hamida is one of the estimated 310 refugees who have been camping at Nairobi's Jamhuri Park. She is caught up in a struggle that she does not even comprehend.

The hardship these refugees are now facing, in a foreign country torn by conflict is not unique. In search of safety, many refugees have sought asylum in countries that are themselves ablaze with conflict.

When violence erupted in Kenya following the December elections, people seeking asylum in Kenya were not spared the disruption in many parts of the country.

"Although we have no political affiliations, when the supporters of the two main political protagonists crashed, we were caught in the middle," Sheikh says.

She says people in her community did not initially feel threatened because, as foreigners, they were neutral, as far as tribal identities were concerned. In the end, she says, that was not enough for them to avoid the chaos that has pervaded the country.

Hamida says that she knew it was time to seek protection at the displaced persons' camp when leaflets were dropped at night, ordering the refugees to vacate their houses or face dire consequences.

Having been at the camp for about three weeks, most of the Ethiopians sit in groups smoking tobacco and chewing miraa, as they contemplate a way out of their predicament.

"This is called shisha," says 25-year-old Kadio Wako, gesturing to tall, colorful pipe. "It's a form of tobacco from Egypt .It has helped us to remain sane because it stimulates our nerves, keeping away stress."

He says they have had tobacco throughout conflict, because they bought plenty of it in Garissa, before the violence erupted.

Wako was studying law in Ethiopia when the political situation there became too volatile in 2003 and he decided to flee the country. The fact that his father was actively involved in politics and had been a Minister of Finance, put him in a very dangerous position.

"I'm Oromo, the majority ethnic group which in Ethiopia. That automatically qualifies you as a rebel against TPLF [Tigray People's Liberation Front] government," Wako says.

Wako's experience of strife and flight in Ethiopia is unfortunately being repeated in Kenya. He says that having to live through it again is tragic. Wako emphasizes that most of the refugees cannot go back to their countries, because the situations that instigated their exile have not improved.

"The TPLF government is still in power, and I'm still an Oromo. It would simply mean going back to where all this begun," Wako says.

His sentiments are echoed by Radia Hassan, who has been living in Kenya since 1999.

"The thought of returning to my country paralyzes me with fear," she says, as she pauses to blow smoke between her teeth.

"In Ethiopia, I was threatened, humiliated and abused," she says. "Under [the United Nations High Commission for Refugees], I was recognized as a refugee and registered right here in Kenya."

Hassan left her five children in Ethiopia. She settled in Kenya in the hope that she could rebuild her life and have her children join her.

Even though life in Kenya has been difficult owing to what she terms "hard economic times," Hassan has been grateful to be free to live her life.

"It's hell always watching your back, for fear that your enemies might make good their threat on your life."

Radia also says that it has been quite nerve wrecking living at Jamhuri Park. The constant sounds of gun shots in the near by Kibera slum has been a nightmare.

Although those staying at the camp have been assured of security, most of the nights they can hardly sleep for fear of being ambushed. The women seem to be the most affected by the conflict. Even at the camp, reported cases of rape are a constant reminder of their vulnerability.

"It is unfortunate that even with the situation as it is, sexual assault within the camp has persisted," says Doreen Bwisa, who is an administrator at the camp's medical clinic.

Most of these refugees have been in the country for many years. Some of the children running around were born in Kenya and have no memories of their parents' troubled past.

"I fled Sudan eight years ago," says Yong Sumi. "In Kenya, I have managed to rebuild my life but as things stand now, I feel like my future is hanging in the balance."

For these people now displaced in a country where they once found solace, their future is becoming more and more cloudy.

They say that they feel as if history is repeating itself. Their desperation is apparent and most of them feel neglected because, amidst the chaos, the particular needs of people in the refugee community seem not to be addressed.

Sumi says that since the government announced its plan to close the camp, he has worried every day about where he will go next.

"On Sunday the 27th , when most of the displaced Kenyans began leaving the camp in droves, we the foreigners huddled together in utter hopelessness," Sumi says

Standing next to him, Wako interjects, "Some of the displaced Kenyans have gone back to their houses, others are going to their rural homes, but where can we go?"

They feel that being a small group among the estimated 300,000 internally displaced people in Kenya has made it difficult for their plight to be addressed.

According to Margaret Wanyiri, the camp coordinator under the National Alliance of Churches, these are Sudanese, Rwandese and Ethiopian people currently staying at Jamhuri Park.

Wanyiri says the plight of the refugees is being addressed, and practical measures are being undertaken to relocate them to Kakuma refugee camp.

"We are actually hoping to have the exercise of relocating the refugees by Wednesday, 30th of January," Wanyiri says.

Kakuma camp, established about 12 years ago, is one of the world's largest and oldest refugee camps. Situated in the northern part of Kenya, the camp is home to an estimated 86,000 refugees from nine different countries.

Kakuma has seen frequent food shortages and incidences of sexual assault. That reputation does little to reassure the refugees at Jamhuri Park as they look at an uncertain future.

According to statistics by Church World Service, at the end of 2006 there were 2,932,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Africa.

Most refugees in Africa flee to neighboring countries. In the 2006 Church World Service statistics, Sudan produced the highest number of asylum seekers. Kenya hosted the second-highest number of refugees, Tanzania hosted the highest number.

In their report, the Church World Service said the statistics reaffirms the presence of conflict in many African societies, mostly due to ethnic intolerance.

"[The statistics] are symptomatic of the tragedy of the ethnic conflicts, social disintegration and political anarchy prevailing in some countries in Africa," the report says.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugee, people will only stop needing to flee their home countries when African political leaders embrace politics of inclusion. This would consequently create a solid base for responsible and accountable governance, which would in turn create room for a just and fair society.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Coalitions, constitutions and Condoleeza

Feb_17_nation_pollKenya seems to be heading toward a coalition government and a new constituion.

Representatives of the party in power and the opposition assemble again today to continue hashing out some kind of agreement about how to handle the political turmoil following last December's elections. Details of the talks are not public. Increasingly, however, the parties and Annan seem to be suggesting that they are working out a framework for a coalition government.

How such a government would function, how long it would be in power, when the next elections would be held: all of these questions are still up in the air.

On the ground, however, there does seem to be some public support for the idea. The international community is pushing it. In Benin this weekend, George Bush said there must be power-sharing. Ban Ki-Moon and other world leaders have issued similar statements. To reinforce the United State's point, Bush is sending Condoleeza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, to Kenya today.

So, on this Monday morning, as talks resume and Kenyans get ready to receive yet another high-profile international visitor, I went to the heart of Nairobi to gather some opinions on coalitions and Condoleeza.

Peter - unemployed

For us, we want peace, and for our country to get back where it was. We need a coalition government because people are suffering right now. If [the fighting is] going to continue, the common man is going to suffer. I think a coalition can work. As long as these leaders will be apart from their selfishness, it will work.

Rice, I think it is good for her to come to Kenya. We need such people to come and bring peace into our country.

Mary - aspiring journalist

I really don't think a coalition government is going to solve the problems in Kenyan right now, especially if it is supposed to be a coalition between Mwai Kibaki and Raila. I don't see it working. The two parties both believe that the seat should be theirs, the Presidency. When you have two people contesting over it strongly, as they are, I don't think it is going to work.

Either way, they are both selfish. Kibaki is not going to give Raila what he wants. Raila is not going to give Kibaki what he wants. If either side should take the Presidency, it's better for Kenya than a coalition. I really don't think it can work.

Condoleeza is just going to stamp what Bush's agenda is, that is a coalition government. At the end of the day, it stands with the Kenya people. What do they want? Are they going to go for Bush and Condoleeza's aspirations? I really don't think so. And I think it is an insult to the work that Kofi Annan has been doing here.

Vivian - student

I think it will be a good idea so long as there is peace and everything resumes back to normal. When it comes to the coalition government, I wish both of them can agree on basic factors, not favoring either party.

My take on Condoleeza's visit in Kenya? I think it's a good thing, as long as it builds peace. She will come to support Annan.

David - banker

[Whether a coaltion can work] remains to be seen. This is a fairly new concept as far as we are concerned. We have not had such a situation in the past, since independence.

About Rice, it shows the importance the American government is giving to the Kenyan crisis.

Maureen - fashion designer

We are ready for [a coalition]. In fact, that is what we want. If they agree, they should [work together]. Those who stole our votes should agree, we work together as a team. And then maybe after two years, we go for new elections.

I'm sure that at least we will get a solution by the arrival in Kenya of Condoleeza Rice.

Eunice - unemployed

A coalition might work but I am not so sure that it might happen. We are just waiting.

The visit will be important because it will help the government to know that we are being supported by a country like the United States.

James - newspaper vendor

It should not work. Because even per our constitution, it does not work. If one has won an election, he has won an election. If one has been thrown in an election, he has been thrown in an election. If we form a coalition, there will be none who will accept a defeat. They will always be wanting to share the power. Even our constitution does not allow that.

Rice should come and calm down the situation. But we have no calamity in Kenya. I don't see how she can be useful.

John - consultant

It's all a waste of time. If you rig elections, you have lost trust of everybody. The only way to recover that is to find a way that elections can be done. The person who wins fairly, leads the country.

Rice's visit might add value to what is going on.

Judith - business person

According to me, the coalition government is not bad. The opposition side is saying they won the election, and the government is also insisting that they won the election. You see the way the country is having a lot of problems. So we think if they do coalition government and they work together, people will be happy. They will see the way forward. I think people should work together.

I think Condoleeza's visit is useful. We, as Kenyans, can't make this thing alone. This stress we have found, we can't solve it alone. If there are some people who can come from outside, they can help us because they are seeing what we are not seeing. If they come in between, they will help the two. They will tell them what will make them convinced to make that peace.

Waweru - taxi driver

The coalition government won't make it. Raila is the one who brought multi-partyism. If you bring them into a coalition government, will there be any multi-partyism? There won't be. It would be better to remain with a single government. Then, if we elect ODM, then we shall have another government. We would rather wait. After the present President is over, Raila will take over.

Giving power to both presidents, they rule the country, that will come as if it is a single party system. We have the official opposition to be minding the current government. If there is any trouble, the opposition will raise oppositions. So at least the government will have a chance to be opposed. Then, after five years, we will give the opposition a chance to lead us.

Rice can help. Maybe she will talk to Raila and tell him to be patient. Five years is not a big deal.

Peter - lawyer

The issue of a coalition government is still a problem. If you look back to the year of 2002, they had to sign a [memorandum of understanding] for the purpose of forming something like a coalition government. There were several parties coming together for the purpose of forming that government. But they did not even honor that MOU, What makes you think it will last this time around if they come with a coalition government. How long can it stay? Can it last? The issue of a coalition government right now, it might not work.

People need to go back to elections. Let people elect a popular President. We need an interim government that will see to issues like the amendment of the constitution, disbanding of the electoral commission of Kenya. Once that is done, we can go for elections in the next two years. I think this animosity will have subsided within the next two years.

The coming of Condoleeza Rice is a good thing. People in Kenya, some of those ones who have taken power, are greedy people. They need some pressure from outside the country. Now they will see that the whole world is serious about the issues in Kenya. Now, if there are some issues in the negotiations, they can take them seriously.

People in Kenya are used to doing things with impunity. I do hope that the coming of Condoleeza Rice from the U.S. will show them that things are serious in the country. If they are going into negotiations, they do it knowing that everyone is watching.


Peter and James both bring up the tangled history of constitutional politics in Kenya. The current constitution dates back to independence. It concentrates power in the presidency and gives little room for opposition parties or members of parliament to impact policy.

Numerous attempts to ammend it have failed. Most notably, a 2005 draft constitution failed to get adequate support in a national referendum after the splintering of its supporters. But last week, staff from Annan's team said the government and the opposition had agreed to write a new constitution.

Some Kenyans says, perhaps the greatest silver lining of this post-election conflict will be the push to finally enact a constituion that will enable true Kenyan democracy

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reporting on conflict: a conversation with John Keating

John Keating is a veteran journalist and journalism trainer from Canada. He has worked with IMPACS, and the Media and Democracy Group, training reporters in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Guyana, Brunei and Kyrgyzstan.

He spent the past three days leading a conflict sensitive journalism course for 25 reporters in Nairobi. His work was supported by International Media Support.

What are you finding that reporters are struggling with most, covering this conflict?

The thing that keeps coming up again and again is how, even if they write their stories in a balanced way, many of the editors will change them because there is a lot of corruption in the media here. People admit that pretty freely, even a few of the senior people are brave enough to say it. A lot of the media is owned directly or indirectly by politicians. They put pressure on, or pay off editors and owners to skew things to their point of view.

How much of that frustration on the part of journalists is due to a concern for their own safety?

That does come up. They say they go out for something, a demonstration or something, and the people say, "oh, you are from the Kikuyu paper." That can make them feel unsafe or frustrated because they don't see themselves as [affiliated to one particular side]. There is also a lot of division in the newsroom now. People are telling me, "People who used to be my friends, they are from a different tribe, and we don't even talk any more..."

There's one guy up there who is one of the displaced persons who had to leave his town because he didn't feel it was safe any more. He was saying, "How do I write about this stuff when I am part of the story?"

How do you define conflict sensitive journalism?

It's just a different way of looking at how you report conflicts such as the one here in Kenya. It means doing good basic journalism, not sensationalizing things, being accurate and fair and balanced but also not simply reporting what the two warring sides are saying. Report it from different points of view. If the economy is in trouble because of the conflict, you talk to business leaders. You go do stories about the family whose house was burned out by the riot, rather than only report on the riot. There's also another story there, a human story.

It's basically doing the solid journalism that we should be doing anyway. It also tends to teach people a rudimentary conflict theory: what causes conflict, how it is resolved, how does the media play a role in resolving it.

Why, in particular, is it important to have fair and balanced domestic reporting in a situation like this?

Well, how are you going to solve any problem if you don't have any proper communication about it. Most of the violence in any conflict is about power and money, who's got it and who doesn't. But it is easily seen as an ethnic or religious divide. It creates a situation where you start thinking that, "The other side is the bad guys. The other side is the one I don't trust. I don't know very much about them but I know they are bad." You don't clear up those kinds of mis-perceptions until you have communication and you don't have communication if you don't have a decent media. Communication is the key to resolving any conflict.

What can domestic reporters do that perhaps foreign press can't do?

Obviously they live here, they know the culture, they understand the situation better than outsiders. The majority of the media that people here consume is local media. A lot of those small villages, their only source of information, or at least the only one they listen to, is the FM station. So if you have a FM station that is whipping people up and encouraging people to spout hate propaganda against other groups, you are never going to resolve anything.

The fighting has died down now. Things are relatively calm as far as I can tell but the problem hasn't gone away. The problem doesn't go away unless you talk about it and the way you talk about it is through the media.

The media can frame the conflict in a certain way, if they are smart enough and good enough journalists to think about it, they don't have to just frame the conflict as one part against the other. They can frame the conflict as one group is disadvantage and another is not. They can explore the common ground that both sides share, which is where you are going to find the solution.

What is your sense of how the issues are being covered by local press?

From the little bit I have seen, there has been a tendency to have this message of peace. They have suddenly become peace advocates rather than conflict sensitive journalists. It's almost like, "let's sweep it under the carpet and let's hold hands." In my view, that's not the answer either.

I will just give you an example. I picked up one of the papers this morning and looked at the front page. It was a story about how Sweden and Britain are trying to put pressure on them to settle the situation. But the lead was "A noose is about to be put around the necks of the people standing in the way of a peace settlement."

On the face of it, it sounds like a colorful lead. When you look at it more closely, it is still taking this position that there are bad guys and good guys and the bad guys are standing in the way and they won't be able to stand in the way much longer. They don't tell you who the good guys and the bad guys are, but if you read that newspaper and you live here, you know exactly who they are talking about.

That's exactly the kind of thing that I am trying to tell them: even something like that, that on the surface appears subtle or harmless or just overwritten, is in fact damaging to any attempt to get a settlement. It still divides.

What are you advising reporters in terms of doing stories about the way forward, not just covering events?

That's another thing I have been saying over and over again. Maybe the leaders don't have the solution but there are other people out there who do. There are other people and other ideas. There are academics and diplomats. You could even write a story about how another country solved a similar problem in the past. You don't have to wait for the press release from the government and print it saying, "The only way forward is for the opposition to pull up the pins and leave."

It's just good basic journalism, really.

If you were to paint a picture of the ideal composition of a newspaper in the middle of a conflict, what would you like the content of the newspaper to be?

First of all, I'd like it to have the news. That is one thing I kept reinforcing: don't hide it. The idea here is not to hide anything or sugarcoat it. We're journalists and what we are supposed to be doing is the news. And then I would like to see several points of view, not just the government and opposition. Several points of view from all levels, from the government level down to the person who has to stay with their relatives because their house was burned down.

I'd like to see articles about how similar crises were handled in other countries at other times; stories about the basic things that are wrong that have contributed to the situation, such as the institutionalized poverty here. There's no end of social issues that contribute in small and big ways to [the conflict]. I think somebody should be starting to point out the corruption and the problems.

In this idea of sensitivity, is there ever a point where you pull back from being explicit?

This came up in the class. What I hope I got across is that, of course you should say the names of tribes if it is relevant to the story. If it's not part of the story, why put it in?

That's maybe harder to do in practice but to give a more practical example, you might say "Six people died in a riot," and not have the lead sentence be "Six Kikuyus were massacred by a crowd of outraged Luos" It'll come up a lot of times that it is part of the story. The bottom line is, this is journalism. If it news, put it in. If it is irrelevant to the story, why is it there in the first place?

What positive role do you think first-person journalism can have in this kind of situation?

That also came up today. The guy I mentioned, who had to flee because he felt unsafe, when he finished telling me [about fleeing], I said "That's a great story. Did you write it?" And it turns out he did. As long as you can do it without turning it into revenge, as long as it is something that is dispassionate and tells the story. The less sensational you can make it, the less emotional you make it, the bigger impact it is going to have. If it's news, it's news, do it.

What are the key points that you cover in terms of basic journalism skills?

It's just a review of the basics: accuracy, balance, fairness and responsible journalism. Avoid inflammatory language. Call people what they call themselves. And just be aware that you as a journalist, you are part of this. Everyone is getting their information from you and if you don't give them the right information or you give it in a way that favors one side over the other, the trouble is just going to keep going, because nobody is going to know what is going on.

[The conflict theory focuses on] the sources of conflict. The four main ones are ethnic differences, political differences, lack of resources and lack of power. In fact, if you look at almost any conflict it looks like one of the first two and it's almost always one of the second two.

Have you found resistance to any of the ideas you are presenting?

No. It's surprising how talkative they are and how much they care about these issues. I think journalism here seems to be more sophisticated than most places I have been.

I think people really want to do something. I was at this roundtable on Tuesday and the very first guy is a big shot editor at [one of the papers], he gave a very passionate off-the-cuff speech about how the media had failed and about how he had failed. And how much shame it has brought to journalism. It was very moving, really. I was very surprised because he is a fairly senior editor, apparently. Everybody in the room sort of agreed with him.

There are still corrupt owners and there are still corrupt politicians who control much of the media and there are still corrupt editors. That is the biggest stumbling block: corruption. It's what is really going to make it difficult to change anything. But there is a will there among the day-to-day journalists and some of the senior people as well.

These are great people, really smart and engaged. They really want to change things for the better, if only their bosses will let them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Feet on the ground

I am back in Nairobi now, getting my feet back under me for what I hope will be a long, fruitful journalistic journey.

I've published a new essay for an international relations website out of Oxford University. Since retuning, I have been writing indoors and not yet in the field much.

From what I've seen so far, the mood in Nairobi is calm. The corner food kiosks in my neighborhood are open again. The produce kibandas are heavy with fresh fruit and vegetables.

At the African Woman and Child Feature Service office, the staff is busy working on various projects to document and address the conflict that is ongoing in the country. There is talk of the peace and conflict training for journalists, a book of women and children's voices, media roundtables.

But the situation is not so optimistic in much of the country. There was fighting yesterday in Thika. A friend told me the story of a friend who sent his family from Nairobi into theoretical safety in Western Kenya, only to have his wife attacked this weekend.

Although there is less acute violence in Nairobi's slums, people are still struggling to find food and to return to work. The government has planned to close the camps for internally displaced people in Jamhuri Park and elsewhere. Some people have left on their own, looking for somewhere safe to resettle. Other people, among them refugees who have fled conflict in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, are being shuttled around the country in search of safety.

The government is moving some people to refugee camps in Eastern and Northeastern Kenya. Thos areas already host a sizable population of people who have fled conflict in neighboring Somalia and Ethiopia. Although there has been comparatively little violence in those regions since the elections, residents say they are suffering from lack of food and funds.

The news from the Annan-led peace talks is vague. One BBC analyst suggested that Annan is intentionally starting slowly, getting the leaders used to agreeing before they face more contentious issues.

I had a long talk today with my colleague Wilson about whether or not the political question is still at the heart of this conflict. Some people had suggested that now the fighting is less about the presidency and more about revenging old and new grudges, about desperation and anger. But he said, no, the presidential race is still the crux of the matter.

When the midday news briefing came on at one o'clock today, the staff ran downstairs to watch news from the peace talks. There wasn't much to hear.

But people watch because, as Wilson says, Annan is the thread that is holding the country together right now. Echoing the sentiments from my last post, he says a friend on the street told him today, "When Annan leaves, then we will have real war."

At the end of a day-long meeting with business leaders today, Annan said, "This is not about individuals. Individuals may be ready to destroy themselves but we must not let them destroy Kenya."

Here's hoping that individual leaders and individuals on ground hear his message.