Words from Kenya

Shooting Elders

Northern Kenya 2015

A group of elders narrowly escaped death this morning. They were shot at shorty after they arrived for a peace meeting on the Isiolo – Laikipia border. This should be evidence enough, for those that still need it, that elders no longer command the authority and respect that they once did among this community, and so many others like it across northern Kenya.

Kenyans are not alone in their love for the pomp and ceremony of traditional leadership roles in society; the ceremonial oaths and promises, the clothes, the prayers, the hallowed words of their elders. Sadly the truth is these positions, and these ceremonies, have long ago been devalued by ruthless politicians from all ranks. We are left with occasions that spawn meaningless words. Elders that no longer hold any authority over their communities and leaders whose words can rarely be trusted to mean what they say.

Those well meaning groups who organise peace meeting here in northern Kenya achieve little more than to provide self interested politicians with a platform in front of the cameras. For most of the leaders attending these events it is just another way to bolster their importance without actually doing their job. How many of these meeting have led to any genuine improvement in security? Most people in the country have no idea because after the meeting the press leave. They don’t return for one death, or even two. For a herd of cows stolen here, or some goats there. There needs to be a certain number of dead, all in one go, before the press return. When they do they rarely look back beyond a day or two, their previous coverage of a peace meeting a couple of months before is forgotten and they thoughtlessly cover the next peace meeting as if it was the first ever held. The same leaders and elders turn up, the same promise are made but everyone goes home and counts their bullets.

I wish those that fund these peace efforts would take the time to do it properly. Spend time finding out who the real instigators of peace and violence are in the communities. Stop using people from the communities involved as your negotiators, bring in people who are experienced but who can clearly be seen to be impartial. Respect traditions but understand that the violence we see in most places today happens far outside the traditional codes of conduct of these communities. Most of all look for the link between the violent actors in the communities and outside criminal organisations or, sadly, politicians. Work at cutting those links.

The community as a whole is not violent but they have probably suffered heavy losses that have not been resolved. Love ones have been killed, homes and livelihoods may have been stolen or destroyed. The ceremonial slaughter of an animal with some elders blessing isn’t going to make all that better. Real restitution, along with cutting links to those funding and inciting violence from outside, is the only way to start putting out the embers that constantly reignite in violence and retaliation across so much of northern Kenya.

(Note: The organisers of today’s peace meeting relocated and held the meeting with only one community present, the issue of the earlier shooting was not discussed, even when brought up by some of the elders who had been shot at.)

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