Speaking at a training for citizen reporter trainers before the 2012 Kenyan election.
To Quakers, a leading is a call to action on a particular concern. I was a peace activist by the time I entered college in 1961. Moreover I became involved in East Africa in 1964 when I spent a year teaching Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. My leading to do peacemaking work in East Africa began during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. I wrote an article on the genocide for the Washington Peace Center’s newsletter; I indicated that the unfolding genocide was planned by the then Rwandan government and was not due to “ancient tribal hatres” as reported by most American media. At Baltimore Yearly Meeting that year I led an interest group on the Rwandan genocide and I was amazed when about 75 people showed up — I had only 30 copies of my article. In July 1994 I participated in a noon demonstration on the Rwandan genocide with the Rwandans in DC in 100 degree heat.
In 1994 after graduating from Haverford College, my daughter, Joy, received a Watson Fellowship to interview black/white couples and their children in England, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica. This led to the writing of her book, The Pigment of Your Imagination: Mixed Race in a Global Society. In January 1995 I visited her in Kenya and then we travelled overland to Zimbabwe via Dar es Salaam. In Dar I went to greet one of my former students who I had taught as a Rwandan refugee, but his wife told me he had returned to Rwanda early that same morning. I did meet him the next year in DC when he was part of a government delegation to the US. He later became Rwandan ambassador to Kenya and then a Rwandan Senator.
Sometime in 1996 I asked for a clearness committee from Bethesda Friends Meeting on how I might pursue by leading for peace work in the region. One evening about six people discussed with me how I might pursue my concern for peacemaking in East Africa. The meeting was very helpful and concluded I had the experience and concern to move forward when the opportunity arose. The problem then was that I had no outlet for doing the work that I felt called to do.
In early 1996 Baltimore Yearly Meeting appointed me to represent them on the Friends Peace Teams’ Coordinating Council. In March 1998, I proposed to the Friends Peace Teams that a delegation be sent to visit the Quakers in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya. This occurred in January 1999. Since I did not have the approximately $20,000 in funds needed for this seven-person delegation, I put the costs on my credit cards with the expectation that the funds could be raised. My son, Tommy, and I sent out a fundraising letter to 500 people I knew and by the time I returned from the delegation sufficient funds had been raised to pay off my credit cards, as I am proud to report, with no interest due.
Gladys Kamonya began attending Bethesda Meeting in May 1995 and we began going together in 1996 and as time went on we agreed to be married. At the end of the January 1999 delegation I went to visit her family in Kenya – according to the local custom this should have been done by some a member of my family but I didn’t have family in Kenya so I did it myself. Since I was an Mzungu (foreigner) and older, I could bypass the normal traditions. Gladys and I were then married in November 1999.
In Quaker tradition a person who travels in the ministry has a companion. With my leading on peacemaking in East Africa, Gladys has been my traveling companion. She has gone with me on my speaking tours – she got tired of hearing me give the similar speech over and over again – from England to Vancouver, Canada to Hawaii/California, to Maine and to Florida. But more important she has frequently traveled with me to Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the eastern Congo. Once we were in Bujumbura and the road upcountry was closed so we could not go upcountry, but more alarming was one night in 2002 when a considerable amount of gunshots with tracer bullets seemed to come from right outside the house where we were staying – in the morning when we investigated we realized that it was a few block away. Another time in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, we went from Goma, controlled by the Congolese army and the UN, to Masisi high in the mountains controlled by the M28 rebel group – somewhere we crossed the “line” between the two sides. Gladys is a keen observer and gives me her thoughts and impressions on the activities we have done. In Kenya itself she is much more involved since it is her country and some of the Quakers I work with are related to her. When I don’t understand something or need interpretation of Kenyan Quaker or Luhya culture, Gladys has been able to enlighten me.
I think you can identify me in this picture from 2007. I am meeting with participants in an Alternatives to Violence workshop in a displaced persons’ camp in rural Rwanda. These people were long time refugees (from 1961) in Tanzania who were evicted from their homes in Tanzania and forced to return to Rwanda.
After 18 years, I have resigned as Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative because Friends Peace Teams gave impunity to a perpetrator of fraud in one of AGLI’s program. I did not feel that I could continue to solicit funds when nothing happened when they were misused.
My resignation as the AGLI Coordinator does not mean that I am ending my concern for peace in the Great Lakes region. I will continue my involvement in Kenya with Friends Church Peace Teams, begun during the post-election violence in 2008. Since that time I have been the Chairman of the Counseling Coordinating Committee that is leading the efforts to bring reconciliation and prevent further violence in Kenya.
I will also be part of a local peacemaking group whose members I have been working with in Kenya since 2003. It is now called Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). I am titled “Financial Advisor.” One of my methods that led to the development of good projects in East Africa was that I had let the Africans themselves develop the proposals and make decisions about what they needed to do. One of the problems with Friends Peace Teams/African Great Lakes Initiative is that Americans were making decisions that affected Africans without considering their input. So this change in my placement actually places me in the peacemaking base in Africa.
If you would like to contribute to my continued peacemaking efforts in East Africa and you do not need a tax deduction, through WorldRemit at the cost of one US cent, you can send a donation directly to the Transforming Communities for Social Change’s bank account. If you are interested you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
I will continue to write my weekly Reports from Kenya that you are receiving. I will also continue to promote the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities and its trainings for facilitators in Rwanda. After all these years, I know many people, am well versed on the conflicts in the region, conversant with numerous peace making programs, and am well known for my advice and counsel. I have followed and will continue to follow my concern for peace in the East African region.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues with his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765-4098
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/