I don’t know if this program [Transforming Communities for Social Change – TCSC] can afford to give us a place where you can build a peace center for us – even for rehabilitation, for changing people. If you can build a peace center at Mt. Elgon really we can say God has seen us. The program can continue – workshops, even you can come and stay there for two or three days. You can hear what people are doing and you can say that we have done something. I think it’s good if you can have a center so we can keep this program running. And also if you have a center the programs can move very fast. For example, old women can come, old wazee [old men] can come and you can also hear their thoughts and see what has happened. Robert Juma Omari, Kubura, in 2013.
On Monday I received this email from Getry Agizah:
“Friends I am making a prayer request for the team of facilitators in Kenya and community of Mt. Elgon for the loss of three committed members in the community who were murdered in Chepkurkur center. Robert Juma was a big supporter of our trainings and always opened the doors to our facilitators who stayed at his house during trainings. Three men were killed and the cause of that is still being investigated. Let as use all the media and social forums to remind this community that God loves them and prayers for peace during the election which Kenya faces this August. Peter Serete, Erastus Chesondi, and Ezra Kigondu [Getry’s co-workers on Mt. Elgon], I am sending energy, my buddies, and you organize for a peaceful crusade before and after the funerals. God hear my prayer.”
Peter informed me that the funeral will be tomorrow, Saturday in Chepkurkur and that, as the election is approaching, they will be bring peace messages to the funeral. The team will invite all of its Mt. Elgon citizen reporters, it watch dog group, and people who have attended AVP and HROC workshops to be present at the funeral to indicate solidarity for peacefulness.
Here is a YouTube copy of the TV report on the incident: NTV’s Bungoma correspondent Zaccheaus Mwasame reports. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmNMumNrgJ4. (While the report is in English there are many people being interviewed in Swahili without translation which is the usual method used in TV in Kenya.)
“Three people were brutally murdered in two villages of Mt. Elgon constituency in Bungoma county on Friday night. A businessman and his driver were shot dead at Chepkurkur market, while the third was cut with a machete in Kanamait village. Four others were left seriously injured in what is believed to be politically motivated murders.”
The news report indicates that Robert had publicly declared which candidate he was going to vote for and had convened a meeting to influence other businessmen to support the candidate he wanted. While over $3,000 was stolen from him, one of the Swahili speakers indicates that the motive was not robbery, but politics.
Erastus Chesondi, our principal contact on Mt. Eldgon, sent the following information to Getry:
“Robert was a peace agent in the region. He was a motorbike driver who assisted us many times during our peace programs in Mt Elgon. With his help we entered the Kubura area with HROC programs. This led to a community celebration that brought together the Soy and the Ndorobo elders [the two opposing sides in the conflict] to cut a cake, share and talk about the end of clashes and killings between the two groups.
“When he moved to Chepkurkur, where he met with his death, he housed our facilitators during the trainings with the SLDF (Sabot Land Defense Force) militia men that happened close to the forest. He became a friend and a lover, not a hater. We conducted several trainings at Chepkurkur and Cheptais and he stood by us because he believed there is that of God in every man. His house where he hosted the facilitators was a two roomed house. And it is in this house he met his death.
“Robert, being truthful and a man of justice, always corrected people who had an evil mind. He could easily interact with all groups of people and always felt warm.
“It is reported that Robert, after hearing of a scheme to kill the area chief, mediated between the area chief and some young men who are known for evil acts. They keenly heard him and succeeded in a peaceful resolution.”
Getry commented on this information: “The unclear message has left the community worrying. As family and friends attend the funeral, the Mt. Elgon watchdog unit is following up to verify the situation as we look at the intervention process. But at the moment we are looking to do listening sessions and community dialogues especially with the community members and remind each of us on the importance of keeping every one safe.”
Peace Center on Mt. Elgon.
As you can see from the picture above, Robert got his wish as TSCS has built a peace center on Mt. Elgon. Ezra commented, “It’s a moment of grief to all of us. Robert Juma was the brains behind the peace center.”
Eunice Okwemba wrote, “Robert the man who sacrificed carrying facilitators [on his motorcycle] however rainy or muddy it was on the mountain. May the Lord stand with the family. Many times I was staying in his house when we were having trainings up on the mountain. It’s so painful, friends!”
After the 2012 election, Joe and Kathy Ossmann, Ezra Kigondu, and Benter Obonya interviewed a number of people on Mt. Elgon including Robert Juma. In order to give you a better feeling for the person, I have included some of his comments.
Robert was one of the first people on Mt. Elgon to take the Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) basic workshop. “I can call HROC a workshop of myself,” he said. He was referring to Johari’s Window, the exercise mentioned most frequently when the evaluation team asked what was most memorable about the HROC workshop. For traumatized people who hold many secrets inside it is life-changing to learn that those secrets are not all there is to know about oneself. Robert continued, “Sometimes you deeply know yourself. Others know you in a different way. The way you understand yourself is not the way others know you.”
In another comment he made in 2013, he said, “For now we are enjoying that [peaceful coexistence]. Now we can just move anywhere. It [HROC] has really brought people together. People are now one. In fact, if you go there you cannot know who is a Soy, who is Ndorobo [the two sides in the conflict on Mt. Elgon]. People can do things together. It is not like that the other time. People could fear one another, could say “aah, no, aah no”. But when the program [HROC] came, the program itself brought people together. And when the training was going on, people in a simple approach could open up. We enjoy now – in fact, you can sleep anywhere.
Concerning the last 2012 election Robert commented: “During this campaign. It was a unique one because people could attend there [to vote]. The candidates presented themselves, the people could hear their views, and say, ‘Let’s wait for the day [of the election].’ I remember one day when the three candidates met on one field. I observed something different there. Why? Because during the other elections they could not meet together on one ground.”
For Robert Juma and the two other men this election ended in disaster. We all unite with Ezra Kigondu’s message on Facebook, “RIP Robert, whenever we were at the mountain you would always check with us. You will be remembered forever.”
Transforming Communities for Social Change would appreciate contributions to respond to this and any other violence before or during the election which is only thirty-two days away. See below for details.
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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 his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David 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)
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