Fire engine burning in Salgaa during a youth demonstration on June 15, 2015

from Nairobi to Eldoret on our way home to Lumakanda. When we reached Salgaa, a small town past Nakuru, we ran into a large traffic jam with large lorries (trucks) lined up, but cars and smaller cars diverting on the access road on the right side of the highway. There was a major demonstration going on as youth had set tires on fire and blocked the highway with stones and branches. Salgaa is right at the bottom of the decent into the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and many lorries park there to rest, usually partly blocking the road. As a result Salgaa is one of the traffic black stops in Kenya where often people lose their lives in accidents.

Kenyan anti-riot police in Nairobi, the Goliaths. Note how similar, with their shields, truncheons, helmets with visors, and body armor, these police are to their counterparts in other parts of the world including the United States.

When we passed the fire engine, pictured at the top of this report, it was burning even more brightly than in this picture. Regular police were pulling the burnt tires and stones from the road. A burning tire destroys the tarmac (asphalt) so that soon there will be a big pothole. In the distance we would see the heavily armed and armored anti-riot police pursuing the unarmed but much more nimble and numerous youth male demonstrators. A battle between Goliaths and Davids.

We learned from the paper the next day that the objective of the demonstration was for the government to build parking spaces off the road for the resting lorries and to place security lights to increase visibility during the night.

One of the youth rioters, the Davids, during the demonstration in Salgaa on June 15, 2015, fleeing from the burning tires.

While this was a major destructive demonstration, one or more demonstrations occurred daily in Kenya. A more common demonstration is for the youth to wave tree branches, honk motorcycle horns, and creating a lot of ineffective noise signifying nothing.  At the more destructive ones when the youth block roads with stones and burn tires, the police respond with tear gas, water cannons, and sometimes live bullets. These frequently lead to property destruction and sometimes to injury and loss of life. The objective of the demonstrations is completely forgotten in the chaos. Demonstrations like these are remarkable ineffective in resolving the issue leading to the demonstration.

The reaction of the police seems to me to illustrate the difference from David and Goliath in the Bible. (Read Malcolm Gladwell’s The New Yorker on “How David beats Goliath” at www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/05/11/how-david-beats-goliath) The giant, Goliath, is heavily armed and the young man, David, is fleet of foot with only a slingshot. But David hits Goliath in the forehead with a stone thrown from his slingshot. The youth in Kenya frequently throw stones at the police and sometime injure them which is the reason why the police have helmets with visors so that they don’t get hit in the forehead. This unending conflict between the police and male youth seems useless and counterproductive. The chaos brings no effective social change.  

There are nonviolent options for social change that are effective. In 2009 one of these programs, Turning the Tide (TTT) was introduced into Kenya from England; last year it was also introduced into Rwanda and Burundi. Since the metaphor of turning the tide does not resonate well with people on Mt. Elgon who have never seen the ocean tides, we have renamed the program, “Non-Violent Campaign for Social Change” (NVCSC). The program requires training before the demonstration, discipline, firm commitment to non-violence, perseverance, a doable important objective for the campaign, a strategy on how beneficial change can occur, strong involvement at the local level, and ability to change tactics as the campaign develops.

There have been many successful campaigns like this in Kenya. For example, (1) getting a Member of the County Assembly in Malava to withdraw his list of recipients for scholarship for destitute children that included mostly his family and supporters to a second one drawn up a committee that targeted the truly destitute children, (2) challenging the Bungoma County government to rehabilitate the road up Mt. Elgon, and (3) a campaign in Soy against girl child marriages after 8 girls were “married” and dropped out of standard eight in one school in one year. 

Many youth learn their violent ways in secondary schools as seen by the many fires set by students and other acts of vandalism and violence. There is another program that addresses this, Help Increase the Peace Project (HIPP). This trains students in non-violent methods of conflict resolution focusing on respect for self and others, communication skills, building community irrespective of tribe, gender, or class, and how to resolve conflicts non-violently.

If you would like to arrange for TTT/NVCSC and/or HIPP trainings in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, or even elsewhere, contact me at davidzarembka@gmail.com. If so, please let me know where you plan to conduct the trainings. You will need recruit the participants, arrange for a venue, purchase training materials, accommodate the trainers together with travel reimbursement, and pay them a modest stipend.

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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 Community for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He also is international Coordinator of the Healing and Rebuild Our Communities program. 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. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.

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David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

Phone 254 (0)726 590 783
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

Webpages: healingandrebuildingourcommunitiesinternational.wordpress.com/

transformingcommunityforsocialchange.wordpress.com/

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