A day trip to Shalom City
Opportunities for cooperation within East African borders was part of the discussion at the 2011 annual Africa Rising meeting held in Naivasha. The network of organizations from three countries heard and saw the achievements and struggles of one Kenyan organization. The meeting was geared towards sensitizing members towards collective responsibility.
A highlight of the meeting was the personal story of the Shalom City internally displaced persons (IDP) camp leader, Peter Kariuki. He shared his personal experience as an advocate for a large group of IDPs pursuing land compensation from the Kenyan government. The IDPs were those displaced after Kenya's 2007-2008 post-election violence. Peter emerged as a youthful leader courageously knocking on, and literally camping at the doors of government offices for five years in pursuit of justice. Peter’s journey came with its share of challenges. He was arrested many times, received threats and at one time almost lost his life after an attack by unknown assailants who wanted to shut him up.
On the final morning of the meeting, members of Africa Rising visited the Shalom City IDP camp. It was heart-breaking for most to see the deplorable conditions under which the community had lived. Tents that were worn out due to adverse weather conditions still served as family shelters after four years in the camp.
The responses of the Africa Rising team was notable. The Kenyan participants had been watching stories of IDP camps on their screens for four years but most had not visited an actual camp. They arrived feeling somewhat apathetic to the situation, but left sharing the pain of families that were suffering. They would carry back that awareness to their villages. The Ugandans had experienced war for years and witnessed suffering in IDP camps that lasted over two decades in their own country. While they sympathized with Shalom City IDP camp residents, they were frustrated that other Kenyans were not doing enough to help people like Peter in advocating for resolution of their situation. They knew that it had taken collective efforts of local and international communities to end the IDP situation in Uganda. They insisted that more needed to be done collectively and offered to give any assistance if called upon. The Tanzanians were most affected; they had not witnessed such levels of injustice in their own country or anywhere else. They had always looked at Kenya as a more established democracy in East Africa. Coming first hand into contact with the IDP group at Shalom City was shocking and even emotionally overwhelming for the Tanzanians. They carried back the message of peace and a warning about the effects of war to Tanzanian villages.
The responses from the Africa Rising team brought to the surface the unity and the diversity within the East African borders. It revealed an opportunity for cooperation and mutual learning for civil society and community based organizations. Through exchanges, each organization can grow as they see how others respond to their own challenges.
Peter’s efforts at Shalom City have had a happy ending. Today the former IDP families proudly live on 1000 acres of land given by the government after almost five years of active advocacy. Families now continue with their farming efforts as community leaders work to build necessities such as a schools, wells and a clinic. They continue to advocate for other IDP communities in Kenya until they too are resettled.