On Tuesday March 4, 2014, over 2000 internally-displaced persons (IDPs) took part in a successful peaceful protest in Nyamira, Kenya, demanding recognition as well as to be paid the same Ksh. 410,000 that some IDPs in Eldoret and Embobut Forest had been paid last year, the InformAction NGO reports.
For the last few years, InformAction (IFA) has been working in Kisii and Nyamira counties (among other areas in Kenya), screening social justice films and holding discussions aimed at empowering the local communities. The screenings and discussions, led by our Kisii Field Base, are always filmed and IFA has gathered a huge archive of unadulterated views, questions, and opinions from ordinary people.
By far one of the most persistent issues raised has been about IDPs in the two counties following the 2007/8 election related crisis.
The Kisii community—whose plight has been largely invisible—suffered greatly during that crisis, targeted by the Kalenjin in the Rift Valley, the Luo in Nyanza, and the Kikuyu in Nakuru and Naivasha. Hundreds were killed, and thousands were displaced with properties destroyed. Those living on the border areas trekked back to Kisii land, while some were trucked from major towns back to Kisii. Camps were set up for a short-time before being destroyed by the state leaving the IDPs to fend for themselves as best they could.
It has been a tale of suffering for most of them, barely eking out a living and finding odd jobs here and there. Even though the local community has by and large welcomed them back, their return has precipitated new problems related to the scarcity of land in already very densely populated Kisii.
The grievances by the IDPs have mostly been about abandonment and marginalization. Unlike their Kikuyu counterparts who have spoken loudly and often about Kikuyu IDPs, Kisii leaders have largely been silent, much like their counterparts in Luo-land and Luyha-land.
And the IDPs have also complained about the unfair treatment by the regime in Nairobi that seems to focus on Kikuyu IDPs (and now Kalenjin IDPs) simply ignoring Kisii, Luo and Luyha IDPs. The payment of Ksh. 410,000 to Kikuyu and Kalenjin IDPs only, excluding Kisii, Luo and Luyha has especially angered the communities.
It is in this context that IDP leaders in Nyamira approached IFA for assistance in facilitating and catalyzing peaceful actions to highlight their issues. For IFA, this was a test case for our next phase of work of turning information into action and working on our community organizing. The entire process has been filmed so as to provide a template to other IFA Field Bases, as well as to other NGOs that are interested in spurring community actions.
And in order to broaden this action, IFA teamed up with Kenya Human Rights Commission who ferried in the leadership of IDPs from western Kenya.
One of IFA’s fundamental principles is “contributive participation” that eschews payment of allowances for “lunch” “transport” or “tea”. This principle was at the center of this action. If this was to be an IDP-led activity, it was clear that they had to contribute their time and resources to make it work. Further, we believed that the only way to get full buy in was to avoid acting like politicians and providing resources.
The expectations for allowances came up as soon as we started meeting the IDPs, as many NGOs have taken up the culture of providing transport, lunch and tea especially to the “core team” of leaders, causing a scramble for positions of leadership when events and activities are planned. But when it became clear that we were not providing these allowances to the organizing team, a lot of the initial volunteers for leadership opted out, leaving us with a core of dedicated people to organize the protest.
We believe that much of the success of the protest, with the massive turnout, was because the community owned it from the start, and we avoided the common conflicts that provision of resources always generates.
It took a month of organizing and constant facilitation as the organizers mobilized their people, explaining why the protest was necessary. There was justifiably some fear, for often, and especially far away from Nairobi, the police can be really brutal. One of our major functions was to maintain morale and build the confidence of the organizers and the IDPs.
Then on Sunday March 2 we held a screening and discussion with the “Beast” (a gigantic inflatable screen) at the grounds that had hosted the first IDP camp in Nyamira, attracting over 500 people. We screened clips from the MPIGs demonstration last year in Nairobi, as well as “Kesho Itakuja”. The speakers in the discussions that followed reiterated their determination to attend the protest, many of them saying that they had nothing to lose, even if the police intervened and beat them up. There were calls for unity and courage as well, and the screening clearly fired up many people.
On Tuesday March 4, people started streaming into the meeting ground to begin the protest from as early as 6am. Many of them walked, while others came by boda boda. They registered as they arrived and received a T-shirt on registration. IFA supplied 1000 T-shirts for the protest, as well as banners and placards that the IDPs themselves wrote on.
By 9am, the crowd was easily more than 1000–and growing–and the march proceeded, walking the 4 kilometers from Konate to Nyamira town. It was mostly a crowd of old women and men, some with walking sticks, and some on crutches, but all determined to be visible. They chanted and sang along the way and it was a sight to see old people walking at a brisk pace that many of our young staff could barely keep up with.
All through the police behaved well, directing traffic as the protesters neared Nyamira town. On reaching the office of the County Commissioner the protesters who had increased to between 2-3000, congregated outside singing, waiting to hand over their petition. When he did not appear, the leaders of the protest then surged forward to go to see him and bring him to meet and see the protesters.
It was then that they first encountered agents’ provocateurs who blocked the entrance and said that the Commissioner would not see them. When the leaders pushed their way in, the agents’ provocateurs demanded that they be included in the delegation to see the County Commissioner and in fact lead it, claiming that they were the “real civil society leaders” in Nyamira, and nothing could be done without them. The IDPs resisted them and made their way to the County Commissioner’s office where the Governor was also waiting.
After intense discussions with the Governor and County Commissioner, the agents’ provocateurs were thrown out and the two officials came out to meet the protesters.
One of the most significant statements from the two officials was the public recognition of IDPs in Nyamira. For since September 2013, the official line of the regime has been that IDP issues in Kenya have been resolved fully. Indeed in notifying the police about the protest, the police officials expressed surprise that there were IDPs in Nyamira, and we found this line constantly expressed by all public officials including the Deputy Governor.
- Actions within communities can be organized but it is essential to avoid the “allowances” culture.
- Successful actions require issues that are core and real to the victims and survivors and for which the victims have nothing much to lose by taking part in the action;
- It is mandatory that NGOs that catalyze actions have a presence in the area, and have the trust and confidence of the community.
- Anger and tensions in areas that feel marginalized are rising and it is crucial that this anger be channeled in constructive and peaceful ways;
- Actions such as these require the formation of a “security team” to deal with potential agents provocateurs and maintain discipline and calm through the action.
InformAction is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.