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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You touched hearts - Tribute to the late Margaret Mukui Kiumo

RIP- 16th April 2011

Once in a while, I interact with community members in the process of my work who leave a great impact in my life; such was the case with Margaret Kiumo. I cannot recall the first time I met Margaret but I know it was in 2004 when I was newly employed at the Women’s Resource Centre and Development Institute (WRCDI). It was my first trip to Makueni, meeting a group of volunteers for a training workshop and I arrived late in the evening. I had been given her contact “in case of anything” and I found myself at home! She was quite welcoming, calm and composed, with maturity that was just amazing. With time she became my mark for Wote Makueni, any time I was in the field I knew I “I was in safe hands”. Margaret was one of the trained community advocates who were referred to as the Violence Against Women (VAW) Advocates, a role she performed with her whole heart.
I came to meet her sister Mary and some of her friends as her salon became my ‘office’ in Makueni. I was not the only one, I often wondered when she did her business since every time I visited the salon, there was one or more clients, women abused, children with their mothers, fathers wondering about their children; you name it.

I hold fond memories of Margaret. I recall the many times she would literally shield me from expectations of community members by alerting me not to go to her salon and meet her in a different place! It was known that when am in Wote, I would visit her salon, and sometimes some of the volunteers would send survivors of VAW expecting a miracle. She made it her duty to alert me of such instances and give me time to process the issue before meeting the survivors. Sometimes it was not even necessary to meet survivors as the action needed was within the power of the VAW Advocates. She is one of the few VAW advocates who would challenge the others “why should we want to engage Sophie in every small way she has trained us to do the work?” Anyone doing social work and engaging with community volunteers understands the strain that can be there when expected to do the national and then intervene in the local work that the volunteers are well versed with; work that a program person could not do nearly half as well as community persons.
I recall a time I was on my way to Wote and she alerted me of a case which needed the intervention of the District police boss. I recall stepping into her salon to the site of three kids sprawled on the floor, almost naked, and a much traumatized mother who seemed not to comprehend who she was due to the violence that had really traumatized her over time. I still recall how she described that woman, “Sophie I am not sure what strength that woman has, that she is still alive, if I were in her situation I would rather be dead”. This didn’t deter her from making her small salon space, a space for this woman and her kids, she didn’t worry it would discourage the customers but supported the other volunteers in getting audience with the police boss. Many survivors knew her salon as the office to report their grievances.

I recall the updates she gave me that helped me be in touch with what was happening at community level. We had a joke that there were always problems! She had a smile most of the times that even as she told of the ‘suffering’ one would not help but see hope. I remember her narrating a non-violence protest that the women in the area carried out. In a case where they felt that a senior person in the education department was hindering the prosecution of a sex pet, they mobilized 98 women in an innovative protest that I still marvel at.

At one time, the car I was using to the field developed mechanical problems about 10 km from Wote and she sought for mechanics and another car. I remember it took a while, and it was not until almost midnight that the car was towed as it was not repairable. The inspiring part is that she never acted in a way that implied she was doing a favour, or asking for a favour in return. How I miss her.

Her passion for justice and for the rights of women and girls was evident to anyone who interacted with her. She was the reference point not only for the women and girls seeking redress but also for administration officers. The flip side of this is that she was ‘marked threat’ by some of the administrators. She also sought leadership in several organizations and even vied for ward representative without success. After I left the organization in 2006, I maintained contacts with her and never hesitated in giving her contacts for persons who needed contacts in Makueni. The last time I met her physically was in April last year in a forum I invited her in Nairobi. I learnt of her death in shock, somehow death despite being certain always comes unexpected. Somehow, I feel that her work was not done yet, that the gap she is leaving is huge, but those are my human thoughts. She must have done her part of the work, and she deserves to rest in peace.

As I travelled to Makueni on 23rd April 2011 for her final farewell, I could not help but recall the memories of this amazing woman. Her family has lost a great person, so has the community. I am sure Margaret touched so many lives; that her memory will live on for a long while. As I listened to her children remember their mother, that she sacrificed a lot for them; as her parents and siblings eulogized her, as her nieces and nephews said what an amazing aunt she was who was there to give them advice; I knew all has not been said about her. It cannot fit in writing, but many will hold her in their hearts. We will hold her in our hearts, as the only place that the memories will never be stolen.
A quote to her family and loved ones:
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she'd want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”---David Harkins

Margaret, you were such a blessing to many, you were such an inspiration to me, May you Rest In Eternal Peace. May you be welcomed and rejoice with the angels. God be with you till we meet again.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Opportune moment - God loves Kenya

Opportune moment - God loves Kenya
Reflections by Sophie Ngugi

‘The day is here”
That is the sentence in the tongues of many Kenyans at this time. We have about 24 hours to commencement of the cases of what have commonly come to be referred to as ‘the Ocampo 6’. This follows the naming of six individuals by the Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Luis Moreno Ocampo named the six as the persons who hold highest criminal responsibility on the Post Elections Violence (PEV) in 2007/2008. The PEV holds sad memories for all Kenyans, within and without the country and for the rest of the world as violence we did not think possible dominated our nation. While the violence was generally said to result from disputed elections in 2007, more so the presidential results, it is generally believed that the violence was planned for the most part. While the names of the six are in public domain and are mentioned literally every minute, I will not repeat these names as I reflect on why we are here in the first place; why ICC has become a household name in the tongues of Kenyans.

Liban, a friend of mine shared a saying among the Borana “mali hijessee, worani qooqee khutaa” (“It is the plan that kills, the spear just finishes off”). This idea is supported by the findings by the Commission of Inquiry into the PEV (CIPEV). The CIPEV is often referred to as the “Waki Commission,” after Chairman Judge Philip Waki, of Kenya’s Court of Appeal. The Waki commission was an outcome of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Accord negotiated by Kofi Annan and the panel of Eminent African Personalities. This led to formation of the coalition government and peace agreement, which led to cessation of violence.
While we all saw the horrifying pictures of the violence, while others experienced Kenyans burning and demolishing homes, killing, barricading roads…it remains a mystery how this continued for this long. Who was behind this remains a mystery and point of contention as different people theorize as to who is guilty. Was this planned in advance and by who? It is with this in mind that majority of Kenyans according to polls carried out support the ICC process. While the local mechanisms have been a preferred option, there has not been much (if any) progress in this regard.

CIPEV reports that, there were 1,133 deaths in the PEV with 405 (35%) caused by gun shots.. The report suggests that the police were responsible for all of the 405 deaths. It also finds evidence of massive failures by the state security agencies, especially the police, to anticipate and contain the violence. The statistics indicated that most deaths in each given district took an ethnic dimension in which, apart from killings by the police, most of those killed did not belong to the ethnic tribe in the district. Apart from the 405 killings directly linked to the police, the remaining 732 deaths were because of citizens killing fellow citizens due to the political stand-off at the time of the killings or for other unknown reasons. While the whole country suffered and experienced violence and deaths, there was a pattern in the causes of the deaths in different localities.

The report shows that:
• “Most shootings took place in Trans-Nzoia district recording 77 deaths, followed by Kisumu with 64 deaths and Kericho with 33 deaths.
• Nakuru recorded the highest number of victims who died of injuries inflicted by sharp pointed objects with the number standing at 148; while, Uasin Gishu recorded 92 deaths.
• Most burns were documented in Uasin Gishu district with 32 deaths followed by Naivasha with 22 deaths.
• Uasin Gishu recorded the highest number of deaths, as a result of fatal injuries with 42 deaths, while blunt objects caused 24 deaths in Nakuru followed by Uasin Gishu at 16.
• Fatal arrow wounds were mostly used in Kipkelion standing at 17.
• Webuye district recorded 11 deaths as a result of hanging.”

These are not only factual figures but individual persons, mothers, daughters, husbands, sons…of Kenyans. High cases of sexual violence were also reported for both males and female with more cases against women and girls.
The fact that all of these deaths and violations are as a result of ‘machineries’ within the reach of ordinary Kenyans, is a cause for worry. There were not deaths caused by far off causes like nuclear…just ‘normal’ weapons. It means the PEV can recur, and one year and four months to the next general elections,… this gives me goose bumps. Ethnicity was used as the dividing factor, and the debate on ‘Ocampo six’ has dangerously shown this kind of trend. The guilt/ not guilt judgment on the accused persons has been more inclined towards ‘our person/ their person’ kind of mentality. While this is largely understandable, it begs the question, is it about guilt or about alignments? Do we care about the root cause of the PEV? What will make us not go back to the PEV come August 2012? It calls for a moment to refocus, follow the ICC process, waiting and eagerly so, to hear the facts that will come out in the proceedings if we hope to start addressing impunity. There has been violence during or around elections for a long time in Kenya, way back though the extent sometimes not well known due to the technology and communication then; yet this has never been addressed. Violence is easily wished away waiting for the ‘next’ elections when the players shift with the same ‘dancing shoes’ and the trend continues.

The ICC for me represents a step in addressing impunity, not an end in itself. It is a call for Kenya to get back on track in making Kenya the ‘haven of peace’ that we have claimed in the East and Horn of Africa region (until the slap to reality in 2008). It is call for truth and justice; truth about what happened and justice for the aggrieved, and punishment for the perpetrators. Then, true reconciliation can happen. The Waki commission had suggested a special tribunal, which was to handle the PEV issues, and the last result was the Hague process. Why are we at ‘last result’? Where is our will? Can we retract and while allowing the ICC process to take its course continue addressing the rest of the ‘issues’? Is it even viable possibility to have mechanisms of justice that would allow recalling the ICC cases to Kenya? The reason that most Kenyans (and I proudly stand to be counted among this) support the ICC process, is due to lack of evidence of political will to prosecute perpetrators and address PEV. The 2008 violence was evidence how much we can sink, and we have to be afraid, very afraid.

Will 2012 find us disagreeing on issues than persons? Focus on people’s ideologies rather than their surname? Can we have a peaceful election, like we did in the constitutional referendum? I believe we can, but only; and only IF, we decide to. We can focus on the ‘innocence of the Ocampo six’ while all the local media houses have set camp at The Hague; but we cannot forget where we came from. We can appreciate diversity without losing our identity, and our ethnic belonging should be a point of celebrating this diversity, not hacking each other to death, physically or verbally.

There are various patriotic songs that I sang in choirs ( in my younger years…) with message that ‘God Loves Kenya’; and truly God loves Kenya. God has given us another chance…let’s make use of it. We can commit to accommodate each other, and make PEV history in Kenya.