No more militia in Mt Elgon but scars remain
| September 6th 2012
By Sammy Jakaa
It is exactly three years since a military operation got rid of the much dreaded Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) in Mt Elgon, but hitherto, the scars are still fresh.
The trauma and the fear that was planted among the people is still freshly etched on their faces. Isaiah Sekero is a victim whose pain and agony he underwent is clearly written all over him.
Sekero recalls vividly the pains they passed through not only in the hands of SLDF but also the Kenya Defence Forces.
The businessman in Cheptais town fled the dangerous area and swore never to return there again. The tense situation in Mt Elgon and its environs has so far attracted many community based organisations and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) to step in and try bring back normalcy in the region.
One such organisation is the Teso Peace and Human Rights Development Initiative (TEPEHURDI), an organisation that was started by one man who witnessed and experienced the damages that characterised the region.
Rev Michael Okwara of Redeemed Gospel Church is the brainchild behind the organisation whose key mission at formation was to advocate for peace in Bungoma, Mt Elgon and Teso Districts.
Founded in 2001 and registered as a community based organisation (CBO) in 2003 and as a society in 2007 to advocate for peace and tolerance, the ambitious project was an attraction to many.
A team of volunteers, whose passion was to see peace prevail, decided to sacrifice their energy on the altar of harmony for the residents. Mt Elgon District, like many parts of the country, has for years suffered from long-term latent conflicts between various ethnic groups and sub-groups.
The struggle over resources and political-influence in the region affected all sectors of the society, though undoubtedly, those who bore the brunt are the categories of the poor from rural areas, women and farmers.
An important aspect of the conflict between the different communities residing in the region is that a great proportion of the conflicts were the aftermath of misinformation and mistrust which manifests out of a lack of interaction and understanding between communities.
The climax of such conflicts gave rise to the formation of SLDF, an outlawed militia group that left thousands dead and homeless. Individuals and charitable organisations in turn saw that there was need to reconcile the communities living in Mt Elgon for lasting solution to be achieved.
For Cleophas Okisai, the organisation’s executive Director, it is the tribulations that Mt Elgon residents were passing through that prompted them to start the organisation with meagre resources.
During the initial years, he says, the organisation struggled without funding for carrying out many of its intended initiatives and only provided moral support, advice and advocacy to people affected by conflicts and injustice.
“The passion to see peace and tranquillity in this region was our driving force and we could not give up hope due to financial constraints. We started by offering just advice and moral support because that was what we could,” said Okisai
Tepehudri gained a big boost when Okisai, quit his job as an assistant Publishing Director of Home Health Service to manage the organisation. Okisai worked without pay for two years, traversing throughout Teso and Mt Elgon region on his bicycle, to attend to people and communities.
His commitment and enthusiasm attracted the attention of a number of organisations and eventually they received recognition and much needed funds to enable them carry out their projects. Residents of Mt Elgon say that the coming of the organisation into their region was a blessing as people who never knew the importance of peaceful coexistence started appreciating it.
Councillor Benson Chesitati of Emia Ward termed the organisation a success in the process of restoring normalcy in the area. He said that for the few years Tepehudri has been there a lot has been achieved in the healing process of the area.
Chesitati particularly remembers a successful International Sabaot Peace Cultural festival that took place at Cheptais High School in 2010. It was the first of its kind after centuries of attempts without success. The event that brought together an estimated population of 5,000 people, from all regions within Kenya and outside Kenya, both the rich and the poor acted as an eye opener to the residents who have since embraced the idea of peaceful co-existence.
Tepehudri has also in the recent past organised wide football tournaments in Teso North District between the police and citizens as a strong tool for enhancing interactions and dialogues to achieve community based policing. Polycarp Etyang, a resident of Mt Elgon and a former assistant commissioner of Police who is also a volunteer as peace facilitator in the organisation says that even though they have not achieved their ultimate goal, but their impact has been felt in the region. “Tepehudri is sweet sound in ears of many in Mt Elgon region. Lots of minds have been transformed as a result of our initiatives and we are assured that no conflict will again recur in the region,” said Etyang.
Currently, it is in its second phase project dubbed ‘Inter ethnic cohesion project’ financed by the Embassy of Finland and it is expected to take a period of a year in Mt Elgon region. This project is aimed at enhancing interaction between Elgon residents and their neighbouring regions such as sirisia and Chwele.
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