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Peace formula that excludes local MP

BUSINESS
By | Apr 16th 2009 | 4 min read
By | April 16th 2009
BUSINESS

By Karanja Njoroge

A peace formula in most clash-prone areas should involve the residents and leave out politicians.

That is the prescription according to US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, which he demonstrated last weekend.

Kenya Veterans for Peace Co-ordinator John Mathenge gives a peace torch to US Ambassador Micheal Ranneberger, who passed it on to representatives of the Kikuyu-Kalenjin communities in Ndeffo, Njoro District.

He was invited by a group of non-governmental organisations and peace activists as chief guest in a rare peace initiative.

It was organised by Citizen’s Assembly, an NGO, the Provincial Administration and Kenya Veterans Association to promote peace between two warring communities at Ndeffo in Njoro District.

Local MP Joseph Kiuna decided to drop in, although, according to the official programme, he had not been invited.

When DC Jim Njoka stood to welcome Mr Ranneberger, he deviated from the programme and called up Mr Kiuna to "just greet his people".

Deep divide

But Ranneberger made it clear he would not entertain the politician’s presence.

He walked to over the organisers and could be seen expressing his apparent displeasure.

He then positioned himself behind Kiuna, who was addressing the crowd, making it clear he was taking up his time.

A day later, he told an FM radio interviewer politicians should not be allowed into meetings where they are not invited.

To show how deep the divide between the two communities had been, the envoy had to sign two visitors’ books, one for each community.

Women from both communities embrace as a sign reconciliation between the communities. [PHOTOS: Lucas Thuo/STANDARD]

"When I came here I had to sign two visitors books, one for the Kikuyu and the other for the Kalenjin," Ranneberger said during his speech.

From a distance, the sleepy village is just like any other rural set up, but beneath the calm lies deep animosity and mistrust between the communities.

The ceremony, has, however, rekindled hope of peace for residents who are separated by an invisible border on the Njoro-Mau-Narok Road.

"The relationship between us and our neighbours has been very hostile," said Ms Dinah Ronoh.

The cross-community relationship has been so strained that each side built its own trading centre to avoid any interaction.

Some of the buildings at Ndeffo trading centre bear reminders of recurrent violence.

But during Ranneberger’s visit, it was song and dance as the two groups hugged and shook hands.

A torch to signify peace and a new beginning was passed on. The veterans handed the torch to Ranneberger, who then gave it to representatives of both communities.

The decorated veterans treated hundreds of residents who attended the event to a colourful parade, as they honoured the symbolic peace flame.

The ceremony was preceded by the exchange of a similar torch by youths, who are now at the forefront in denouncing violence.

"We are going to have genuine peace. Women from the Kikuyu community are now going to sell cabbages to our Kalenjin sisters and we are going to buy milk from them," one excited woman said amid ululations.

Stole everything

The residents, who are mostly farmers, said it was a relief they can now cross the road without inviting trouble.

Life for most residents has never been the same since the first ethnic clashes in 1993.

Some, like 52-year-old James Mwathi Njoroge, were forced out of their homes in Kiugo village by attackers who stole everything, including his sheep, goats and cows.

Then, in 1998, a repeat attack left the family almost destitute as his posho mill and house were burnt.

"Peace between us and our neighbours was elusive, but we kept the faith and continued tilling the land and rearing animals. We could not sit and watch our children die of hunger," Njoroge said.

Residents complain that whenever such clashes occur, the Government response is predictable: The area is flooded with policemen and calls for peace are made through elders’ peace committees from both sides.

Before the latest peace initiative, locals said they had lost hope of reconciling.

Mr Ranneberger, however, promised to support youth-driven peace initiatives in the Rift Valley.

He said he was impressed by the role the youth are playing in preaching peace after the 2007 post-election violence.

The envoy said more youths from diverse ethnic backgrounds in the region have recognised the importance of shunning violence.

Ethnic forum

"Young people are the key to the country’s future, as they account for more than half of the population," Ranneberger said.

Speaking at another inter-ethnic forum at Egerton University, Mr Ranneberger said inter-ethnic forums should be encouraged.

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