I wanted to write something on my recent trip to East Africa. While brainstorming, I reflected back and realized its been almost exactly a year since I was last in Kenya. In July 2011 I spent the majority of my time in Garissa, which now is much less secure given its proximity to the Somalia border and the Dadaab refugee camp. Last week 4 aid workers were taken hostage from Dadaab and the driver was killed, luckily they were recovered 3 days later given that it is not unusual for these types of kidnappings to last months or even years. Last Sunday in Garissa 14 were killed when two churches were attacked with grenades and bullets during services, many are blaming Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab also recently attacked a bar with a grenade in Mombasa as patrons watched the Euro 2012 soccer finals, as well as placed a bomb at a busy are in central Nairobi. To top it off, two Iranians were arrested in Kenya for large amounts of explosives in Mombasa and had plans to target U.K, U.S. and Israeli interests in the country. Luckily my work has kept me in Nairobi and the eastern part of the country. My trip last year wasn’t without incidents, a policeman was killed in the heat of a fight between matatus (small van drivers – whose driving reeks havoc on the Kenyan roads and are often involved in road accidents) and delayed our arrival to town. However the level of terror was not present since Al-Shabaab’s threats to Kenya didn’t start until October 2011 for their involvement in Somalia affairs – which I might add there isn’t much Kenya could to avoid their involvement, they share a border with Somalia and weren’t ecstatic with Dadaab growing to the size it is as they foresaw the situation they are currently in.
It bothers me that most people only hear the above terror stories via popular media, they don’t get to see and hear other stories that don’t make international news. During my time here I’ve witnessed the Kenyan population’s resilience. Realizing that an aim of the Garissa church attacks was to pit Muslims and Christians against one another, similar to Al-Shabaab’s strategy in Nigeria – which has been successful -The Kenyans responded with Muslims committing to form vigilante groups to help guard churches in the area. At the same time since idle youth are often manipulated to join terror groups, Kenya is strongly focused on strengthening youth groups across the country. The youth groups, often 10-20 people between the age of 18-35, work together to identify and implement a range of income generating activities together whether it be poultry farming, etc. I was lucky enough to meet some of these youth groups; their leaders are strong and committed. Two of the businesses I worked with this trip are working with youth groups, one trained a youth group to collect the waste from their toilets daily and another youth group is purchasing bee hives (pictured above) from another company. I share these stories so the next time you hear of terror stories in Kenya or elsewhere you can also remember the strong people fighting it in those countries.