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Letter to the Editor – July/August 2014

Dear Editor,

When I return to the rural areas of Kenya after a visit to the rural countryside in Rwanda, Burundi or eastern Congo, I feel like I have gone from poverty to the Garden of Eden because Kenya is so much more lush and prosperous. And this has nothing to do with the climate or rainfall, but the difference in culture. As I ride around the countryside in Central Africa, I see mostly women — frequently in groups of three to fifteen – working in the fields together. Only here and there do you see a man working and he is usually quite young. When I taught Rwandan refugees in 1964-65, I was told no respectable man would be seen working with a hoe. Kenya is a completely different story where men are frequently in the fields working. This is my theory: in Kenya, unlike Central Africa, oxen are used for plowing. Since cattle are a man’s responsibility, this means that the men do the plowing. Moreover, they would have needed to invest a considerable sum in buying a plow and then training the oxen. As a result they have an investment in their fields. It is absurd to think that Central African agriculture can be prosperous when only women by themselves — already burdened with cooking, carrying water and firewood, tending the children and the sick — will be able to adequately produce bountiful harvests as is done in Kenya. They also lack the capital to invest in improvements.

This is evident in the article written by Henry Sabatia in the May/June 2014 issue of Quaker Life. Rwandan, Burundian, and eastern Congolese are hierarchical elitists. The leader is supposed to sit in a chair and watch while the common folks do the work. The Kenyan pastor on the other hand can’t sit and watch as he must become involved in the work. Which is more motivating, “Sitting and watching or leading by example?” Do note that what he did in the Congo was culturally inappropriate which didn’t hinder him a bit. A second obvious point is the enthusiasm Pastor Henry has for building the church (Compared to here in Kenya, we don’t have churches in such condition.) Even though he has no material resources to offer, this does not deter him. He is all encouragement, praying that he can roof the church before the rains come. He gets everyone to help, including people from other denominations. This energy, this enthusiasm, this drive to succeed is another attribute where Kenyans are so different from Central Africans who wait until someone does something for them — there seems to be no reason why the parishioners could not have built a simple, but adequate church before Pastor Henry came, but they didn’t. Third, when he first comes he expresses his solidarity with the church members (What you eat, I’ll eat. Whatever you do, we’ll do together.) Notice how Pastor Henry wishes to stay with his rural hosts even when there is danger of gunshots. He wants to stay with the people he is serving rather than be evacuated. This is that friendliness that makes Kenyans so appealing. Central Africans, on the other hand, are much more stand-offish.

These differences, and others not covered in this article, mean that AGLI’s work in Kenya is so much easier and frankly “cheaper” because we don’t have to be highfalutin. In Kenya we can do a workshop at the Peace House for any number of people because we can just throw mattresses on the floor with one room for men and one for women and everyone is accommodating. We can do a one-day workshop and just give people half a loaf of bread and a soda for lunch. In Kenya we can ask participants and their community to supply food (the most expensive item for any workshop). When violence erupts, Getry Agizah, Peter Serete, and countless others of our Kenyan facilitators or citizen reporters will arrive as soon as possible. They may not know what they are going to do, but the important step has been taken — they have shown up.


David Zarempka
African Great Lakes Initiative
of the Friends Church Peace Teams, Coordinator