Panelists describe hardships in African nation
Dr. Karambu Ringera never expected what he saw in Kenya.
“I was shocked because I never thought we would take machetes and bows and arrows and kill each other,” Ringera said.
Ringera spoke on the panel “Kenya: A Land in Turmoil,” one of the last events of the 60th Annual Conference on World Affairs. The panel was held in UMC 235on April 11, the last day of the conference.
Ringera, the lead panelist, was born in Kenya and was one of eight children. She ran for parliament in the Meru district of Kenya in 2007. She lost, but plans to run again in 2012, the year of the next general election.
Ringera was joined by Joy Zarembka, a half-Kenyan activist and researcher, who has worked in Kenya among other countries. The other panelist was was Terri Jentz, author and supporter of The Feminist Majority who works with Equality Now, an international human rights organization.
CU faculty member Laura DeLuca moderated the panel. After each panelist spoke to the audience, there was a moderated discussion between them followed by a question and answer session by the audience, all on the subject of violence in Kenya.
“A lot of people believe that the problems we have in Africa have their foundation in tribalism,” Ringera said, as the first panelist to speak. “I don’t believe that theory myself.”
Ringera traced the roots of the turmoil to the decolonization of Kenya by the British.
“When the settlers left . . . their land was bought by Kenyans and a lot of these people were from a certain, particular group,” Ringera said.
She described the underlying cause of violence in Kenya as economics and distribution of land and resources, for which “the election results were a trigger.”
Ringera then described her experiences in Kenya during the violence, including being trapped in one town for five nights because “some militia group . . . was coming in from the west.”
She also discussed the conflicts caused by land.
“Some parts of the country are still experiencing violence,” Ringera said. She pointed out that some people, “refused to stop fighting”, because “they had already identified with pieces of land (that had been taken over),” or so that “the interest of their leaders would be upheld”.
She also helped to form citizen groups to stop the violence.
“If I kill him or her, what does it benefit me,” Ringera asked. “I’m proud to say that a lot of us Kenyans didn’t just sit around.”
Zarembka spoke next, echoing several of Ringera’s points.
“I was really surprised by how many reports picked up on this as tribal hatred,” she said.
Pointing out what she called another “complicated layer” of the conflict, Zarembka mentioned a newspaper photograph she had seen of a dead woman, and victim of violence in Kenya, with a caption beneath it mentioning ethnic tensions.
“This woman was killed by the police,” Zarembka said. “The police, in order to kind of quell the demonstrations, are using live bullets”.
Zarembka said “the fact that there was a stolen election” was a main reason for demonstrations in Kenya.
She said that many people “felt it was clear that O had won” after an election that she described as “actually incredibly orderly.”
Zarembka said that during an election, “grievances get a chance to be expressed . . . there’s just a feeling of hope and change.”
She also spoke about Kenya’s large youth population.
“A lot of those individuals now don’t have jobs,” Zarembka said. “Those were the people who were more likely to demonstrate.”
The last panelist to speak, Jentz used her time primarily to talk about Ringera’s run for the parliament.
“What if we were to support people globally in their campaigns for office,” Jentz said. “Karambu really stands for . . . empowerment for women globally, in a really poignant way.”
Ringera later said that 80 percent of her campaign donations came from the U.S.
Jentz and Zarembka then began to ask Ringera some moderated questions.
Jentz asked if Ringera would run again, and Zarembka, citing frequent bribery in Kenyan politics asked, “how do you change a corrupt country without being corrupt?”
“It is a very interesting feeling not to win,” Ringera said in response to the question.
“I would stop and talk to the girls, and I said, ‘this is for you – I’m doing this for you because I want you to know that the future is yours,'” Ringera said, with tears welling up in her eyes.
Ringera said that she will run for parliament again in 2012.
“Now, more people will know about me, and I also have a stronger campaign team,” Ringera said.
The audience was then invited to ask Ringera questions. One question came from Lydia Van Vleet, a freshman majoring in German, Spanish and international affairs.
“What can our response be to the people of Kenya and Africa . . . how can we enact sustainable change?” Van Vleet said.
Ringera said that the answer was to stand with people to listen to them.
Ringera said that it is a challenge for a person from a country like the U.S. to look at someone in Kenya and not start to think “what is wrong with you.” She said that when someone starts to think that about another person, that is the beginning of the breaking of relationships.
“This was my first full panel that I got to go to,” Van Vleet said. “Obviously it’s very touching as well as inspiring.”
Van Vleet also said that it was important to understand that we may not have all the answers.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Sam Dieter at email@example.com.