Christopher Chemnjor works up a sweat as he digs the soil in a small field of potatoes in Mwahe village, Molo district in the south Rift Valley. He is paid 100 shillings a day to work for a local farmer tending the potatoes and other crops during a five hour shift.
It is perhaps a commonplace sight in the windy and lush hills of the Rift Valley. What makes his situation so remarkable is that he is a Kalenjin labourer working for a Kikuyu farmer in an area of rural Kenya which was devastated by the violence which followed the contested presidential elections in December 2007.
In the hills of Molo district and in the small roadside town which bears the same name, there are still many physical reminders of the uncontrolled violence which swept through the Rift Valley.
The debris of houses which once provided shelter for some of Kenya’s poorest farmers remain scattered across the countryside; in some cases all that lingers is the darkened patch of earth where the former inhabitants once cooked. In Molo town, rows of small businesses which provided services to passing traders and truckers are mere concrete shells empty of any product or purpose.
Although violence erupted on both sides of the tribal divide, it was generally accepted that it was Kalenjin antagonists who first attacked their Kikuyu and Kisii neighbours. The Rift Valley was the region in Kenya which was worst hit by post-election violence with 350,000 displaced people and around 120 deaths compared to a total for Kenya: of over 500,000 displaced people and 1500 deaths.
Christopher Chemnjor, who was not involved in the orgy of hostility, welcomes the peace that has reigned in Molo district since the end of the worst violence in February 2008. This is the first time he has been able to work since then.
‘I’m happy to have a job and feel good working for a Kikuyu neighbour. We are now together and have no argument. I felt very bad when the fighting broke out.’
He works for Miriam Mwihake who grows potatoes and peas on her shamba of three-quarters of an acre. She was one of the lucky ones who managed to flee the area before it was attacked by gangs of youths bent on destruction and in some cases murder.
She lost her house, which was burnt to the ground and still lives in a temporary camp for displaced people. She has been unable to plant crops until recently when she and her other farming neighbours felt safe to return to their fields. Like Christopher Chemnjor, she wants to look ahead not back. ‘A lot of bad things happened following the election, but now I want to work with my Kalenjin neighbours. We are closer than we were before’ she adds, ‘and this is because we are now dependent on each other for our future.’
Without farm labourers, Miriam Mwihake would be unable to harvest her crop and without the work Christopher Chemnjor would be unable to provide for his family.
The wages of the farm labourers, a total of 8 000 Kenya shillings (€77) over three months have been paid by a programme funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). The programme has also provided Miriam Mwihake with 10 000 Kenya shillings (€96) worth of vouchers which she has exchanged for seeds, tools, fertilizer, pesticides and potatoes for planting.
After the violence, I had nothing left and could not afford to buy what I needed,’ says Miriam Mwihake. ‘This support has enabled me to start producing crops again.’
The Commission-funded programme has helped around 10,000 farming families in the Rift Valley to start producing crops and around 500 labourers to find work on those farms. As a result, the local economy has begun to pick up. When the potatoes and peas are harvested in January and February 2009, Miriam Mwihake is expecting to be able to sell them for around 40,000 Kenya shillings (US$600), a huge profit given the original investment of 10,000 Kenya shillings. She is also providing much-needed employment which was unavailable following the post-election violence.
The fillip to the local economy is crucial in the short-term, but according to the head of Commission's Kenyan humanitarian aid office, Yves Horent, there are other significant long-term benefits.
‘The programme has brought together traditionally rival communities and now they can see the mutual benefit of working together. They realise that peace can bring prosperity to all the local communities.’
In Mwahe village one small act of reconciliation has taken place which, it is hoped, will be replicated across the Rift Valley and in other parts of Kenya. As the anniversary of the election and the resulting violence passes people like Miriam Mwihake and Christopher Chemnjor are hoping that their cooperation will ensure that violence will never return to the verdant hills of Molo district.
Regional Information Officer
23 December 2008