An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Picking Up The Pieces

Sam Okello-Kisumu MayorIs violence ever justified? Is it ever proper to fight? How long can you talk things through when everything said falls on deaf ears? At what point do you lay down sickle for sword? And once arms have been taken, how far do you go? Do you give your life? Do you take a life? Can you ever turn back?

Returning to Kenya raised a lot of questions. At the turn of the year, distressing visions poured into our living rooms. Livid mobs marching, machetes raised in protest. The sparked anger turned to flames and houses, churches, cities turned to ash. Military filled pickup trucks with the fallen opposition. Dead or alive these people would be heard.

When your country is one of the most developed in Africa. When it is looked to as an example of democracy in a continent plagued with political corruption. Then when in election the front-runner by nearly a million votes mysteriously loses to the reigning president, there are bound to be problems. The populous had been asked to choose, then the chosen dismissed. When the process was compromised, and a compromised people saw their hopes dashed with justice, they took matters into their own hands.

Within days over 300 people lay dead, burned and beaten. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, was in disarray. Another violent center was the western port city-Kisumu, home to the Luo tribe (one of the largest tribes in Kenya and that of the challenging candidate). When I arrived Kisumu the air was no longer tense, but the signs were everywhere. Charcoal skeletons of cars and buildings sat as shadows on the sides of streets. Things were getting better and behind it all was a newly elected mayor.

I met Mr. Sam Okello on the plane from Zurich to Nairobi. After a brief conversation about Barack Obama, whose father as you may know was also from the Luo tribe, Mr. Okello extended his hand, card and an invitation to visit when I passed through Kisumu. So I called the morning after I arrived and within a day I was sitting in a large office in the Kisumu city hall.

He walked into the room with a glowing smile. The line of people waiting to see him told me he was busy but his confident demeanor was relaxed. Before the meeting I had written a list of questions. I was anxious to learn: What happened? Was it justified? How do you move forward? Is there hope? But when we finally sat down to talk, we sat as friends. I told him who I was, my hopes, my plans. He told me a bit of the same. Then he invited me to join him later that night, when he and the trustees would discuss the direction for this troubled town. I was honored to accept.

“This is my friend, Derek.” Okello introduced, explaining to this group of leaders the value of an outside opinion. They were all welcoming and after a short opening prayer we sat.  As I watched these minds mingle, exploring the problems and solutions of their community, I was filled with a sense of hope. I had seen the effects of colonialism in Malawi, of tourism in Tanzania, and now the after effects of a people betrayed. I had also heard story after story of corruption.

Kenya was the supposed light of democracy, but in a moment that light began to flicker, dimming with the hopes of not just a country, a continent. Kisumu was a broken city, with a broken infrastructure and shattered spirit. Yet now in downtown Kisumu, in some hotel around a table of thought with those most affected, the light returned. I heard the concerns of each individual. I saw the long list of needs fundamental to exist. More importantly I saw the vision of a man and group to restore order.

I’m still not sure how or why I was at that table. One guy trying to see the world passing through town. But I’m glad I was. I sat in the back seat of Mr. Okello’s vehicle and reflected as the chauffer led me home. I know it was just a meeting, but I couldn’t help but feel I had seen the beginning or at least return of something special… Hope.

1 comment

1 Bea Omolo { 10.11.09 at 5:21 pm }

hi derek;

I loved reading your blog.I stumbled upon by mistake and voila…Sam Okello is actually my brother in law…weird…awkward …or coincidenece……cheers

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