Since my return from Kenya in December of 2007 much has happened in the country. Kenya has lost some of its innocence, trading peacefulness for war like activities. The elections for Parliament were held on Dec. 27th with a massive turnout by all sides. It was a tightly fought battle on all fronts but especially by President Kibaki with his PNU party and by Raila Odinga with his ODM party. Many lesser parties fielded candidates for parliament and some won, however this was definitely a year for change. The past parliamentary members filled their pockets, tripled their salaries, and got almost nothing accomplished during their term except to fight with each other. The population at large had a “throw them out attitude” and they did just that for the most part. Eighty percent of the parliament was to be new blood, 18 out of 20 cabinet ministers were not re-elected, and the ODM party took 99 of the seats as opposed to the president’s party returning only 43 members, a crushing defeat. As the results started to come in things were not looking well for the president and the results showed a resounding defeat for him. Suddenly the counting had to stop, the international observers were required to leave, and somehow the next morning Mr. Kivutu of the electoral commission declared President Kibaki the winner by 230,000 votes. The opposition cried foul and the crisis began in earnest. Roads were blocked, riots broke out businesses were looted, homes burned down and the country went into tribal warfare. The president, a Kikuyu and his vice president a Kamba set the tone for the rest of the tribes as having stolen the election and their democracy. Raila, a Lou and most of the other tribes aligned themselves together to strike back at everything owned by a Kikuyu or Kamba
The ensuing three weeks have wrecked havoc on the Nation. The fuel pipeline was shut down and neighboring countries which rely heavily on Kenya for fuel and transportation of there commodities have also now come to standstills for their economies. President Musiveni of Uganda has been generally known as a dictator in his style of rule, supported Kibaki and reportedly many of the killings in the Lou community were by Ugandan soldiers wearing Kenyan uniforms. If this is true or not I do not know but much evidence points to it. The international community has declared the election as flawed, and the EU has cut off all aid the Kibaki government with the US and Britton seemingly going to follow suit. The people have torn up the railway tracks leading to Uganda to punish their President, and stopped commerce as much as possible. After 3 weeks of uprising approximately 1000 people are dead, 250,000 are homeless and 500,000 are displaced and can not return home. The tourist industry is all but finished for some time. As return to Kenya , I sit on a Boeing 777 about 2 hours out of Nairobi and we have 69 passengers on board, instead of the usual 250.
The food supply is in a crisis mode and beside me sits a relief worker from a French organization going there to try to source food for their relief efforts.
Well now it is Thursday afternoon and I am at the farm. Tuesday was spent going too and from meetings all day long then a flight to Kisumu and finally a drive to the farm. We are located in the territory of much of the riots and destruction of property. I believe that around 70 people were killed in the Kisumu and in Siaya just 16 km (12 mi.) away 6 gave their lives. It appears that The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, is going to hold fast to his position that he won and Kibaki stole the presidency. He firmly says this is a fight for the democracy of Kenya. At 11:00 there was a meeting at the US Embassy to see the Commercial Attaché. Jim Sullivan is a new man on the job, but very willing to assist if we have needs. His opinion of the mess in Kenya was it would not be solved soon or easily but it must be done. He had to leave by noon to go to a business leader’s luncheon, which I was also attending. The luncheon was very informative with speakers from the banking industry, insurance industry, and the manufacturing sector. Some of the highlights are as follows:
· Money supply has been reduced by 30%
· 6000 businesses have been destroyed
· The tourist industry in virtually wiped out for now
· Banks do not have enough capitol to fulfill their loan commitments
· Banks do not expect to receive many payments for loans outstanding and are trying to arrange for a grace period of 1 year to their business customers
· Almost no insurance coverage is provided for the type of damage done, however I believe ours does cover it by special request
· Government revenues are down by 50%
· Capitol is fleeing the country and foreign capitol is hard to come by
· Uganda, Burundi, and others in the area are very hard hit.
· A food shortage is looming
· Manufacturing is off by 20%, trucking by over 50%
· The port of Mombasa is stuck with 21 ships now in the harbor waiting for off-loading
After these presentations the US Ambassador spoke and gave the official view of the US. The US gives in one form or another around $2 billion to Kenya each year while the EU gives around $600,000.00. They plan on using the carrot and stick approach to a solution. The problems are very complex and hard to resolve in a short period of time. This will take some time, perhaps up to 5 years to return to normal. After the presentation he requested a private meeting with me to get my take on the current status and discuss possible solutions. It was a pleasant meeting which I believe was helpful to both of us. Soon I was on to the airport and then Kisumu. I slept soundly on the plane for the 30 minute flight. From the airport I went direct to the farm with a new driver. Our old one was a Kamba and can not return to the area as his life may be taken. As I went down the road, the driver proceeded to tell me the situation, and describing the killing as just a matter fact thing. If a Kikuyu or Kamba come to the area they will simply kill them, no thinking or remorse, just kill them. In his small world he also thought everything was totally back to normal since the fighting in our area had stopped for 2 days. Everyone should just go back to as they were before, unless they were from one of the two tribes, and they were just to be killed. Simplistic, irrational, and explosive thinking is the order of the day. I slept like a log that night.
Wednesday was a busy day at the farm. The other Americans finally returned after being at home for Christmas, and then being unable to return; little had been done for the month they had been gone. Our mechanics had tried to plant fields and keep things going but did not know exactly what they were doing. I was trying to explain to them what to do over the phone from the US during this time and for a few mechanics they were able to get some fields planted, some crops harvested, and kept the place going. I am thankful for their efforts. The locals began to trickle back to their jobs and we had enough fuel to proceed with some operations again. A few of our most talented people may never return since they are Kikuyu and Kamba. Our rice mill has been operated by a mechanic and electrician for a week now and we actually have milled 50 tons of rice. During the month of problems about 300 acres were left unplanted and another 300 became infested with weeds.
Thursday and Friday, Steve Cowell and I went over about every department to see what could be trimmed back to meet the current level of production and figure out our way forward. We will need to send home a number of people at the end of the month. This is the same condition as most companies in the country are in. An estimated 500,000 will loose their jobs. The rebuilding of the dykes was back underway a few days before I arrived and the people had done about ½ mile of it wrong so a re-do was in order, costing us about a week of time. The spillway had to be fixed immediately while the river flows were low, so an emergency approach was put into action. The repairs to the dam had not yet been started so it is also a flat out effort before the rains come to raise the water levels again. The fields looked awful, weeds had taken over so much and so many fields remained unplanted for the month so planting began, and the crop duster was back into the air, for both herbicides and fertilizer. It was a tough time to restart the farm. The rice mill manager is a Kikuyu, so he is history for now at least, so Rick and the mechanics have found out how to make the systems work, but not as well as they should. Our generator needed some more engineering fixes so these were done and more power is now available. The power company is supposed to start up permanent power soon but who knows when this might happen now. In Kisumu the government rice mill was over-run by a mob of approximately 4000 people angry with the government, so the mill is effectively closed for repairs, which will result in more food shortages.
Saturday was interesting. Before leaving the US I requested a meeting with the Pastors and spiritual leaders of Nyanza, and it was arranged for Saturday morning. The trip to Kisumu was uneventful with almost nobody on the roads, and very few people around. The large numbers of police usually present were not there; being called away to so many hot spots around the nation. The road was damaged in many areas due to the protesting people burning tires in the middle of the road to disrupt things; the places will shortly deteriorate leading to large areas of bad roads again. I hope they can be fixed rapidly. The meeting was long, as I spoke for two hours, then we went into questions and finally a plan of action was arrived at. The only thing that will fix the current situation is a move of God in the hearts and minds of the people. The situation has gone far beyond politics, and into long term grievances, resulting in true tribal warfare. People, including children, are being hacked to death with machetes simply because of their tribal affiliation. First it was the Luo after the Kikuyu and Kambe, then the Kalengin and Masai joined in and then the Kikuyu decide to retaliate, so the war is on. In Nakuru over 50 were killed on Saturday, last night another 15 burned to death, and today 43 died in Naivasha. When will this end? The Christian community is usually hunkered down and out of sight but not anymore. On Saturday they will start coming together in mass to pray in the stadiums, and in the parks and show another side of Kisumu to the world. They are going to begin to love their city and to protect it as much as possible and to become the agents of reconciliation for the people.
On Sunday morning I preached the message to Redemption Church, and it was well received. After the service Ben and went to find something to eat and not one place in Kisumu was open to feed us, that we could find, so I headed to Siaya for a meeting there with the pastors of the area. Three hours later they we also set up to come together and protect their city, bringing it together in a time of public prayer, and reaching out to the business leaders, government officials and the people of the city. The preparations begin in earnest this week for the first major rally on Saturday. It was a good day here but in other places the fighting rages on. Revenge is the order of the day; three killings to offset one, is what they are saying. When will it end, can Kofi Annan make a difference where genocide is practiced. I really doubt it; when he was Sec. General we had Darfur, Burundi, Rwanda, Somali, and Zimbabwe, and nothing was stopped. Will Kenya go this way? Not if I can have anything to do with it!
Saturday and Sunday were tough days for Kenya as more rioting broke out in many areas of the country. Approximately 90 people were killed over the weekend, mostly in the rife valley, in a form of ethnic cleansing. People were hacked to death with machete, burned alive or simply shot just because of their ethnic background. Gangs were going house to house to search out people of different blood lines and then just simply killing them. Retribution in the form of three killing for each one was being promised upon the parties, and more killings were on. Kisumu and Siaya were relatively calm but there was a feeling of something in the air. It was a very foreboding to just be there; people huddled together as if plotting their next move. Fires burning along the road and a ladies body stretched out in the dirt with people peering over her as I left Siaya. Should I stop or should I keep going; I did not stop, was that right or was it wrong, I do not know, but I kept on going, looking back in the mirror and feeling somewhat disappointed in myself for not stopping. A few minutes later a young man was begging to have a ride. I made him run for a bit to see he was not armed then let him in. He wanted to let me know how much the people needed Dominion and that they were praying for us. I felt good as I dropped him at his humble village, shaking the hand of a poor humble man, hopefully just like me.
On Monday we woke up to the news that Kisumu had gone back to rioting, looting and attacking those thing owned by Kikuyu. A store and hotel were destroyed, tires set on fire in the roads, and schools forcefully closed. All the roads from the farm to there were blocked but somehow an electrical supplier had made it to the farm for a meeting by leaving early in the morning. Joyce had been caught between two gangs on the road and was trapped for the day and tonight Steve’s wife and children were headed to the airport and got trapped, and are still holed up on the road for the night. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day. The meeting with the electrical supplier went well and after my redesign of the system the price was reduced to one half. He left to try to get home and 6 hours later arrived with broken windows and injuries. Our fuel supplies are down to 14,000 liters, or about 2 days for normal operations, so tomorrow we start shutting down, and securing things. All diesel trucks will be parked, large tractors pulled back in and only essential repair items continued along with field preparation for planting. The land clearing and leveling will have to wait. We are desperate for spare parts held up at the ports, unable to be released. 21 Ships are evidently sitting at anchor off Mombasa, so who knows how long it will take. It is now almost 10:30 here at night and Joyce and Steve’s wife Sharon arrived at the farm. Steve was able to hire an armed escort form the Police and I guess that did the trick. Tomorrow will be another day, what will it hold?
Well it is now Wednesday evening and Tuesday was another rough day in some parts of the country but relatively calm around the farm and in Kisumu. On Monday night when Sharon came home our van had police officers in it with them and at the roadblocks put up by the locals the police had to get out clearing the road. During the time of clearing it was a modern day shootout from the Wild West days, or perhaps like in the 20’s with Bonnie and Clyde. Guns were blazing and everyone was lying on the seats as low as they could get. Nobody on our side was hurt; who knows about the other side? The day at the farm was full of meetings with our department heads strategizing on the way forward and which people to terminate. We were desperately trying to get essential things finished before the fuel is gone. The bicycles and four wheelers were brought out to save on fuel and on a river dyke an operator made a mistake which cost us precious fuel and frankly I did loose my cool for a few minutes. This piece must be finished before any large rains get there or we could have severe damage.
The roads were blocked around the farm as a show of solidarity for the ODM and Raila, with people shouting “No Raila, No Peace”. I had to go thru one and was confronted by a mob, but after a couple of minutes of talking we were shaking hands and I was allowed to pass. I drove on saying the same slogan out the window until out of their listening distance. Someone at the farm saw I was in the middle of this and a call came out to come and rescue me. Police were called and many people were headed to the bridge, but it was a non event. These people were just trying to make a show of support for their candidate whom they believe was getting a raw deal, and to help save their democracy in their simple way. It petered out pretty quickly in a couple of hours, as I was probably the only vehicle that wanted to pass for the whole day anyway.
Overnight on Monday in Nairobi a newly elected ODM Member of Parliament was killed by a shot thru the head, at close range as he entered his driveway. This triggered more problems but also made the powers to understand the severity of the problem. It was no longer just the people but now some of the elite were involved. On Tuesday the top officials began to talk, which resulted in relative peace coming on Wednesday, today. The road to Kisumu became open to convoys of vehicles, and I understand Kisumu was at peace. I believe the people are just worn out and hungry. The fighting leads to nowhere, and perhaps they are beginning to understand that.
Today we finalized our lay-off and implemented it for 83 people. It went fairly well with a couple people mad but most just sad. The rice mill is still running and we have been stocking up on milled rice because nobody has the courage to come down the roads. I believe it will be calm for the next few days so tomorrow I will most likely try to make a run for Kisumu and on to Nairobi for the night. I hope and pray the roads are passable. If there is any question I will take armed police with me or stay behind.
Kofie Annan announced today he thought the hostilities would continue for another month and the political solution was at least 1 year away. I believe he may be right, but the economy will not recover for many years. At the coast, 80,000 people have been laid off in the tourism industry. 400,000 people are being terminated in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors and 25,000 have lost their jobs in Kisumu alone. This has created a very big hole for the country to dig out of. The services of Dominion Farms and the youth camp will be needed more now than ever.
Thursday; what a day! The morning began in peace but a laid off rice mill worker broke in to sabotage the mill. He was caught before he could do much damage. Everyone else understood the situation and some even came to thank me for the work they had been given, and say they understood. One more round was made to the main projects; detailed specification on work to be finished was gone over once more and around 2:00 pm I began to pack things up for the trip home. At 2:30 all hell broke loose. Another opposition MP was executed, along with a police officer, and the people were incensed. I knew that if I were going to get out of there it was then or who knows when. Arrangements were immediately made with the local police for protection and off we went to Siaya with 2 officers to Police headquarters, where final plans were put in place. Five men armed with automatic weapons, three security guards, three refugee Kikuyu, two 5 ton trucks and a few more people was what we had. The Dominion van filled with the officers and refugees led the way, I was next with a senior officer and the two trucks brought up the rear. We were traveling as fast as all could do until we hit roadblocks, whereupon the officers bounded from the van to secure the areas, and the drivers and others proceeded to clear the area for passage of the vehicles. We stopped seven times before reaching Luanda. Once the police got out of the van the crowds scattered, and we would resume our journey. In Luanda there was a major traffic problem with the Fuel trucks bound for Uganda. The roads were blocked going there so it looked like a convoy was being formed to try to get thru on the back roads. The President of Uganda has been a supporter of Kibaki, and according to some a co-conspirator in the election rigging so the opposition is determined to stop anything from going to Uganda. The rail lines have been torn up, the roads blocked and the fuel severely restricted.
Farther down the road at Maseno it was the same scene except there were fires burning on the road, telephone poles pulled down and general mayhem, but we got thru. As we approached Kisumu the real problem lay ahead. Containers in the road and burned out cars and trucks along the way; signs, rocks, poles and burning tires covered the road and at one point it did not look like we would make it, then things changed. Those rebels that were stopping everyone saw the Dominion sign on the front of the van and became our friends; they cleared the way and on foot lead us thru the smoke to the other side. Cheers went up as we passed by and God surely took care of the problem. The police could hardly believe their eyes. Shortly we were at the airport where to executives from Total Fuel met us to take a very large check for fuel but then told us they did not know when it would get there. I got off at the airport and thanked the officers, shook their hands and then they and our driver left taking the Kikuyu to safe quarters.
The airplane was 11/2 hours late so much was happening as the planes came and went. Many people were trying to get out. The airport was complete with riot police, and army personal, and fairly secure. I was exhausted and sat down outside to call Sue and let her know I was fine, and then gunfire rang out so I decided it was safer inside a building. One thing I noticed was a hearse and large truck parked near the aircraft area. When our plane did finally arrive it was parked near the vehicles. As we loaded ourselves they were loading on bodies in coffins into the bottom of the plane. A very high up government official sat next to me on the plane and spoke openly about his disgust for what the President had done. As we left the plane a pretty young lady was standing behind me in near tears. She was coming to burry her husband to be, instead of her wedding. I tried to consol her but her reply was simply “life stinks”.
It is 24 hours from now, midnight that I get on the plane for London, I can’t wait.
Friday, the last day here, and so far it has been good. The day started of with a visit to an investment banker to discuss new ventures in Africa and in particular Kenya and Tanzania. It was a very good meeting, and although real large projects do not have a capitol base here smaller ones are possible for good firms willing to take the risks. This could work well with our proposed future programs. We will start building models from which to work on, so that when the timing is right we will be ready to move on. Next was a lunch meeting with our attorney here in Kenya, Mr. Nigel Shaw. We had a pleasant lunch catching up on things and bantering about what was the best solution to the crisis in Kenya. Neither one of us really knew what would happen but we are both very hopeful it will soon return to normal.
My final meeting was with the Managing director of Nakumatt, which is the Wal-Mart equivalent in Kenya. We had hoped to sell rice to them for retail distribution in their stores and in that regard I visited with him about three years ago. He remembered and within 30 minutes we had struck a deal. We will ship the product to the Kisumu store and they will back haul it to Nairobi for distribution in their supermarkets. This is a real blessing to be immediately sold in the largest chain of stores in the country. I am very thankful. They will take delivery of 24 tons next week and all the guys at the farm are excited.
The trip is about to come to a close except for the long ride home. I will be taking a young Kenyan girl with me so she can get medical treatment in Oklahoma City from the University of Oklahoma. She has severe sickle cell anemia and not much can be done for her in Kenya. Her sister Beatrice lives in Oklahoma City and has arranged for her to be treated for no cost, except for getting her their. Dominion was able to provide her transportation and as we cross the Atlantic she is sleeping in First Class while I am in Coach. She has lived in the bush all her life and knows little English so the trip is a real adventure. I pray the medical profession can make a difference for this girl, before she must return home again.
Overall the trip was good with some very harried times in between. I know that Kenya will survive this crisis in time. Perhaps in a month the violence will be over, and in a year there may be a political solution, but it may take years to get the finances of the country back on track. The ethnic issues are a different story. These problems go back for generations and are deeply rooted. The hearts and minds of these people must be changes from the inside and not just a superficial fix on the outside. I believe that a spirit of reconciliation must begin and only God has the ability to bring such a change to pass. Transformation from the old ways to one of understanding God’s love and direction in a person’s life will take time, and can not happen by the changing of a political leader. The events happening here now may be exactly what are needed to effectively make this process begin.
As for Dominion Farms we are an agent of change in the area, and we are here to stay. So many investors and companies have left or are going to leave, but we will stay. As Dominion has taken on the task of supplying clean water, roads, schools, medical clinics and jobs to the area, we have become a sign of stability in the area, a source of hope for so many people, and now we are their life line in a time of food shortages.
For such a time as this Dominion Farms was born. I hope we are up to the task!