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January to February 2008
February 13, 2008
Friends here we are again, still
As I was sending Letter from Kenya #2, things were deteriorating
rapidly in Nakuru and Naivasha, two towns in the Rift Valley very
dear to me. I was born in Nakuru, and that is where we would have
been into our 4th day of shooting the BBC comedy series when everything
turned nasty on 25th January. Naivasha is where my parents lived
for 8 years, and the home of many friends. And between the two lies
Soysambu Conservancy where we spent the best years of our youth
and where Kat, my sister-in-law, is struggling to build a co-existence
between the wildlife and neighbouring communities.
In Nakuru we did not see the looting and burning of businesses as
happened in Kisumu at the start of the chaos. But whilst the town
centre was tense, scores of houses were torched in the low income
residential estates in the southern suburbs leaving many more families
Naivasha is Kenyas horticultural centre and the flower farms
employed hundreds of people from all regions of Kenya. Gangs of
imported youths wreaked havoc in the town. The level
of violence was horrific and we saw the true meaning of bloodlust.
This continued for 3 days until an uneasy calm settled, but leaving
thousands more displaced people, a terrified local populace and
the farms operating with reduced staff levels. Within days, though,
there were people waiting at the gates hoping to replace those who
had been evicted.
On Monday morning, the 28th January, the mood in the office was
sombre, but Lillyan, our Production Assistant and a Luo who lives
with her extended family in Kibera, provided some light relief announcing
that her newborn nephew is to be christened Mass Action
Teargas came in a close second.
Mediation talks began the next day and gradually calm has returned
and Kofi Annan seems to be making progress. Kenya is no longer headline
news and long may that last.
The focus is now on the humanitarian crisis. For the 300,000 displaced
people living in the hastily set up camps, it is estimated that
the same number of people have been taken in by neighbours, friends
and families. The response from Kenyans is overwhelming. Collection
boxes placed at the entrance of major supermarkets are literally
overflowing with donations, day after day. The Naivasha Community
Project is reporting that residents in the area are providing more
assistance than the Red Cross and all the NGOs together.
Thousands of pupils have not returned to school, many of their schools
having been destroyed and their teachers hounded out because they
are considered to be foreigners. There are an estimated 100,000
children in the IDP camps, most traumatized by violence but makeshift
schools have been set up to continue the learning process. Many
families were separated and the Red Cross is doing a great job reuniting
children who have been separated from their parents.Tourism has
taken the heaviest toll with many hotels closing down and 20,000
workers laid off. Conversely, the ecosystem in the game parks
especially the Masai Mara, gets a well earned respite from minivans,
and wildlife film-makers who decided to stay on have paradise all
Spare a thought for our police force. The expressions on the faces
of truckloads of police being ferried into Kibera told it all. Many
were fresh recruits from Kiganjo Police college sent to the frontline
with little experience because the force was so overstretched In
an hours interview on television with Police Commissioner
Ali, all apart from two displayed text messages from the viewers
were supportive praising the policemens behaviour under pressure.
We have never seen such tremendous support for the police thanks
to Brigadier Ali, arguably the best Police Commissioner Kenya has
And finally, an example of an enterprising farmer
you move your entire livestock herd of 50 goats and 4 cows when
you can only afford one 3-ton truck for a single trip? I was following
this truck last week: it had high sides with metal frames across
the top. Through the sides I could see the cattle comfortably standing
in the truck, and above them the goats all suspended in hammocks
made of nylon sacking, 4 goats per hammock with their heads sticking
out surveying the landscape!
Now the Mediation team have gone to an undisclosed destination to
finalise the negotiations. Kenyans hate secrets and the press are
frantically trying to find out where they are. It is quite hilarious
brings back memories of the paparazzi trying to find our
Survivor location in 2001 and that wonderful quote from
Aidan Hartley in this country my lips are sealed
means you are talking out of another orifice!
January 27, 2008
The situation still changes on a daily basis. Early in the week
it was all doom and gloom a peaceful prayer meeting
by ODM on Tuesday, sanctioned by the police but with the usual doubts
that peace would prevail. Then Raila calling for another 3 days
of mass action Wednesday to Friday. Further, the mediation group
led by Kofi Annan seemed to be taking their time getting here.
The memorial prayer meeting was for victims of the violence in the
slums and was held at a football ground on Ngong Road. All went
peacefully until a small group of youths arrived and started stoning
the police, who retaliated and panic erupted. John Sutton was monitoring
the situation and his comments follow :
I was at Harlequins ground watching the entire proceedings and providing
travel safety updates. No cars were burnt but all the windows of
the telkom building were smashed. The function was being held at
the "Ligi Ndogo" football ground next to Harlequins ground.
After the police tear gassed the meeting there was no attempt to
regroup and everyone went home. Despite the large crowd blocking
Ngong road there was more fear from the motorists than actual acts
of violence as seen in the previous rallies. I did not see any vehicle
pelted with stones. Apart from experiencing the discomfort of tear
gas and moments of apprehension when everyone was scampering for
cover leaving pall bearers running down the road with their coffins
trying to stop their respective vehicles from leaving them behind
to the mercy of the GSU. Generally the crowds were noisy but mostly
peaceful. At the request of Kofi Annan, the mass action called for
the next three days was cancelled by Raila and life goes on. There
are no shortages, the traffic is awful, and the Kenya Shilling is
Meanwhile, the violence continues in remote rural communities and
our film industry has suffered its first casualty as a direct result
of the ethnic violence. Peter Mbugua, a carpenter with our Construction
Crew, went back to Molo together with his brother to evacuate his
elderly parents from their family home. This area has suffered the
worst and saw the first ethnic violence back in the Moi era. Peter,
his brother and father were all murdered and their vehicle burnt.
His mother has since been evacuated and we are holding a collection
to assist his wife who is left with a month old baby.
On Saturday, 12th January, I travelled to Nakuru accompanied by
the BBC security assessor and John Sutton. Everything was normal
in Nakuru town and we went to Njoro for lunch with Andrew and Zoe
Nightingale, where the actors were to stay. The Nakuru Showground,
where we hope to film several scenes, was accommodating several
hundred displaced families. On the way back to Nairobi we could
see homesteads burning on Eburru and the Mau, and the large number
of vehicles traveling towards Nairobi loaded with household possessions
On Tuesday, 15th January, the streets around Parliament were closed
off in preparation for the Swearing-in of the new Members as well
as the election of Speaker of the National Assembly, which was broadcast
live on TV. We watched the sworn enemies back-slapping and laughing
together whilst Kenya suffered. The ODM contender eventually won
the vote as Speaker and the slums erupted in jubilation.
And for the Deputy Speakers position, the gentlemanly PNU
candidate conceded to his opponent. More ODM celebration and dancing
in the alleys of Kibera. Proceedings were orderly and the speakers
were eloquent. After clarification that MPs were swearing
allegiance to the State and not the (?) President, the procedure
continued until 1.30 a.m. and Kibaki sat all the way through as
MP for Othaya.
As we watched TV the heavens opened. Sixty millimeters of rain fell
overnight and continued into the morning a good sign as Kenyans
are generally fair-weather rioters. We braced for the mass action.
Next morning work in Nairobi continued, traffic jams were back,
and at Pontact it was business as usual. Late morning the rain cleared.
Apart from a half-hearted march towards town by some of the ODM
leaders which was quickly repulsed by police with teargas, the violence
was contained in the slums, mainly Kibera, and it was intense. The
police and GSU (General Service Unit, the military arm of the police)
circled Kibera and stopped protesters leaving; first a goods train
was stopped and the cargo of foodstuffs bound for Kisumu looted,
then they managed to uproot a kilometer of railway line.
The City cautiously continued business as usual, but on Thursday
afternoon trouble threatened and the police called for all businesses
to close and everyone evacuate the Central Business District in
15 minutes! Nose to tail traffic ensued, but moved safely and the
police contained whatever the threat was. Can you imagine your capital
city evacuating in 15 minutes? On Friday, businesses opened again
but started closing earlier than usual. And on Saturday everything
was back to normal and this continued up to Wednesday and the aforementioned
abhorted prayer meeting.
>From several eye witness reports it is obvious that the trouble
is always started by a small group of youths who goad the police
into retaliating. They number about 2% of the crowd. They are probably
being paid, but by whom?
We have been having meetings between the stakeholders and the Kenya
Film Commission to plan the way forward and damage control. The
tourist industry has been hit the hardest with many hotels, particularly
at the coast, closing and laying off hundreds of workers. Tanzania,
meanwhile, reaps the benefits. All the cruise ships has diverted
to Dar es Salaam and it is only a matter of time before Mombasa
Port starts suffering as it becomes more difficult for goods to
transit to Uganda and the Lakes region.
On Thursday, Kibaki and Raila stood on the steps of the Office of
the President with Kofi Annan and shook hands. Then Kibaki mentioned
in his short speech that he is the elected and sworn in President
There has not been much progress reported on the talks in the last
48 hours. But the news from Nakuru is bad as violence has flared
up and several people killed. The fighting is amongst the lower
income people in the residential estates West of the town, whilst
the town itself is quiet but very tense. The headline being put
out by Sky News that half the town was burnt is not true, in fact
very far from the truth. The army are helping the police (because
a large army battalion is based in Nakuru), and there is a dusk
to dawn curfew. Meanwhile, Waterbuck Hotel (our crew base when we
are there) is open for business and many people passing through
have reported groups of foreign journalists cruising around town
like tourists. We will keep a watch on the situation and report
in the next letter.
January 15, 2008
Having received emails from all over the world we thank you for
your concern. With the situation changing daily, this letter has
had many beginnings but, with the current steady improvement its
time to dispatch it.
The run-up to the General Election went smoothly and Kenya was
looking forward to the closest result in history. There was no
antagonism. Many, including the younger middle class, wanted change
in the form of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Raila
Odinga, whilst others appreciated the stability of the encumbent
President Kibaki and his impressive economic record of the past
five years. Voting went smoothly on 27th December with the highest
ever turnout and everyone eagerly awaited the results. Most Kenyans,
regardless of party loyalties, were delighted that most of the
unpopular old dinosaurs of the previous Cabinet lost
their seats. Democracy was prevailing.
On 29th December, as the counting proceeded, things started going
downhill. As we watched the results being read out by the Electoral
Commission (ECK) Chairman, it was obvious that Raila was forging
ahead of Kibaki. But it was equally obvious that those results
were from Western province (Railas area) whilst those of
the much closer constituencies in Central Province were being
the easier to fix the numbers for
Kibaki once they knew his opponents figures. Raila and his
team appeared at the Conference Hall and started objecting and
the ECK refused to even acknowledge them. This blatant rigging
was broadcast live to the nation. Some differences between Constituency
results and ECK announcements were as much as 500,000 in favour
of Kibaki. (In retrospect, it must be said that Raila has admitted
rigging on ODMs part as well, hence the impasse). On Sunday
30th, when the objections increased, the ECK Chairman was hustled
out of the hall and the venue closed, and within the hour he appeared
on TV announcing Kibaki as the President, closely followed by
a hurried swearing-in ceremony at State House. Chaos erupted instantaneously.
The media wasted no time in spreading the news of the violence,
in fact several people have told me they first saw it on CNN and
BBC World. But it was real, and it was shocking. We watched in
disbelief and horror the looting and chaos, particularly in Kisumu
and Eldoret and the Nairobi slums. Neighbour attacked neighbour.
Our beautiful country burned.
A few diehards returned to work on 2nd January myself included
purely because I live and work on the mostly Kikuyu side of town
which was calm. It did not take long for life to return to normal
all over Nairobi. Fuel is back in the pumps and supermarket shelves
are restocked. Who could have thought that sitting in a gridlocked
Nairobi traffic jam would bring a feeling of well being?
Many family, friends and workers had travelled to the countryside
for Christmas and New Year. Regular Travel Safety updates circulated
on SMS from our security consultant, John Sutton, guided people
back home. John provided this as a voluntary service and patrolled
the streets for days and nights without sleep, at the same time
liaising with the Police. Those who ventured further afield, to
Western Kenya, are still trickling back because they have to wait
to travel in convoys with Police escorts.
By all accounts, all our freelance film crew are safe and sound.
Some who live in Kibera had to evacuate their homes hastily, and
they are biding their time elsewhere.
The shocking scenes of violence and burning you have been seeing
on your television screens have been in Mathare and Kibera slums
which are home to many unemployed people and lawless gangs and
hooligans who wait for an opportunity such as this to loot and
burn. Other low cost suburbs like Majengo and Gikomba (the mainmitumba
market) with multi-ethnic communities have remained peaceful throughout.
And Eastleigh, the Somali neighbourhood, has been unaffected and
It is hard to perceive that two people can cause so much chaos
to millions, not only in Kenya but also Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda,
Burundi. But Kenyans are resilient and caring. The Red Cross and
camps for displaced people are flooded with donations and volunteers.
The numbers in these centres - police stations, agricultural showgrounds
and church compounds are reducing as families return to
their home areas and are taken in by relatives some havent
seen for decades. The extended family system is still alive in
Whilst the world media have coined a new phrase Post Election
Violence and kept repeating violent scenes long after calm
had been restored, the local media and entertainment industry
have played a major role in calming the situation. FM stations
and music celebrities are coordinating assistance for the displaced
people and film crew offering their personal expertise wherever
it can help.
As we hope and pray for a solution, we shall see what this week
brings with the opening of Parliament, election of Speaker of
the National Assembly, and the promise of 3 days peaceful
mass action by ODM, for which support seems to be dwindling as
more people yearn for tranquility.
The BBC comedy series in Nakuru from 21st January to beginning
March has been postponed until later this year. The decision was
not taken lightly but was unavoidable considering the UK Foreign
Office travel advisory of essential travel only and
subsequent insurance issues. Meanwhile, wildlife documentary crews
are still filming and more are planning to come in February.
For those of you planning on filming in Kenya in the coming months,
please consult us. Your safety is our prime concern. We are currently
discussing damage control with stakeholders in the industry, the
Kenya Film Commission and relevant authorities.
Postscript Our efforts were not in vain
The good news is that Heart of Fire, which we filmed
in Kenya for TV60, from July-September, has been accepted for
the competition section of Berlinale (The Berlin Film Festival).
Keep a lookout for this outstanding film at a Festival near you.