Last week I had a chance to visit Kakuma Refugee camp up in the North of Kenya. We flew past miles and miles of dusty, parched and rocky lands. A land that was as beautiful in its barrenness as it was wild and desolate. It felt like a land in which time stopped. The women were still beautifully dressed in their traditional clothes and the men wore ‘skirts’. In its own way, Kakuma in Turkana reached deep into my soul and drew me in to feel its pain.
As I walked round the Kakuma refugee camp, my heart broke with pain and with an anger I did not think its possible for me to feel anymore. The war in Sudan had started taking its toll again, on women, on children who in most cases bear the brunt of wars men fight for some cause few can understand. I saw this beautiful child sitting on a rock that was his classroom chair in a tent that under the midday sun grew very hot. He was holding his head in his hands and on his face was a look of weariness I never want to see again on a child’s face. He was thin. He was dirty. He was tired. He was hopeless. I will call him Malakal, and he had arrived in Kakuma a week before in the company of strangers. He did not know where his parents were, and he did not know where his siblings were. He was not sure whether to be happy he had made it across to Kenya, or to be sad that he had to start a new life, a stranger in the midst of this desolate land.
His story is not unique. There 179,000 other people in this camp who survive on Corn Soy Blend, Sorghum, Wheat flour, pulses and some oil for their daily bread who all have the same story to tell. Looking at them drew a mish mash of emotions from me. I was happy that they made it out alive. I was glad they have a roof over their heads and protection from the elements. I was unhappy they could only receive so much and sad at the loss they have to live with every day of their lives. I was angry that the people who started this war for some cause they can always justify, do not have to live in refugee camps during these wars. They live in the leafy surburbs of Kenya in Lavington, in Karen and in Spring Valley. They eat sausages, bacon, fruits and vegetables and drive fuel guzzlers their faithful people cannot even dream of. They encourage their people to fight for a cause which in many cases is to put them in power and make it their turn to “eat”.
We the people pay the price for this in every way you can imagine. A generation grows up with no education except that gleaned under a hot sweltering tent, with a teacher pupil ratio of 1:156. Another generation will grow up stunted, because of inadequate nutrition when they were young. Yet more grow up fighting the night, which brings to their remembrance the faces of the men they killed with a gun held to their own head for a cause they do not understand. The nation loses a whole generation to this senseless madness because the men are too proud to talk and agree to step down for the sake of the millions they purport to serve.
Looking at that reality, I wonder, does it really make a difference who leads so long as there is peace? In this clamor for “freedom” and in this desire for just governance, how do you benefit when the cost is so high? Thousands of lives lost, millions displaced and even more orphaned. Is this democracy worth it? Is getting a leader who will give you a piece of the national cake, worth this loss and suffering? Looking at what I saw, I am certain we truly need to examine the causes that are truly worth dying for.
Looking at the Malakal’s of this world who will never receive as much as a visit in Kakuma from the so called preferred leader their fathers’ are fighting for, I am convinced that peace is the only thing worth dying for. A true leader should be one who is willing to lay down his life so that peace may prevail… all the time.Greater love has no man than this than that he should lay his life for his friend. That should be our standard for judging our leaders.
Sadly, we are surrounded by few such leaders in Africa.