The Women of Kenya: Practical Leadership for Troubled Times
As 2008 began in Kenya, her citizens huddled terrified in their homes for protection from a wave of violence and killing sweeping through their country. Anger and frustration over a corrupt national election process had bubbled up into a river of rage that quickly became a familiar ‘us vs. them’ battle drawn along ethnic lines. Thousands of homes were burned and stories drifted into the global media about violent deaths at the hands of angry mobs of young men.
By February 200,000 Kenyans were living in tents in primitive camps for ‘internally displaced persons’ with little food and even less hope of returning home. All of this unfolded in a country already struggling with incredible challenges; the short list includes high incidence of HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; a shortage of drinkable water and fuel for cooking fires; lack of educational opportunities especially for girls and rural youth; little sustainable employment; and a primitive infrastructure which complicates transportation, hygiene and safety at a most basic level.
Following the news of these events, I kept saying to myself over and over again: I trust the African women to restore sanity to Kenya. My faith in the women of Kenya has its foundation in relationships with courageous women from that country. In Bondo, Kenya in December 2006, I had the opportunity to attend the Grassroots African Women’s Conference, spending four days in the company of 513 grassroots African women leaders. These women were remarkable, tackling the enormous problems in their villages with practical ideas using whatever resources they could find.
- Ten mothers in a small village on the shores of the Indian Oceanhad organized to integrate 50 orphans into their families.
- Women in remote rural areas had created their own ‘merry-go-round’ micro-lending programs to develop small businesses and a sustainable source of income for their families.
- Successful strategies for purifying water and solar cooking were being developed, shared and replicated.
It was easy to develope warm relationships with these women, both at the conference and traveling to visit them in their villages. I witnessed firsthand their self-sacrifice and hard work, their creativity and persistence, their collaborative spirit and their commitment to their families. I danced with them, singing their songs of hope and enjoyed their easy laughter. I was hugged and welcomed into their homes and their hearts. We nurture our friendships through the miracle of e-mail.
So when news coming out of Kenya was at its worst, I took solace in knowing that the women would eventually be able to emerge from their homes and do whatever it takes to pull Kenya back together. I knew that they would begin to care for the children and feed the hungry and find homes for the homeless. I knew that they would talk among themselves about the roots of this violence and quietly find ways to bring reconciliation and healing. I knew that the women of Kenya would show up fully in the face of this craziness and bring sanity back to their land.
It is what they have always done.