Besides the relatively innocuous inconvenience of no internet, it’s been a week of pretty gruelling travel – changing lodging every day for several days, each one of them a rich cross-cultural experience – and punch-in-the-gut stories in urban slum and rural communities within a container of heightened tension and low intensity violence.
Partera’s Zimbabwean partner and founder of the Pan-Africa Peace Network (PaPNet), Lancelot Muteyo, has been a spirited companion and colleague along the way – received here as almost a kind of conquering hero as if he alone had brought down the 37-year reign of Robert Mugabe! He is an exquisitely interesting travelling and training companion. I get to see Africa through his eyes. Equally a foreigner here as I but an African ‘brother’, I find him a sharp-edged commentator on the state of things here in Kenya. He paints a picture of Zimbabwe that is so at odds with the one in my own brain. I have learned a great deal from him through hours and hours of conversation.
Lance tells me about the Zimbabwe he has lived, of going to University for free, no slums, free healthcare, a capital city that works with high-quality infrastructure built by Zimbabweans. Mugabe rolled back some of those reforms, imposing new fees on education and healthcare and the country’s economy suffered a steep decline under the Mugabe kleptocracy. Lance holds back no rhetorical punches when it comes to Mugabe, no doubt. He was amongst those who tasted post-Mugabe freedom on the streets of Harare just a little over a week ago. He tells me his life story, one punctuated from its early days with dissent from the broad way.
Two-three hundred-kilometre trips take eight-to-ten hours: it seems that all of the inter-urban roads of the Rift Valley are torn up all at the same time. We’re up here in the ‘north country’ travelling from Kisumu not far from the Ugandan border. At one point the roads are so bad, huge holes alternating with maxoum-like mounds of red earth and old asphalt, create a jarring obstacle course. Entrepreneurial young men are there to make up for the absence of any road workers or signs directing confused drivers. They locate themselves at particularly dicey places where the roadway takes a sharp and unexpected turn; drivers roll down their windows and throw a few bob into their outstretched palms.
One evening while backtracking to Kakamega, we repeat the journey, but this time in the pitch dark and pouring rain and without our guides. We make it through without incident if not without anxiety. The following day, when we come across a piece of road, a dual-carriageway, that is recently paved and ready to go, we are stopped by two machine-gun-toting police officers; the excuse is speeding. The conversation takes place in Swahili, alternating between hostility and levity, and ends with a bribe being slipped into the hand of one of the officers: ‘Just do what you do when you go to the shops,’ the officer leaning in the driver’s side window says, the nose of his AK-47 almost touching Walter’s shoulder. He slips the 500 shilling banknote provided by Walter into his upper pocket and waves us off with a jolly word or two. We are immediately overtaken by dozens of vehicles, all of them much grander than the bit-of-a-rattletrap in which we are travelling, a careering matatu (bus/van) or two and massive trucks hauling petroleum.