Two IFA Field Teams - IFA Kericho and IFA Western – joined forces to help the Koru and Soin communities get a voice as the rightful landowners of the area earmarked for the Koru-Soin Dam.
Construction of the dam dates back to President Moi's regime and involves the displacement of people given little or no public participation in the fate of their community. The result has been unlawful evictions. Construction of the dam has now attracted huge funding under the Jubilee government - Ksh. 25 billion to be precise.
The massive structure would be over the River Nyando, bordering Kisumu County on one side and Kericho on the other, with the affected Koru community from Kisumu, and the Soin from Kericho. The National Water and Harvesting Storage Authority (NWHSA) are overseeing the construction of this proposed dam.
The government has used a top-down approach with no public participation, using the Ministry of Interior to stifle those who tried to advocate for due process.
IFA started organizing meetings through a community leadership structure to plan for a protest to demand a bottom-up approach. The community wanted to be consulted through public participation forums. These forums would be about land valuation and a feasibility study report, among other issues.
But when the government got wind of this, it started threatening the community organisers, with the Koru Assistant County Commissioner sent to prohibit the meetings.
Enter the Flash Mob Idea
A Flash Mob Protest is made up of a group of people who arrive suddenly in a public space, demonstrate briefly, then quickly disperse. Gone in a flash…
It is a protest of something or someone. It may be in the form of a quick march, a dance, an exhibition, satire, or a well detailed but rapidly delivered press statement.
Flash Mob Protests are becoming increasingly useful for repressive government action on peaceful protests. Presently, Covid-19 containment measures are giving governments a good excuse to stifle peaceful assemblies and protests.
IFA knew that government did not want the community to organise and would be ready to use its Covid-19 containment measures to stop any gathering; so, we proposed the Flash Mob idea to the community.
Two IFA teams made contact with the community leaders in low-key meetings to help organize. But there was fear of victimization, so most of the community leadership retreated and left only two members to continue with the plan. These two bold leaders mobilized the affected community, including people living with disability, along with local media stations.
On 7th August 2020, the Flash Mob Protest was executed.
It lasted for a total of 40 minutes. Protesters from both Koru and Soin occupied the Muhoroni-Lodiani highway for ten minutes before disappearing, finishing with a 30-minute press conference on the side of the road.
Just five minutes after the press conference finished, around ten armed police officers from Koru Police Station arrived in a lorry. They looked out of place and disoriented, because the protesters had dispersed, and they had no one to chase away or illegally arrest. They were in the company of the Koru Assistant County Commissioner Raphael Nakuwa, who also had very little to do.
Result of the Flash Mob Protest
Two days later, the National Water Harvesting Storage Authority (NWHSA), through Raphael Nakuwa, issued letters of invitation to landowners for public participation in the construction of the dam. Due to the Covid-19 containment measures, each family was to be represented by only one person.
The meeting took place at Manera Secondary School on 11th August 2020. But the NWHSA didn't engage with the community and the purported public participation had no substantive agenda. It ended in disarray.
The NWHSA crossed the border to Soin in Kericho County - where they planned to have three other sham public participation forums - to bring the community a revised gazette notice.
The community representatives who participated in the Flash Mob mobilized the community to attend, to demand a later date for public participation and a clearer agenda.
The NWHSA backed off and gave one month for a public participation forum at Koiyabei and Kapkormom Primary Schools on 10 September.
During this meeting, the affected communities asserted they were not ready to move out of their ancestral land. They raised a number of concerns, including that their names were mismatched with the plot numbers in the gazette notice issued by NWHSA.
The officials present from NWHSA were unable to respond satisfactorily to these concerns.
Watch this space…
By SK Wandimi, with the IFA Western and Kericho Teams