Revolution #122, March 9,2008
From A World to Win News Service
Blood Money for Kenyan Valentine Roses
February 18, 2008. A World to Win News Service. The world’s media, including the Nairobi Standard in one of its February 14 columns, breathed a sigh of relief supposedly on behalf of the nation that Kenyan roses would make it to European markets and flower shops in time for that crucial holiday invented to turn love into lots of money.
Now imagine you’re an ordinary flower farm worker at one of these lucrative horticultural industries that line the pockets of rich white settler and Kenyan entrepreneurs who have set up shop around Lake Navaisha, situated only two hours from Nairobi in the Rift Valley. You have noticed that somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 people like you, most of them landless from other rural areas, but a few from the slums and settlements around towns, picked up and moved to the area with the promise of jobs. They are from many different ethnic origins and geographical areas but until last month, this didn’t matter much—you all were poor and exploited by the same owners. Those who actually got hired in one of the several flower farms circling the lake may be housed in shack settlements, or in the rows and rows of concrete slab company housing right outside the workplace. Others wait in a day labor line across from the farms hoping to make some temporary cash. Some set up market stalls or sell small pyramids of tomatoes, onions, potatoes and other local produce along the road by the vast greenhouses. You didn’t know you’d be working with toxic pesticides and fertilizers all day long without protection. But thousands of others are unemployed and have no income at all, waiting to take your place if you leave.
About 60% of Kenya’s flowers come from Lake Navaisha, traditionally a resort area for wealthy white settlers and home to several hotels and restaurants, tucked away from the poor and medium-sized dusty town of Navaisha. Signs bear the names of Dutch, British and Kenyan-owned companies like Sher, Wildlife, Homegrown, and Kingfisher. Lake Navaisha is one of the larger freshwater lakes but is rapidly being turned into a cesspool for the flower industry. The flower farms are draining the lake, pumping freshwater into the greenhouses while returning the chemical-filled wastewater through a ditch. Plant life has all but ceased to exist. Fish and bird species are threatened. The public has no access to the lake and to the water because it is all privately owned. They must line up for the few communal taps in the area, which never are sufficient for the local population’s needs.
But over the past month, since the big demonstrations in Nairobi, the violence spread to Navaisha. You have seen some of your co-workers attacked and chased away by people of ethnic groups different from theirs. You have seen the owners of the farms and white landowners in the area whisked away from the danger and violence in private airplanes and lorries. You couldn’t believe your eyes when you saw people of various origins forced to run into the Navaisha prison to try to escape marauding crowds of local (Kikuyu) gangs, some appearing to be escorted by the police, who shoot at those who venture out of the prison. You have seen people hacked to death with machetes. The bloodshed has torn the workforce apart and some people who haven’t been driven to other areas of Kenya are still staying away out of fear. You yourself are of mixed parents and afraid to speak anything but the main language of that region in public. You don’t know what happened to your Luo neighbors and to the Kalenjin woman married to a Kikuyu who worked next to you clipping roses.
But what do you see in the week leading up to February 14? Your white bosses and Kenyan managers are mobilizing everyone to come back to work on the grounds that “It’s safe.” They need to prepare the shipments of roses for the one holiday that generates nearly half of their profit in a given year, and they want you to work even longer days than you already do. All around you there is fear, trauma and tragedy from the events of the past month. There is no “protection” and the situation is anything but safe for ordinary Kenyans like you. There is no transport available for refugees, to carry home the dead for burial, or to bring in food. Your husband can’t get to the funeral of his uncle, killed in the communal fighting. But there are lots of trucks parked outside today. You discover your bosses have hired the police to protect the lorry convoys full of roses headed to Nairobi airport. You make a point of stabbing your flesh with one of the thorns as the rose is packed for Europe and watch the blood drip down the stem and into the valentine box.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations
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