Combination of factors lead to Kenyan turmoil

By  Catholic News Service
  • January 11, 2008

{mosimage}NAIROBI, Kenya - Church leaders, pastors and bishops are working to change the channel on the cycle of ethnic and political violence which has claimed nearly 500 lives since Kenya’s disputed national elections Dec. 27.

Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross and other agencies have been brought into the diocese of Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, to deal with people displaced by violence. An estimated 8,000 have been camping in and around Eldoret’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. There are about 42,000 displaced people in schools, church compounds and police stations outside Eldoret.

“The camped people are being fed, those sick (are) being treated and makeshifts (are) being constructed. This, for me, is very pleasing and hope giving,” Eldoret’s Bishop Cornelius Arap Korir told Catholic News Service.

The Kenyan Ministry of Special Programs reports 255,000 people have been displaced.

It was in Eldoret that 35 people were burned to death while sheltering with a group of about 200 Kikuyu speakers in an Assemblies of God church Jan. 1. The Kikuyus have dominated Kenyan politics and business since colonial times. President Mwai Kibaki is a Kikuyu. Opposition politicians have accused the Kikuyu elite of falsifying election results so that Kikuyu power would not be broken by the election of a Luo speaker, opposition leader Raila Odinga.

A coalition of religious leaders in Korogocho, a slum in Nairobi, organized an interfaith and ecumenical prayer rally in a primary school playground Jan. 9. Fr. Daniel Moschetti of the Korogocho Spiritual Leaders Association said 18 people in the slum have been killed and hundreds displaced.

“There is widespread animosity and mistrust among the different ethnic communities in Korogocho,” said a statement from the Korogocho pastors.

The Korogocho group is taking its cue from Kenya’s Catholic bishops, who issued a call for calm and reconciliation Jan. 2. Under the title “My Peace I Give You,” the Kenya Episcopal Conference warned against ethnic and political violence.

“We have lived together for all these years as brothers and sisters. There is therefore no reason for us to be used to raise our hand against our neighbour because he or she belongs to a different ethnic group or political affiliation,” the bishops said.

Pope Benedict XVI joined his voice to Kenya’s bishops in a Jan. 7 statement issued through Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

“It is His Holiness’s heartfelt hope that this beloved nation, whose experience of social tranquility and development represents an element of stability in the entire troubled region, will banish as quickly as possible the threat of ethnic conflict which continues to result in so many crimes in certain parts of Africa,” said the statement.

Meanwhile, Jesuits in Nairobi met Jan. 6 to plan a way for their religious community to contribute to reconciliation and peace.

“People are settling old grievances,” reports Jesuit Father Elias Omondi. “There have always been tensions in the settlement areas in the Rift Valley between Kikuyus and the Kalenjins (the indigenous occupants of the region). The Kikuyus were brought into these areas after independence following their displacement by colonialists who took their land and put up coffee and tea plantations. Because the issue has never been solved in the last 40 years... the situation has always remained volatile. We pray for an amicable solution.”

There are 42 ethnic groups native to Kenya.

Omondi said the Jesuit response would include immediate material and spiritual assistance for victims of violence, initiatives for mediation and reconciliation between major parties, encouraging a vision for national unity, and lobbying for transparency in the electoral  process.

In an e-mail to The Catholic Register Omondi said it was overly simplistic to reduce Kenya’s crisis to a question of ethnic strife.

“We have not addressed the fundamental issues of land distribution, equitable regional distribution of resources and power, as well as constitutional reforms,” Omondi said. “Given that these crucial elements have been ignored, politics has been ethnicized and ethnic identity politicized.”

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