You may be aware of the deteriorating situation in Kenya following last month’s elections. At the FWCC World Office, we have been receiving emails from Friends in Kenya. This email is a summary of what we know so far.
First, some background from David Zarembka, Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative/ Friends Peace Teams who lives in Western Province, Kenya. He writes:
“Since independence the Kikuyu [the tribe to which President Mwai Kibaki belongs; Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, is a Luo] have directly or indirectly controlled the Government and Kenyan business. Through this time, they continued and promoted the centralized system of Government given to them by the British. The 2007 election campaign revolved around “devolvement” meaning decentralizing. Naturally Kibaki and the Kikuyu opposed this since this meant giving up their power to the periphery.
“So it is payback time. It is amazing how only Kikuyu shops and homes were burned and everyone else left intact. Those at the bottom are taking it out on those whom they feel are on top. They have no contact with the Kikuyu tycoons and politicians and so they are taking the pent-up rage of forty-four years of independence out on the average Kikuyu in their community. The Kikuyu are then retaliating by killing the other ethnic groups that happen to live in their communities.
“With the large population increase in the past, there are many youth. Many of these have been educated to the secondary level or even above and then they are left with nothing to do, alienated from Kenyan society. They see no future so they can easily be turned to violence. This is the tinder and the spark was the announcement that Kibaki won what everyone in western Kenya considers was a rigged election.”
David’s most recent email, sent on the morning of 3 January, anticipated a violent clash at a rally being planned by the opposition in Nairobi.
“Today looks like the decisive day, and things don't look good. Kibaki has told the head of the African Union not to come to mediate because this is an internal Kenyan problem. In the doublespeak of the day, this means that Kibaki is not going to negotiate and will enforce his presidency with the police and military. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) plans a massive inauguration of Raila Odinga today in downtown Nairobi at Uhuru Park. One million people are expected to attend. The Government has banned the gathering. BBC reports that riot police have encircled the park standing a meter apart. In other words, this looks like its going to be a major confrontation. Kikuyu from hard-hit Eldoret have been evacuated under police escort to Nakuru and Nairobi.”
Bainito Wamalwa, head of a young Friends organisation and employed by a Swedish NGO, described the current situation in Eldoret: “The Friends church in Eldoret has 62 families who are displaced by some of them having their houses burnt. They have no shelter, food and other basics. There is no way to enter or exit Eldoret now. The food prices have gone more than treble high. Things are not right here.”
In the face of the catastrophe befalling Kenya, John Muhanji, the Director of the Friends United Meeting Africa Ministries Office, tried to focus on the future. He wrote:
“Happy New Year!! At least I can manage to say to you happy new year. It is true that those who are alive can say such words but in reality I would have said 'sad and bloody new year for Kenya 2008’. What a bad ending and beginning of the year. Friends when you see yourselves enjoying the peace you have now wherever you are praise God for everything. Because that can be taken from you in a twinkling of an eye as it happened here in Kenya. Peace is something that needs to be guarded with a lot of care from everybody in the world.
“I am experiencing a situation where people we have lived with for many years are being chased a way and their houses being burned not by their neighbours but by people from nowhere in a mob.”
John continued, “Tension is all over the country and especially in towns. In my village, Kivagala, I have occupied the young people in football games during this sad period. Many idle young people have not been involved in any activity of any nature but busy participating in the games that will reach its climax on Saturday January 5th. I am very much encouraged with the response… Yesterday after visiting Kisumu in the evening and seeing how tense the place was and the tension along the road, I arrived at home and found a different atmosphere where the playground in the school was filled with young people playing. The older generation was playing against the younger generation. It was such an interesting game… This may be an example to other parts of the country… I have also introduced an open air film show to the community to intensify peace in the community.”
But for now, the violence continues, and in some areas it is escalating. Transportation is also severely disrupted, as the Matatus that are the primary form of transportation country-wide most use are mainly operated by Kikuyus, and they are too afraid to work. David Zarembka writes:
“The death toll since the election is supposed to be 284, but I suspect it is much higher… There is a report that 10,000 armed Kalejin youth from the Eldoret area (there were 2000 people who burned down the church) are marching on Burnt Forest, an area with many Kikuyu where there have been clashes in the past. If this kind of thing is true, then we may be in for a real bloodbath on the scale of the Rwandan genocide. It is possible that the violence has gotten out of control so that the political leaders, the police, and army may not be able to control it even if there is a political settlement.”
From what we know as of this writing, US Friends living and working in Kenya Eden and James Grace and their children are safe in Kisumu and Jody Richmond is also in a safe place. We have heard nothing about the safety of Friends in Nakuru, Nairobi or other parts of Kenya. People are about to run out of time on their mobile/cell phone cards and internet access, so communication may be more of a problem shortly. The same is true of food for many people.
John Muhanji asks for financial support for prizes for his sports participants and we are sure there are other needs as well. Donations can be made via the FUM website www.fum.org or via the FWCC World Office www.fwccworld.org earmarked for this purpose.
In terms of the more general financial and other material support that Friends can offer, discussions are taking place both at AFSC and amongst Friends in Britain to determine the best and safest way to ensure that help reaches those who need it. We should be in a position to tell you more about this early next week.
Most of all, Friends in Kenya need our prayers along with prayers for peace and justice to prevail in their country. This is the season of the Prince of Peace and we must seek God's assistance and guidance amidst this turmoil.
With hope and faith,
Nancy Irving, General Secretary
Friends World Committee for Consultation
Harry Albright, Communications Director
Friends World Committee for Consultation