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Kenya Reports

Report #21
January 21, 2008

Shortly after the first Quaker missionaries came to Kenya in 1902 and had their first converts to Christianity, the requirements of being a Christian were at great odds with traditional society. I know (or rather knew since many of these have died) some of these original converts and they are not like your every-day Christian that we know. They had to make major life changes to become Christian, usually over the complete objection of most of their family members. These folks are/were stout Christians. As time went on many others converted and living separately was no longer necessary. By now almost everyone in Kenya considers him/herself a Christian (or a Moslem). But like the US,
and many other places, many of the nominal Christians rarely go to church except for weddings and funerals and it plays only a little part in their lives.

On Sunday at Lumakanda Church the preacher was the wife of the pastor. She lives in Eldoret and is having to move because she rents a house owned by Kikuyu. Many of the houses around her have been burned down. She took as her text, Mathew 5:20 which reads, "I tell you, then, that you will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven only if you are more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires." She started out by saying that Christians don't smoke or drink alcohol (all Protestant religions in Kenya forbid smoking and alcohol consumption). But then she went on to the main part of her sermon, namely, that Christians do not take up weapons to use on their neighbors. She gave the example of a man who is a pastor and took a spear to join in on the violence in Eldoret. This man, she clearly indicated, was not a Christian.

Note that this was the sermon in a small church in an out-of-the-way place. But I think that this is a common feeling among those who go to Church. While this is a Friends Church, I think that this message could be heard in many Christian churches here. In other words, the God-fearing Christians are against the violence. But that division between the "God-fearing Christians" and the nominal Christians is huge. The church-going Christians shun those who do not attend church and make little outreach to them. This is particularly true of the youth. Consequently, when violence came, the God-fearing Christians had no points of contact with the looters. They were cowed down by fear,
many expecting to be the next target of the wrathful crowds.

There is no political settlement in sight. One newspaper columnist stated today in the Daily Nation that the longer that things drag out the better it is for the Kibaki side: so, they have little incentive to genuinely engage in mediation. On the Raila side this means that time is against them so they might turn to drastic measures.

Although there were no demonstrations over the weekend, the violence did not subside. Once the genie of violence gets out of the bottle, it is very hard to put it back in. The papers report 10 or 15 deaths on Sunday. Eden Grace texted me that two people were killed in Cheptulu, the market right next to Kaimosi Hospital (which had formerly escaped the violence). Most of the deaths are in Rift Valley where the various Kalenjin groups feel that outsiders have taken away their land. This is not only Kikuyu,
but also Kisii, Luo, Luhya, and other groups. This happened before in 1992 when 1000 people were killed and 100,000 or more displaced. Many people (like all those who said Kenya was such a stable country) seem to have forgotten this. As we have learned from Rwanda and Burundi, when these kinds of clashes occur and nothing is done about them, a renewed, more vicious cycle of violence will occur. This, I think, is what is happening in the Rift Valley (and I live only 3 miles from the Rift Valley). As Job, my son-in-law, told me back in about 1992 when he was in fifth grade, the Kalenjin warriors came all the way past Lumakanda attacking the Luhya--this was in the days before Lugari was a district with a police station in Lumakanda.

To summarize, the election results were the spark for the violence. The tinder was all the alienated youth in Kenyan society. As time goes on the ethnic dimension will increase and attacks will lead to counter-attacks. As attacks become successful in forcing people to leave the Rift Valley, the violence becomes self-reinforcing leading to more attacks. At this point we must be thankful that the attackers have only traditional weapons--clubs, bows and arrows, machetes, and spears. If they had guns (which, if the violence continues, they will soon acquire in one way or another) the death toll would soar
and soar. Even now I am not sure that a political settlement will end the violence in the countryside, although it would give the security forces a greater chance to deal with it.

Tomorrow Gladys, my wife, and I go to Kisumu (for the first time since the violence began) to help plan the series of 40 listening workshops for the 900 employees of the Center for Disease Control. We plan to begin conducting AVP workshops at various sites in Western, Rift, and Nyanza Provinces. We have hired two more AVP facilitators to help organize this work--Peter Serete from Kakamega and Bernard Onjalo from Bondo, Nyanza Province near Kisumu. They will work under our energetic AVP coordinator, Getry Agizah. Malesi Kinaro, Gladys and I will give direction and, of course, I must raise
the necessary funds.

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