Global church 'living letters' encourage Kenya politicians toward peace

By agency reporter
5 Feb 2008

As mediation to solve the disputed Kenyan presidential election enters a critical phase, top-level figures from the two parties have met an international Christian delegation, which asked them to move on from the electoral dispute and seek a compromise solution.

The seven-member group of church representatives sent by the World Council of Churches as part of its "Living Letters" initiative in solidarity with churches facing situations of violence, visited Kenya from 30 January to 3 February 2008.

The group met with the country's vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka - as the president Mwai Kibaki was attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - and with the leader and presidential candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement, Raila Odinga.

"Kenyans would like to see their political leaders affirming peace and sorting out their differences, for which a political compromise is needed" - was the message from Canon Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), which hosted the visit.

"It is true that there is no peace without justice, it is also true that there is no justice without peace" - affirmed the head of the ecumenical delegation the Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

Although affirming their full commitment to the African Union mediation process led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, both parties predictably made the case for their own victory in the 27 December presidential election and handed over documents to the delegation supporting their claims.

"We are not here to judge poll results", Kirkpatrick said. "These documents are unlikely to be helpful to anyone", Karanja added. "Now it is essential to separate issues of human life and dignity from the search for political justice".

In turn, the ecumenical delegation made a strong case for those suffering the brunt of the crisis. "Many women and children are amongst the most affected by the violence and as a consequence of the forced displacement", said Ms Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the World Young Women's Christian Association.

"Their needs are not only shelter and food, but health care, including access to HIV and AIDS medication, security, including protection against sexual abuse, as well as counselling for the trauma they are undergoing", Gumbonzvanda said.

Violence broke out along ethnic lines in Kenya following the announcement of Kibaki's electoral victory, and its rejection by the Orange Democratic Party. Over 800 people have been killed and several hundred thousand have fled their homes and are sheltered in dozens of makeshift camps around the country.

The meetings of the ecumenical delegation with both parties, which lasted over two hours each, allowed for frank and in-depth discussion of the current crisis as well as for moments of prayer.

The delegation made the case for the Kenyan churches to be full partners in the mediation process, but this was met with expressions of disappointment regarding the churches' role during the electoral process. "Right now in Kenya the churches need to heal themselves first"; "the churches have failed us as they have taken partisan positions." - These were some of the complaints voiced by both political parties.

The NCCK general secretary acknowledged embarrassment about this amongst church leaders, but affirmed that they have tried to take responsibility. "A deep process of reflection has taken place after the election, and the crisis has encountered the churches united in their call for peace and reconciliation", he said.

As an example, Karanja mentioned a memorial service for the victims at the burned church in Eldoret, in which bishops from the two tribes involved will take part. It will be held in Kitale on 15 February.

The ecumenical delegation also heard about the deep-rooted historical grievances that underlie the current unrest. Amongst the main issues are inequalities in terms of land distribution and access to state resources and opportunities, as well as perceived or real tribal privileges.

"Kenya would never have a lasting peace without these fundamental issues being addressed", Karanja said, "but that cannot be done at the time of an election".

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