25 January 2008
By Eden Grace
(Kakamega, Kenya) -- Approximately sixty Friends from all Quaker organizations and Yearly Meetings in Kenya gathered in Kakamega yesterday for a three-day conference to focus on responses to the social and political crisis currently unfolding in Kenya.
The opening session was devoted to listening to personal stories of how the violence has touched conference participants, and to praying together.
Recognizing that Kenyan society is on the brink of chaos, it was movingly stated by one participant -- “We are praying that this cup may pass us by, may pass Kenya by. Yet even Jesus bore the cup and went to the cross, but in a way that broke the cycle of violence and transformed all creation.”
Another Friend reminded the conference of II Corinthians 4:8-10 -- “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
The Conference heard inspiring and informative keynote messages from Mary Lord, recently-retired Assistant General Secretary for Peace and Conflict Resolution at American Friends Service Committee, and Oliver Kisaka Simiyu, Deputy General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).
Mary Lord spoke about the Biblical Basis and Practical Application of the Friends Peace Testimony.
She emphasized that the Peace Testimony arises from the direct experience of God in each person’s life, as an expression of faith rather than as a rule to follow. Early Friends considered that Jesus meant what he said in the Sermon on the Mount.
Mary reflected on her early years among Friends, when she felt that the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount was unrealistic and not likely to result in successful movements for social change. She eventually realized that she had been assuming that she herself understood human nature better than Jesus did, and was able to embrace the teachings of Jesus as a matter of faith.
She decided that “Jesus wouldn’t have told us to live in a way that wasn’t possible.”
Implied in the affirmation of Peace as a matter of faith, is the realization that it is not by our own power or knowledge that we make peace. It is the power of the love of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit.
Mary stated that if we do not begin from faith, our peace work will not be effective. If we do begin from a life-changing faith, then we have no other option but to be peace-makers.
In living this Testimony over more than 300 years, Mary said that Friends have become “researchers” of peace, experimenting and finding effective ways to witness in various contexts. She then gave several examples of ways Friends have given expression to the Peace Testimony.
During the 20th-century wars in Europe, Friends provided humanitarian relief to victims on all sides of the conflicts – a move which was highly controversial at the time. Mary remarked on the fact that the Friends most directly involved in this work felt that their efforts were inadequate, and struggled with fatigue and despair, but that the world community recognized their work by awarding them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948. Their seemingly-inadequate effort became a beacon to others about the way to make peace.
Mary mentioned instances in which Friends have served as mediators and negotiators. She shared how Friends have established safe-havens for dialogue in the midst of violent contexts, and have offered leadership to various movements for social justice.
Friends have increasingly been taking the role of supporting and training, and of lifting up voices and truths which need to be heard in the public discourse. Mary closed by remarking that, although we often despair that we are not making a difference, the reality is that the world is a more peaceful place because of the work of Friends.
In the discussion which followed, Friends used Mary’s historical examples as a way of approaching the current crisis in Kenya.
Participants spoke of reaching out to the youth, offering meaningful activities to counteract the temptation to violence. They spoke of reintegration of displaced people, and of creating centers for dialogue without fear. They urged Friends to take action “on the ground” and to persist in prayer that the power of Jesus may overcome the “demons” of violence in Kenya right now.
In his message, Oliver Kisaka gave an analysis of the post-election disturbances and their root causes, and helped to put them in a Christian perspective. He started by recalling Romans 8:28 -- “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” -- and challenged us to believe that this is true, that now is an opportunity for God to do a powerful work for the good of Kenya.
Oliver spoke movingly about the breakdown in the electoral process and the seeming betrayal by the Electoral Commission of the trust placed in them by Kenyans.
According to both domestic and international observer bodies, the voting itself, and the initial counting at the constituency level, were conducted according to the highest democratic ideals. However, the process then broke down [during the final tallying of votes], such that the country is left in a situation in which there is no public confidence in the legitimacy of the government.
After working for years on civic education, and seeing the positive results of such efforts, Oliver felt deeply disappointed by the performance of the Electoral Commission. He also reflected that many young people who engaged in the election with enthusiasm, now feel bitter and disillusioned.
Oliver remarked that, at a deeper level, Kenyans do not have a healthy relationship to their political institutions and personalities, and that this is reflected in a flawed Constitution and a “winner takes all” mentality toward governance.
He felt that many Kenyans went to the polls looking for a “saviour” rather than a president. Kenyans put all their hopes and aspirations into one political figure, and began to believe that life would not be tolerable if that leader were deprived of victory.
The rhetoric of the campaign period was so exaggerated, it would have been impossible for any government to fulfill the expectations of the people.
Oliver noted that the heightened aspirations of the people were further manipulated during the campaign period when candidates encouraged voters to believe that they are poor because someone else is rich, that they are disenfranchised because someone else has consolidated power in their own community.
The reality is that the gap between wealth and poverty exists in every community, and the benefits of power always accrue to the powerful themselves, not to the average citizen.
In this way, the political elites of Kenya have seriously abused and manipulated voters, and created the situation which is upon us now.
Oliver went on to address other causes of the current crisis, besides the specifics of the election itself. He noted particular historical injustices which have not been resolved and which contribute to the situation today.
For instance, the distribution of settler-owned land at the time of independence created deep resentment on the part of some communities.
The unequal investment of development resources throughout the country has led to a feeling that the home region of the president will receive preferential treatment.
Oliver remarked most powerfully that issues of [economic] class play a large role in the current anger in the country.
From a Christian perspective, Oliver stated that the spiritual life of Kenyans is too compartmentalized, too divorced from economic and civic engagement.
He praised Friends for gathering in this conference to ask what is our responsibility, and encouraged us that “the Quaker light should shine!” He reflected that Friends have strengths to offer at this time. Our Testimonies are a strength to guide us.
We have strong capacities in non-violence training, and we should broaden these to look also at training for business and entrepreneurial participation.
Finally, he challenged Friends to engage in advocacy on behalf of those who are suffering and oppressed.
Oliver concluded his message by remarking on the deep cleavages in Kenyan society which underlie the current crisis – cleavages of religion, ethnicity, class, gender and age. These divisions threaten the unity and peace of Kenya, and directly contradict the Christian ethic of love of neighbor.
He remarked that if you put your hope in anything less than God, you are going to differ with other human beings. “People will kill people over something like football teams, if that’s where they focus their attention. We will be divided as long as we focus our eyes on men rather than God...."
"To stay in unity with other people, we must look to
the God who created us all, rather than the differences between
“None of our leaders and politicians are saviours. We have one Saviour, Jesus Christ. If this is true, we will forgive each other unconditionally. If Christ is Lord, then the things he taught are practical -- we can turn the other cheek, forgive, and love our enemies. These are not suggestions, they are requirements. In all things, God works together for good, even if we don’t see and understand it. If we have faith in God, there is no alternative.”
Having heard these two inspiring speakers, the conference participants broke into seven working groups. The conference will conclude on Sunday 27th January.
Friends in North America and Europe can support this Friends Peace Conference by contributing funds to help defray the costs of the conference and the expense of implementing plans that develop.
Give now online to conference sponsors:
Click on the organization's name for link to donor window.
Earmark your contribution for
"Kenya Relief Fund."