Statement on the crisis in Kenya and the churches' response
World Council of Churches - Geneva
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)
Kenya and its many communities are going through an extremely painful experience following heavily contested elections. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more have been wounded or maimed. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have been forced to flee from their homes. In the shadows of chaos, unknown numbers of women and girls have been subjected to sexual violence. People living with HIV and AIDS have been cut off from medical care. Uncounted homes and businesses have been looted and burned and many livelihoods destroyed.
Kenya’s presidential elections of 27 December 2007 were followed by accusations and counter-accusations between the main opposition party and the ruling party about whether the ballot had been manipulated or sabotaged. The violence that followed shook a country that only weeks earlier was admired for a robust electoral contest and, five years ago, became a model for peaceful democratic change in Africa when its people insisted on the implementation of a multi-party political system.
Churches around the world have followed these events with concern and sorrow, with soul searching and prayer, with gifts of assistance and actions of solidarity, including the mediation efforts of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCC Kenya), Kenya’s Inter-Religious Forum, the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the “Living Letters” delegation of the World Council of Churches in January 2008.
Signs of a turning-back from confrontation and violence now give cause for cautious hope. Standing as Kenya’s neighbours in a global village, we thank God for the many peace-making efforts by churches and join with the sentiments expressed by the AACC: Speaking in the darkest hour of crisis, the Nairobi-based council called Kenya “the steward of Africa's collective hope” and said their host nation’s “joys have become our joys and therefore its pains, our pains…The theology of the body of Christ urges us to be available for one another, not only for those who share at the common sacramental table, but for the world for which Christ died”.
The disastrous aftermath of the elections should be understood within the broader social and historical context of Kenya. The root causes of the kind of violence that has raged for weeks can be traced to pre-independence and post-colonial political dispensations. The constitution crafted at the dawn of independence in 1963 should have been understood as a transitional instrument. It did not deal sufficiently with critical issues such as land ownership and a bill of rights. Subsequent constitutional changes gave mixed signals or were inadequate: making Kenya a de jure single party state in 1982, reverting to multi-party democracy in 1991 and making a spirited but inconclusive attempt to write a new constitution prior to the recent elections. Another much-needed measure - electoral reform, including a truly independent electoral commission - is still pending, now at great cost.
The current constitution and certain government institutions appear to have been misused to meet partisan political interests rather than the interests and aspirations of ordinary Kenyans. A presidency that is predicated upon the politics of patronage, without institutionalized power-sharing, hardly inspires people’s confidence that the public interest will be met. The perceived pattern is that gaining public office benefits the winner’s community more than others in the constituency. The difficulty of gaining a seat or a tendency to hold onto power year after year only strengthens the popular conviction that this form of democracy is defective and must be repaired. Unless it is repaired, future presidential elections may be just as intractable as this one and potentially as dangerous to the nation. This need to build public trust in government is not unique to Kenya.
While the current conflict is a consequence of disputed presidential elections, the communities in conflict have long-standing and often unvoiced concerns dating back to independence, when many Kenyans felt that their communal expectations were not met. The independent government inherited colonial structures and then failed to address certain injustices and inequalities that divided the nation. Issues that affected many communities and various ethnic groups went unresolved. A negative colonial legacy grew into a post-colonial political problem. External factors also continued in new ways and old, influencing the political culture, shaping expectations of a growing population and driving key sectors of the national economy.
Churches of the WCC gave early notice of such trends in Africa in a statement on Unity and Human Rights in Africa Today by the WCC central committee in 1971, “The interference of rich and powerful foreign nations offers the most serious threat to the stability and development of African nations, and makes the solution of the existing problems of tribalism and internal dissidence more difficult”. These political, social and economic forces, the committee said, “menace the aspirations of the African peoples for unity and for a human existence in full dignity and independence”.
Sobered by the reality of inter-communal violence, seized of the need for churches to discern their role in times of deep crisis, and convinced of the capacity for societies to allocate power with accountability, the central committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 13–20 February 2008:
- Recognizes that churches were among those implicated in the crisis and, as the NCC Kenya has stated, were “unable to effectively confront these issues” because of partisanship;
- Affirms church leaders and members who became advocates for peace and unity during Kenya’s electoral crisis, and commends the same role to churches in comparable crises elsewhere;
- Urges that churches in countries facing related crises learn with the churches of Kenya about the need, for example, to issue joint calls to end violence, to do so as promptly as possible, to speak out consistently for the protection of human life, and to demonstrate the Christian commitment to peace by taking an active part in on-going processes of mediation, reconciliation and healing between the parties in conflict;
- Recommends that, when societies become deeply divided and where it is possible, member churches and councils of churches support platforms for dialogue among government, opposition and civil society leaders where they may hear alternative views, debate differences, agree to negotiate, and take steps to prevent, reduce and stop violence;
- Encourages churches to initiate and participate in efforts to build up interfaith collaboration and advocacy for peace and reconciliation, noting the work of the Inter-Religious Forum in Kenya;
- Affirms the need for church members and leaders to promote a culture of dialogue - in church, between churches and in society - where diverse groups are made welcome, where differences are addressed and where, as far as conscience permits, partisan political alignments are avoided and the common good prevails; further affirming the hope that relationships between churches may be bridges across divided communities and a safety net in times of crisis;
- Encourages churches to be actively involved in programmes of civic education and education for democracy, human rights and the dignity and equality of women and men, and to take part in programmes to monitor and follow-up electoral processes;
- Applauds the wider African and international community engagement in mediation and conflict resolution efforts, such as the work of the African Union and the counsel offered by distinguished African leaders; and encourages the provision of humanitarian assistance to people who are displaced or returning home, especially through Action by Churches Together.
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