Kenya: violence, nonviolence, moral authority

I’ve been watching the news of this week’s violence in Kenya with huge concern. Many of the news reports speak of horrors similar to those experienced in eruptions of mass inter-group violence anywhere in the world. Particularly terrifying: the reports of people who were previously good neighbors and close personal friends to each other suddenly becoming polarized into violence and hatred along the lines of some supposedly “essential” difference. This kind of sudden, hate-filled fanaticism can overtake any communities, our own included.
How to guard against it? By continuously teaching and re-teaching the value of all human lives, and trying to live out that commitment; by calming fears; by using all the moral authority anyone can muster in order to call for nonviolence, de-escalation, and the peaceable resolution of outstanding conflicts.
I have noted, regarding the present post-election violence in Kenya, that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was much, much faster off the mark– by a matter of days– than anyone in the Bush administration in exercising the kind of moral leadership that Kenya’s citizens and parties so sorely need to hear.
Yesterday, Condi Rice did finally get around to issuing a statement— jointly with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband– that included a call for a cessation of violence and noted that there had been “independent reports of serious irregularities in the counting process” in the country’s recent elections.
However, that statement came an agonizing five days after Rice, in the immediate aftermath of the heavily disputed December 27 election, had rushed to congratulate former President Mwai Kibaki on his electoral “victory.” That, even as election monitors from the EU and possibly also from US-based organizations were raising enormous doubts about the integrity of the election.
Rice’s moral authority was considerably compromised by that. (Of course, the administration for which she works also bears the burden of having grabbed the election of 2000 by some very questionable means.)
How wonderful, therefore, that yesterday, presidential candidate Barack Obama— the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother– issued his own call for a peaceful resolution of the controversies that divide Kenyans. (Other Democratic candidates hurried to follow suit.)
Meanwhile, this AP report says that the State department is now steadfastly refusing to reiterate its earlier endorsements of Kibaki’s claimed victory.
I should note here that Kenya also has the largest group of Quakers any country in the world. I imagine they are also adding their weight to the calls for de-escalation, dialogue, and trust restoration in the country. (If anyone can find any news about the peacebuilding activities of Quakers or other faith groups in Kenya, do please tell us about that on the comments board here. Thanks!)

10 thoughts on “Kenya: violence, nonviolence, moral authority

  1. Mary Gilbert

    I have been receiving reports forwarded by Friends from David Zarembka of the Friends Peace Team. His concerns are about the immediate survival of Kenyans on all sides…not being killed by the police or by mobs, the closed shops with no food left and the concomitant hunger, the impossibility of travel and the difficulty of communication.
    I can forward these if you like, and I can try to find out if public statements are being made by Kenyan Quakers.

  2. Don Bacon

    By continuously teaching and re-teaching the value of all human lives . . .the peaceable resolution of outstanding conflicts.
    In our local grade school the Peace Builders program is doing some good things, rewarding children who are kind to others and striving for a conflict-free environment. I particularly liked this recognition from our local paper: “Jesse tries hard on assignments and ignores bad behavior.”
    http://www.peacebuilders.com/
    What if we had a sort of shadow world ‘government’ that would be like the Jesse that tries hard on assignments and ignores bad behavior. When something like Kenya comes along it would expeditiously develop a consensus and issue a statement of principle. In doing this it would ignore the self-serving nationalistic nonsense that normally comes, often belatedly, from wrongly-motivated national government people who “don’t know beans” as they say. Or worse.
    This ‘government’ would be composed of intellectuals from various countries who value above all else the peaceful resolution of conflict. They would all have to swear to the Jesse Code: Try hard and ignore bad behavior.
    Guess whom I would nominate for Prime Minister of this ‘government’. . . Just a thought.

  3. Alan Rimmer

    When the former Yugoslavia began to become unstuck, the killings began, fanned by nationalistic fervour of the late President Milosovitch. The tragic irony of all this is that the vast majority of Yugoslavs had grown up in a socialist society in which the best values known to human beings was taught and encouraged in the school system. Tourists to Yugoslavia raved about the peaceful, beautiful society. Suddenly, all that wonderful teaching was forgotten as neighbour began killing neighbour and a society that had seen much intermarriage between different religious and ethnic groups became ghettoized. It is clear that old grievances had continued to simmer and needed little encouragement to break forth.
    As an educator, the tragedy of Yugoslavia raised the question of, “How can we, as teachers, change people’s minds. As a teacher I would note that students would read books such as The Grapes of Wrath, feel outrage at what happened to the poor and oppressed, but would continue to live the life they had lived, supporting the prevailing values of our society. It is true that some people are changed by literature but the vast majority appear not.
    Of course, we continue to throw powerful books and films in the way of our students, hoping that something will click but, alas, while expressing sympathy with “good causes” many express feelings of powerlessness and retreat into apathy.
    Short of revolution, how do people in such places as Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, or even the U.S., truly bring about democratic change? Elections? All of those countries have elections.

  4. Alan Rimmer

    When the former Yugoslavia began to become unstuck, the killings began, fanned by nationalistic fervour of the late President Milosovitch. The tragic irony of all this is that the vast majority of Yugoslavs had grown up in a socialist society in which the best values known to human beings was taught and encouraged in the school system. Tourists to Yugoslavia raved about the peaceful, beautiful society. Suddenly, all that wonderful teaching was forgotten as neighbour began killing neighbour and a society that had seen much intermarriage between different religious and ethnic groups became ghettoized. It is clear that old grievances had continued to simmer and needed little encouragement to break forth.
    As an educator, the tragedy of Yugoslavia raised the question of, “How can we, as teachers, change people’s minds. As a teacher I would note that students would read books such as The Grapes of Wrath, feel outrage at what happened to the poor and oppressed, but would continue to live the life they had lived, supporting the prevailing values of our society. It is true that some people are changed by literature but the vast majority appear not.
    Of course, we continue to throw powerful books and films in the way of our students, hoping that something will click but, alas, while expressing sympathy with “good causes” many express feelings of powerlessness and retreat into apathy.
    Short of revolution, how do people in such places as Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, or even the U.S., truly bring about democratic change? Elections? All of those countries have elections.

  5. Dominic

    Mwai Kibaki stole the election for President of Kenya. He is a criminal. No way should Desmond Tutu be walking with him hand-in-hand (a clip that was shown at least 5 times in one 30-minute news bulletin here in South Africa this evening). There is nothing to negotiate. Kibaki’s party’s candidates were decimated. The man is a shameless crook. His act ripped the bottom out of Kenya society, which had its hopes pinned on the state electoral democracy. He has blood on his hands.
    Perhaps you don’t realise that this guy Kibaki has been around since the 1960s. He is 76 years old. Stop recognising him. Stop sending people to see him.

  6. Inkan1969

    Has anyone explicitly spelled out and presented the evidence against Kibaki and his party? Everyone keeps repeating that he stole the election, but it would help to have the evidence shown. Also, is there any evidence of Odinga’s side trying to rig the elections as well?

  7. Helena

    Inkan, this is one of the earliest reports of election rigging, from the head of the large EU monitoring mission, from Reuters Dec 31. You can find many more, since.

  8. Helen Fox

    Here’s a pastoral letter from Kenyan Friends regarding the post-election violence received by Ann Arbor Friends Meeting on Jan. 14. Note that the letter ties the cause of the violence to economic inequalities and the absence of jobs and a hopeful future for youth.
    FRIENDS CHURCH IN KENYA REG. NO. 13113
    RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS)
    “You are my Friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14) P.O. BOX 465
    KAKAMEGA
    Our Ref:______________________________
    Your Ref: _____________________________
    8th January 2008
    PASTORAL LETTER FROM FRIENDS CHURCH (QUAKERS), KENYA.
    “Righteousness exalts a Nation, but Sin is a disgrace to any People” (Proverbs 14: 34)
    TO THE LEADERS OF THIS NATION
    His Excellency the President Hon. Mwai Kibaki
    Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga
    Receive Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus.
    At this time, of pain, horror, sorrow, suffering, insecurity in our beloved country, We as Friends Church in Kenya, being a PEACE church, are deeply concerned for the safety of ALL Kenyans and friends visiting Kenya during this time of Political and Social Instability. May we start by referring to our Quaker values which have guided us over the past four centuries.
    Quaker Peace Testimony
    “We actively oppose all that leads to violence among people and nations, …. Refusal to fight with weapons is not surrender. We are not passive when threatened by the greedy, the cruel, the tyrant, and the unjust. We will struggle to remove the causes of impasse and confrontation by every means of non-violent resistance available. We must start with our own Hearts and Minds. Together, let us reject the clamor of fear and listen to the whisperings of hope.
    Our Principle is, and our practices have always been: “to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the Good and welfare of humanity and doing that which tends to the peace of all”
    As Friends Church, our Goal is to have a Peaceful Society anchored in and as a consequence of the process Truth, Righteousness and Justice (Ps.89v14).
    Our basic Principles and Values that under-gird our concerns compel us to make this call to you, our political leaders.
    These include:-
    • Truth:
    o Truth is critical to the establishment of legitimacy for the political class, that is, presidency and the opposition, if they are to enjoy the loyalty and respect of all Kenyans. This can only be achieved if the objective truth is that the Elections were “Free, Fair and Transparent”. For us, “the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all TRUTH, will never move us to Fight and War against any person with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of this world”. (Luke 22:49-51), (2nd Corinthians. 10:4)
    • Peace and Justice:
    o Kenyans are sad, angry and disillusioned today. We call on all parties to look back to 30th December 2002, when all Kenyans collectively celebrated the “hope” of a united democratic and prosperous society.
    o We call on all people “to object to everything which leads in the direction of war, preparation for it or supporting it! Our faith challenges us as to whether we are now ourselves to become a divided people, swept along by the streams of mistrust and fear, arrogance and hatred which produce tensions in the world; or whether by our own decision, confidence, and courage, we can become a bridge linking those elements which promote truth, justice and peace.”
    o This battle is not about ethnicity per se, rather it is about economic injustice, and the youth across the board bear the brunt of it. There is an icy gap between them and the older age. There was hope and expectation that this nation would be steered towards a more democratic, united, just and prosperous society, where development would be experienced by ALL hardworking Kenyans. That hope was rekindled, with their participation in the just ended elections and the youth in particular saw the possibility of moving forward for the betterment of their lives. They feel “cheated”. They are expressing anger that the rich are getting richer, while the majority are living on less than one dollar a day. “A hungry person is an angry person”. Justice is what they long for.
    • Simplicity:
    o Quakers believe in modesty, serving humanity in love and harmony. In Kenya, there are gross inequalities in terms of sharing the scarce opportunities and resources. The rich are “Very Rich”, while the Poor are “Very Poor” and the gap is widening. From the looting that has been witnessed across the board, it’s clear that the present up-rising is not per-se ethnic, but rather, to a greater extent, “a Class-Struggle”. “Money bags” “Rich-ness”, “Quick money-making” e.g. pyramid schemes, have been glorified. The affluent conspicuous consumption and obnoxious display of wealth of the upper class, in a sea of poverty, have not helped.
    o The hopes and opportunities for the poor (have-nots) for upward mobility have been frustrated by continuing “joblessness” and false promises by politicians. The underlying perceived injustices of our economic disparities must be urgently addressed. A genuine honest and sustainable commitment to redressing the imbalances should be made. Otherwise we warn that the class “battles” will continue in one form or other. The youth are desperate, angry and impatient. The ordinary Kenyan does not feel or see the effect of the purported 6.5% annual growth of the economy or the benefits of the foreign investors.
    o The unsatisfactory manner in which corruption cases (Anglo-leasing/Goldenberg scandals) have been handled are seen as unjust and discriminatory against the poor who get heavy sentences for petty theft, yet the greedy rich go scot-free. This impunity, lack of accountability and arrogance of the corrupt rich, has fostered a deep-rooted anger that has exploded and must be addressed meaningfully, openly and fairly.
    • Life is Sacred. “Stop the Bloodshed”
    o As Quakers we value every person. We believe that “there is that of God in every person”. “Our central faith requires that we should proclaim, in deed as well as in word that war,…. is contrary to the Spirit of God, whose name is Love. The same spirit must animate our business and social relations and make us eager to remove oppression and injustice in every form”.
    o As such, we renounce these senseless killings and urge the government, to take responsibility and restrain the security forces from using violent means of handling the “demonstrators”. We urge all parties to give a listening ear to the people. Through their violence they are communicating a serious message. Please listen respectfully.
    o Politicians should avoid using youths in their schemes to create mayhem in society.
    o Supporters should stop being misused and abused by politicians.
    o Party leaders must restrain their supporters from engaging in unlawful acts but should engage in peace building.
    o The older people should be encouraged to counsel and dissuade the youth from violence.
    o Faith-based institutions should continue sending clear non-partisan, non-inflammatory messages that resonate the life affirming, faith-filled, truth and justice-guided, peace-building, comfort-giving, reconciliation-oriented, repentance-seeking, confession-based messages of their faith.
    In view of the above, we make the following proposals:
    1. An independent audit should be done.
    a. Tallies from the polling stations for each of the 210 constituencies should be obtained and at least one agent for each candidate from each polling station be brought to Nairobi to verify the count and entries on Form 16A.
    b. All Forms 16 should be verified with Forms 16A to establish accuracy of entries.
    c. An independent group, possibly made of church leaders, local observers, international observers, representatives of the two parties and international leaders should be charged to verify the tallying and report their findings to the chairman of the reconstituted ECK and to the Kenyan people.
    d. Whatever the outcome of the verification, the two parties should abide by the verdict under the guidance of the international arbitrators.
    2. Re-run
    Following the gazzettement of the MPs elect, parliament should convene and elect the Speaker so that business can be conducted to facilitate a mechanism for the urgent re-run of the Presidential elections.
    3. Interim arrangements
    • Hon. Mwai Kibaki should step down from the seat of the presidency to pave way for the interim arrangements suggested below.
    • The ODM and the PNU affiliated parties must enter into meaningful dialogue for the sake of national interest.
    • Establishment of an interim government comprising of all the parties proportionate to their Membership in parliament with the Speaker heading it for a period of three months.
    • Electoral Commission
    The interim government is advised to source expertise from recognized international institutions such as A.U, Commonwealth, European Union and others to assist in supervising the re-run. Due to the failure of ECK, the commissioners should immediately step aside to pave way for the re-constitution of the ECK, along the Principles of IPPG, to organize presidential re-run within the three months.
    Commissioners of credibility with integrity should be sourced from LSK, ICJ, eminent persons from professionals, civil society and religious groups.
    4. Activities during interim period and thereafter
    o Peaceful rallies must be allowed and organized to facilitate the healing process.
    o Civil society and religious organizations should have forums to enhance reconciliation through dialogue, counseling and conflict resolution.
    o Losers of Parliamentary elections on both sides and former ministers should desist from giving inflammatory statements motivated by their personal vested interests.
    o All God fearing people should acknowledge and repent their sins (such as bribery, false witness, murder, rape, pride, arrogance, dishonesty and others) of commission and omission. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land”. (2nd Chronicles 7:14)
    5. New Constitution
    All presidential candidates have affirmed the need for a new constitution. We Kenyans are in dire need of a new God-centred and people based constitution. All constitutional institutions have failed us: the presidency, parliament, ECK, Anti Corruption, Political Parties, Civil Society, Civil Service, Constitutional Commissions and especially the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. The only institution that is still functioning faithfully is the people: they voted peacefully and in earnest, now they are in disarray because the existing constitution does not address the people’s needs.
    In conclusion, we as a Peace Church are committed to the process of national healing. Already we have institutions and programs in place such as: Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP); Trauma Healing; Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI); the Quaker Peace Network, all with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to help bring about healing and transform relationships.
    We call upon the wider Body of Christ and other faith based institutions to share in the restoration of a healthy, peaceful and just Society.
    God bless Kenya.
    On Behalf of Friends Church in Kenya (FCK)
    Midikira Churchill Kibisu
    PRESIDING CLERK
    Friends Church (Quakers)
    Nairobi Yearly Meeting
    cc. – Chairman ODM
    – PNU
    – Chairman ODM Kenya
    – Attorney General
    – ECK Chairman
    – NCCK
    – All Other Parties with Presidential Candidates
    – Transparency International
    – Kenya National Commission for Human Rights Chairman
    – Citizen coalition for constitution
    – Hon. Musalia Mudavadi

  9. Eric Nyaga

    Some of our leaders are actually taking pride in the killing going on in the country (Kenya). They are just ecstatic on their ability to decide when people should live or die. Lo, at the snap of their fingers they decree peace or war. They publicly denounce violence yet they silently incite the people. They agitate them to kill, and what they can’t kill they loot and what they can’t loot they burn. Like the predator these leaders delight in collecting human trophies. They only regret that it is not possible to line up human skulls along side other trophies in their houses. They’re quick to report exaggerated figures to the international press. Is it in the delight of anyone to rule over corpses and cripples? To run an economy of mounds of ruins? Are justice, truth and democracy making any sense to the dead?

  10. Helena

    Helen, thanks so much for having posted the Kenyan friends letter there.
    Eric, thanks for contributing your eloquent observations there. May you and your compatriots somehow find comfort, stability, and a a workable resolution to this crisis.

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