Political Eyes Wide Open

Helping Kenya begins by rejecting simplistic analyses and solutions.

A Christianity Today editorial

"Since Kenya's botched presidential election in late December, more than 1,500 Kenyans have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. As we go to press, rival politicians have agreed to a power-sharing deal after much foot-dragging.
Kenya, unfortunately, presents a case study in the limited imaginations of political and religious leaders, and presents a lesson in how we might better think and act in a fallen world.
Despite the speedy intervention of the international community, productive negotiations did not occur until former U.N. chief Kofi Annan walked out of the stalled talks. At the time, many Kenyan lives were still at risk. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a public reminder to Kenya's top leaders "of their legal and moral responsibility to protect the lives of innocent people, regardless of their racial, religious, or ethnic origin." Many heads of state and church leaders echoed this statement, telling Kenyans to, well, just stop it!
In volatile situations, of course, words alone do nothing to end ethnic violence. Those practicing ethnic cleansing assume there is no such thing as "innocent people" when it comes to rival ethnic groups.
In Kenya, 41 ethnic groups hunger for fair share of the nation's power and wealth. When the largest tribe, the Kikuyu, have one of their own at the nation's head (president Mwai Kibaki), and many Kenyans believe he favors the welfare of his tribe over others', it doesn't take a political scientist to anticipate the resentment of Luos, Kalenjins, and other groups. Then, when these groups suspect that vote-rigging probably cost Luo presidential candidate Raila Odinga victory, outside voices' calls to act moderately must sound like calls to accept injustice.
In such situations, Christian leaders worldwide call on Kenyan Christians to sponsor mediation talks: "Only the peace of Jesus Christ can transcend such ethnic and political divisions" is said in a variety of ways. This is true in the largest sense, thank God. But when we dig deeper, we often find Christians only exacerbating the political problems.
In the months leading up to the election, many Kenyan pastors, priests, and bishops joined in furious ethnic baiting. As the Ugandan newspaper New Vision put it, "It is now clear that religious leaders have taken sides; they are even more tribal than politicians—whenever any member of the clergy opens his mouth, you can guess what will spew out of his mouth by virtue of … tribal affiliation."
Kenyan scholar Eunice Karanja has noted how ethnic hostilities within Africa's churches have contributed to social unrest for decades. The church will need to get its own house in order before it can bring the peace of Christ to Kenya."

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