UU mission to Kenya sees destruction firsthand
Delegation reports findings to Congress, State Department, and World Bank.
The Kenyan Red Cross says at least 1,000 people have died violently in Kenya, and 304,000 have been forced from their homes following the disputed December reelection of President Mwai Kibaki. Protests by opponents were initially countered using police force, which then escalated into ethnic violence.
On the humanitarian fact-finding mission to Kenya were the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, minister of Fourth Universalist Society in New York City; Charlie Clements, president of the UU Service Committee; and Atema Eclai, UUSC Director of Programs and a native Kenyan.
After arriving in Kenya on January 19, the three visited a camp for thousands of displaced persons, a burned-out water utility headquarters, a burned church where 30 people died, and other scenes of violence. They also met with Kenyan human rights workers and religious leaders and made contact with emerging Unitarian congregations that have formed in several East African countries including Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi.
In addition, they met with several UUSC partner groups in Kenya. The UUSC has had relationships for several years with an organization of street vendors, Kenya National Alliance of Street Vendors and Informal Traders (KENASVIT), and a group working on the rights of women and children. UUSC helped found KENASVIT.
The team returned on January 25. Within days, McNatt, Clements, and Eclai had met in Washington, D.C., with the staff of the House and Senate subcommittees on Africa and with officials of the State Department and World Bank. “Our goals were simply to apprise them of our observations and encourage them to be more supportive of the democratic process in Kenya,” said McNatt.
Clements said he was heartened by the team’s reception in Washington. “We were told there would be three or four people present when we met with staff of the subcommittees,” he said. “But 22 people showed up and they were all very interested in what we had to say. We also met with World Bank staff and two days later it threatened to cut off funds to Kenya unless mediation took place. We’re very pleased.” He said he believes his team is one of the few to brief Washington officials on the situation.
McNatt urged Unitarian Universalists to contribute to the UUSC-Unitarian Universalist Association Kenya Crisis Fund, set up to help people impacted by the violence, and to lobby elected officials and the State Department to pressure Kenya’s president to stop the violence.
“The humanitarian needs in this crisis are going to be enormous,” she said. “Entire neighborhoods and villages have been burned to the ground. But there is still time for us to help the Kenyan people.”
She said contributions to the crisis fund will also help vendors rebuild their small sales kiosks, which were destroyed in the violence, and acquire new sales inventory.
McNatt returned to Kenya on February 4 with the Rev. Jill McAllister of People’s Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., to help conduct a leadership school for leaders of UU congregations in Africa. She said representatives of about a dozen congregations will attend.
Clements said Tuesday the situation in Kenya had abated somewhat. “I’m hopeful,” he said. “The two sides have signed a mediation agreement that has a potential for resolving some of the structural issues that underlie the unrest, such as the flawed election and a distorted distribution of resources to Kenyans, including land and jobs.” He said he does not anticipate that Kenya will become a bloodbath like Rwanda, where at least a half-million people were killed in 1994 in ethnic uprisings.
He said that despite the violence in Kenya, “We encountered a lot of courage. People took risks to help people of other ethnicities. And people said no to the violence. But we don’t hear as much about that in the media.”
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