UU delegation heads to Kenya

UU delegation heads to Kenya

Aid fund established to help victims of violence in Kenya.
Jane Greer


Unitarian Universalists are responding to elections-related violence in Kenya by organizing a joint humanitarian aid fund between the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and by joining a delegation of leaders on a fact-finding trip to assess the damage and determine needs. The delegation includes UUSC president Charlie Clements, who is a public health physician; Atema Eclai, UUSC director of programs and a native Kenyan; and the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, UU minister and vice president of UU Trauma Response Ministry. The group left for Kenya on January 19.

Violence in Kenya, resulting in the deaths of 600 and the displacement of more than 200,000, began after the reelection of incumbent president Mwai Kibaki on December 27, 2007, in a questionable election. According to the Associated Press, “Foreign and local election observers have said the vote count in the December 27 presidential election was deeply flawed.” Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who lost to Kibaki, has called for protests nationwide until Kibaki steps down, despite a government ban on protests. Police have attempted to quash the protests using tear gas, riot gear, and bullets, resulting in numerous deaths and casualties. Life in parts of many Kenyan cities, such as Nairobi and Kisumu, has ground to a halt making access to food and other commodities difficult.

“The chaotic situation has shattered the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders,” said Clements in a UUSC statement, “most of whom were already among the most vulnerable segments of the population.”

Among the 200,000 displaced people are some Kenyan Unitarians. Emerging Unitarian congregations have formed in several East African countries including Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi.

The UUSC-UUA delegation will spend a week in Kenya, where they will be talking with UUSC partner groups. The UUSC has had relationships for the past two years with an alliance of street vendors and a group working on the rights of women and children as part of its economic justice program. UUSC has a policy in responding to humanitarian crises of working with grassroots groups representing people that might be overlooked by larger aid organizations. The delegation will also try to meet with community leaders and organizations and the Kenyan media to find out what information might be under-reported by the western media.

The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, senior minister of the Fourth Universalist Society in New York, UUA trustee from the Metro New York district, and one of the founders of the UU Trauma Response Team formed in 2002 in the wake of 9/11, will be one of those on the trip. “I hope that we’ll be able to articulate for the west, the significance of this crisis,” she said. “Kenya is at a pivotal juncture. While the situation is very serious, I believe it is still redeemable.”

“It’s important for UUs to understand the situation,” she added. “We’re watching the Kenyan people struggle to create a democratic process, a process we ourselves affirm in our Fifth Principle” [“The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”].

McNatt will be returning to Kenya within the month as part of a delegation from the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists that will be working with emerging African Unitarian Universalist congregations to help them develop their own voice. “This is an exciting time for the growth of liberal religion,” she said. Groups from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo-Brazzeville, Nigeria, and South Africa are expected to attend.

Information about the joint UUSC-UUA humanitarian aid fund for Kenya can be found at the UUSC website UUSC.org (see below for links to related resources). A joint aid fund formed by the UUSC and UUA in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita netted almost $4 million.

In violence following the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, two members of the Unitarian Universalist Christians of Pakistan were among 23 killed in a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 10. UUA President William G. Sinkford condemned the violence in both Kenya and Pakistan in a pastoral letter sent January 18. “We may not be able to stop the tide of violence, but we can assist those in harm’s way as we bear witness for a more just world community,” he wrote.

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