Nairobi, Kenya, January 7, 2008 -- A United Methodist missionary reports that while violence has subsided in Kenya there are serious shortages of food, transportation systems have been disrupted, thousands of people are homeless, and the factors that caused the outbreak have not been resolved.
Missionary John Calhoun returned to Kenya in the early days of January following a visit in the United States. In a dispatch written from Nairobi he reported that the violence was worst in the western part of Kenya, and some 250,000 people had fled their homes across the country.
The Methodist Church of Kenya, he said, is responding as it can to humanitarian needs as are agencies of the United Nations.
Calhoun, who serves as coordinator for humanitarian relief and church development for the Methodist Church of Kenya, wrote:
The missionary is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, and a clergy member of the New York Annual Conference. John Calhoun is one of seven United Methodist missionaries currently assigned to Kenya. He and his family are based in Nairobi. Noel Calhoun, his wife, works with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Kenya. The Calhouns have two small sons.
Calhoun's letter put the outbreak of violence into political context and reviews the results. The full text letters follows:
On December 27, 2007, the people of Kenya took part in presidential and parliamentary elections. The day of voting was relatively peaceful, as the great majority of eligible voters cast ballots. Over the next 48 hours, preliminary results in the presidential poll announced by the Kenya Elections Commission revealed a significant lead for the challenger, Raila Odinga, over the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, in line with numerous pre-election opinion polls.
However, on December 30, the Kenya Elections Commission officially declared Mr. Kibaki the unexpected winner. Within hours of this announcement, Mr. Kibaki was sworn in for a second term as the President of Kenya.
By the end of the same day, supporters of the opposition leader began to demonstrate against the government, claiming that the results of the election were manipulated in favor of the incumbent Mr. Kibaki. Over the next several days, the violence escalated. In the provinces in western Kenya and in the east along the Kenyan coast, where support for Mr. Odinga is strongest, supporters of the opposition targeted members of the Kikuyu tribe, of which Mr. Kibaki is a member. On December 31, rioters in support of the opposition burned down a church in Eldoret where hundreds of Kikuyu were taking refuge, killing more than 35 people.
The response of the Kenyan government has been swift and uncompromising. Police have arrested more than one thousand demonstrators and rioters, and have used live ammunition to break up rallies and gatherings. Dozens have been killed by the police and armed forces.
Over the last several days, the violence has subsided, and life in many parts of the country has returned to a level of normalcy. Here in Nairobi, the streets are again quiet and peaceful during the day, though there are occasional skirmishes between the police and supporters of the opposition in the slums of the city. However, intercity transport within Kenya has been greatly disrupted, resulting in many persons being stranded in their home villages, and foodstuffs and other products not being delivered to shops. Many local shops are now running low on basic food items, such as meat, fresh dairy products, and corn and wheat flour. Prices for such food items, as well as for fuel, have risen significantly.
The most severely affected area remains western Kenya. In the Eldoret area alone, more than 150,000 people have fled their homes in fear of violence, taking shelter in area churches, schools, and police stations. Across Kenya, this number totals about 250,000. These areas are effectively cut off from the rest of the country, resulting in severe shortages of food, clean water, and medicine. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), along with other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, have begun to transport supplies to the region to care for these internally displaced persons, but more assistance is needed. The UNHCR is also providing humanitarian relief to more than 5,000 Kenyans who have sought shelter from violence in neighboring Uganda.
Methodist Church in Kenya (MCK) congregations in western Kenya are also striving to provide humanitarian assistance to persons in need. Local MCK congregations in Kericho and Kisumu have been distributing food and shelter to hundreds of displaced persons in their communities. Rev. John Koskei, the superintendent minister of Kericho Mission district in western Kenya, reports: "Many members of our congregations had their property destroyed in the rioting that followed the elections. Yesterday (Sunday) in our church services we collected maize, flour, oil, and other items to distribute to these persons, and to others in our community who are suffering. We will continue our effort to help others as long as we are able."
Unfortunately, the political crisis that sparked this violence has not been resolved. President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga have met with representatives of the international community to discuss these issues, but they have yet to sit together at one table to broker a solution that will bring lasting peace to the country. An independent investigation into the allegations of election manipulation has still not yet been launched. In order to keep the political pressure on the government, Mr. Odinga has called for one million of his supporters to rally in Nairobi's Uhuru Park on Tuesday, January 8. The government has pledged to prevent this rally, and the potential for violence is high.
In the midst of this upheaval and uncertainty, the Methodist Church in Kenya continues to proclaim Christ's gospel of peace and to reach out to meet the needs of those who suffer. In the words of Rev. Koskei of the MCK Kericho Mission: "Please continue to pray for us, and for the people of Kenya, that our suffering will come to an end and we may live in peace."