Reflections arising from the report on the AACC solidarity visit led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Following the post election violence that rocked the Republic of Kenya after President Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 2007 elections, the All Africa Conference of Churches, with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, sought to contribute to the calming of the situation and the resolution of the problem by inviting a team of eminent African Church leaders led by A...read more
Reflections arising from the report on the AACC solidarity visit led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Following the post election violence that rocked the Republic of Kenya after President Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 2007 elections, the All Africa Conference of Churches, with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, sought to contribute to the calming of the situation and the resolution of the problem by inviting a team of eminent African Church leaders led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to come and offer solidarity to the people of Kenya and help profile the cause of peace to the nation. The Archbishop was accompanied by the President of the All Africa Conference of Churches the Rt. Rev. Nyansako ni Nku, the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa and former General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches Dr. Brigalia H. Bam and the General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev. Dr. H. Mvume Dandala.
The information gathered during this visit indicated something of the complexity of the problem, as well as the fact that finding a solution, both on a short term and on a long term basis will need to take into consideration a number of factors such as:
- The Historical background
- The tension defined
- The expressions of the violence
- The Role of the Church
- The Role of the media
- Possible Ways forward
It is with these in mind that the AACC offers the reflections contained herein.
Whilst the visit was short, the AACC heard clearly the voices of many to the effect that only Kenyans could intervene in this situation. Any form of ‘international mediation or intervention’ was looked at askance. Whilst the National Council of Churches of Kenya opened its welcoming arms to the visit, the delegation sensed that not all the churches were fully convinced of the merits of the solidarity visit of the Archbishop even though these were expressed in respectful ways. On the other hand messages of appreciation from ordinary Kenyans were frequently received by the AACC, often couched with expressions of hope that the visit would help bring peace. The sense of the AACC
is that these doubts about the efficacy of the visit were driven either by
- the sense of patriotic pride that hurts from anything that may be perceived as suggesting that the Kenyans are not able to resolve this problem on their own;
- the uncertainty of what an even handed approach might lead to, or
- the firm belief that there are indeed Kenyans who can be able to facilitate an adequate response to the crisis.
Most disturbing is the often mutely expressed statement by some Kenyans that “this is not the first time that Kenyans have experienced this kind of crisis, and just as they have resolved the past similar crises, so will they resolve this one as well”. This attitude feels indifferent to the loss of life of even one Kenyan. It is not worthy of any nation that values the lives of all its citizens.
On the other hand it is possible that the conviction that it will take a Kenyan mediator to intervene effectively may be born of recognition that the communities at conflict have historical, long standing voiced and unvoiced and often nuanced concerns that an outsider may not easily be sensitive to. Participation in an ecumenical prayer service for church leaders at All Saints Anglican Cathedral on Sunday January 6th, 2007 gave one a glimpse of such concerns. The issues at stake may range from perceived unfair resource sharing, ethnic distrust and many other such issues that may have compounded themselves into modern Kenyan politics. What is obvious is that these stretch from beyond colonial times to modern Kenyan governance with all the complications that were subsequent to colonial domination. The regularity with which these issues are referred to by the Kenyan community should make it possible for the Kenyan society to overcome them. But the question is whether these are confronted with such honesty in the corridors of power where they should be dealt with.
The AACC is of the mind that there is therefore need for such historical facts to be understood as part of the process to the resolution of the impasse, both on a short and on a long term basis. Whether this is done by an international or local mediation body is a moot point. The critical factor is the independence of the mediation body, together with the rigour and sense of fairness that such a body would bring. Such a body must assist the country to find speedily a workable resolution to the immediate impasse, thus creating space for a longer term solution that will lay the foundations for the healing of the country and the strengthening of the overall sense of common nationhood among all the peoples of Kenya.
But for now the question is what is it that the AACC team heard as to the nature of the reigning crisis?
The tension defined
While the conflict erupted as a consequence of disputed presidential electoral results, the communities at conflict have a historical and long standing and often unvoiced concerns, dating back to independence days when many Kenyans felt that their expectations were not met. The independent government inherited colonial structures and failed to address the injustices and inequalities that had characterised the nation because people had different persuasions. And therefore, over the years, it has appeared that the president of the day brings his community closer to power to benefit from national resources more than other communities.
The various parties have differing views as to the nature of the violence that has been evident. Some see it as a political tool, pre-meditated and deliberately unleashed with an element of ethnic cleansing in its make up. Claims were made that some of the perpetrators of the violence were paid to do so.
Others see it as a spontaneous and unorganised natural reaction to what they see as vicious day light robbery at the polls which the voters could not stomach.
The delegation wondered if there was adequate political will to stop the violence and find a solution that is acceptable to all. The PNU and the ODM both appear unshaken in their conviction that the other party is responsible and has the capacity to stop the violence. If preventing the deaths and the destruction of property was paramount in the thinking of all the parties, it must be obvious that the leaders of all the parties should have come out together at least to denounce the violence in full view of the nation and offer assurance that an equitable solution was being sought. Such a joint condemnation of violence should have been made regardless of the cause, whether pre-meditated, spontaneous, ethnic or otherwise. This agenda item is still outstanding.
The Role of the Church
Reports from the church leaders spoken to indicate that the church is appalled by the violence, and had in fact, at the time of the arrival of the delegation, already started to take steps to respond to the crisis. But the church leaders did not try to hide the fact that there was a lot of division even amongst themselves. Some church leaders, if not most, were perceived to have aligned themselves with specific party positions, thus robbing the church of an authoritative, collective and independent moral voice that could champion the cause of peace and unity for the nation in spite of the different political views. The churches, according to the NCCK, are clear in that the healing of the nation must go hand in hand with the healing of the church.
The initiatives of the church had not yet gained a high media profile at the time of the solidarity visit. But a common front for an effective ministry to the nation through the National Alliance of Churches had been forged. The Alliance has four major task forces, viz:
1. The political
2. The humanitarian
3. Communication, and
4. The Spiritual.
Through these the church is poised for a significant ministry impact to the nation. The church leaders have a responsibility to:
- Encourage and enable the political leaders to come together to call for the end to violence and speak for the preservation of life.
- Encourage the leaders to ensure that there is space for alternative voices to be heard without this descending into a conflagration of violence.
- Impress strongly on the political leaders to embrace alternative ways of resolving conflict to violence.
While the question of the source of violence cannot be ignored for an effective response to be developed, it is essential that this should not be allowed to create a stalemate as it is likely to. The churches themselves are not of one view on this matter. As the visit report indicates the gulf is big between the parties as to the causes of the violence. The church can and should assist for common positions to counter and forestall violence to be developed and embraced by all.
The delegation noted that there is suspicion of the usage of church language among the various parties. The ODM alleged that some of their leaders have been referred to as “devil worshippers” and that in spite of the fact that those leaders are Christians their churches did not assist them to clear their names before the nation. On the other hand it may be inferred that in expressing concern that ‘the churches must support a constitutionally elected government’ the government (PNU) was calling for the public support of the church in this crisis. It simply is essential that the church does not try to hedge its bets but instead clarify its message. Such a message has to be based on that which will heal the nation and purify the institutions of national governance so that the faith of the people in these is restored. This in itself will go a long way in redeeming the church thus restoring its moral authority which this situation has sought to compromise.
The role of the Media
At the time of the solidarity visit some measures were in place to limit the work of the media. This is regrettable. The churches cannot afford to overlook it. The role of the media in this crisis may need reflection with the view that the confidence of the populace on the media should be nurtured as an essential element in the work of healing the nation. Questions were raised with the delegation as to whether the media may have fuelled (wittingly or unwittingly) the crisis during the period preceding the elections.
The role of the media in the formation of national attitudes can never be overemphasised. The media’s role is more than merely reporting what is happening. It has to stimulate creative thinking in the nation about the values that the nation cherishes and raise questions where any section of society seeks to undermine or demonstrates disregard of the common good and the institutions that seek to serve the common good.
- The media must be used to bring people together instead of inflaming them.
- It should use history to heal and build people instead of dividing them.
- It must demystify myths about ethnic practices instead of perpetuating them
It is in this light that the role of the media in this crisis should be examined. Reasons behind the limitations that were imposed on the media in the course of this crisis could either be that the media used its freedom irresponsibly, or that those with authority did not like what they saw of themselves in the mirror that is the media. Since the media is a prime catalyst for exchanging ideas in a free society it is essential that its freedom is guaranteed with instruments of protest against it in place where its objectivity is suspect. The alternative is a perception that totalitarian seeds are being sown. The Republic of Kenya, a bastion of peace and developing democracy in Africa, cannot afford to lower its guard on this score.
Possible Resolution Scenarios for consideration by the Church
The AACC believes that there is an important role for the churches of Kenya to play in helping towards the resolution of this impasse. Primarily the church should assist the key leaders of the various parties to accept joint responsibility for diffusing the crisis.
1. Top in the process should be agreed strategies to stop the violence. The political leaders must mobilise all their people to desist from violent activities and in fact declare violence the enemy of the nation.
2. The leaders must reinforce the right to freedom of expression. Police and rally marshals should be deployed under the command of the police to protect demonstrators, passers by and property. They must seek to ensure that no one abuses the right to freedom of speech as a licence to kill, injure or loot property.
3. The Kenyan Law and Order Enforcement agencies, especially the police, should be encouraged to desist from using excessive force during such demonstrations.
4. Church leaders must help engender a spirit of cooperation among the opposing political parties that will allow a structure that is accommodative to lead the administration of the country.
5. Church leaders must accompany such a structure with processes that will limit the chances of reneging on positions agreed to. They must help create and nurture space for mistrust to be reduced.
6. On a longer term basis Church leaders should help both the political leaders and the general population to identify those institutional structural deficiencies that made this crisis possible, such as the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) in order to pave the way for the strengthening of such structures, thus laying the foundations for a more secure and dependable electoral system.
7. On a long term basis Church leaders have to assist put in place processes that will contribute towards the enhancement of a common sense of Nationhood that transcends ethnicity so that the sharing of resources and access to justice is not only equitable, but seen to be so by the nation at large.
8. Church leaders must prioritise the healing of the church as they themselves have acknowledged this need.
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