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from issue no. 01 - 2008

STATE OF CRISIS. Why a country, a beacon of stability, ends in the chaos of violence

“If Kenya burns there will be no tomorrow”

Thus Konarè, President the African Union, summed up the danger of the political crisis in Kenya, on which the destiny of all of central-east Africa also depends. For the Catholic missionaries the question is who gains from destabilizing such an important State

by Stefania Falasca

A supporter of the Orange Democratic Party with a poster of the leader Raila Odinga during the protests in the Kibera area, in Nairobi

A supporter of the Orange Democratic Party with a poster of the leader Raila Odinga during the protests in the Kibera area, in Nairobi

“We are watching Kenya with desperation, once a beacon of stability in a tormented region, while it sinks into the morass of ethnic slaughter”. Thus Caritas Internationalis on the escalation of violence that in the course of a month has seen the pride of East Africa precipitate into an abyss of darkness. Kenya, a leader country among the most solid of the African continent, is on its knees. The balance-sheet of the clashes that exploded on the day after the elections of 27 December last, that reconfirmed the president Mwai Kibaki of the Kikuyo ethnic group in power, is dramatic: more than a thousand dead, more than 300,000 refugees, 12,000 in flight towards Uganda, according to the recent data provided by the Red Cross. And while the emergency of hunger must now be added to the emergency caused by violence, the attempt at negotiations initiated between the government of Kibaki and the opposition led by Raila Odinga with the mediation of the former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, remains difficult.
The economic consequences of this obscure war already look enormous: two million dollars and more than five hundred thousand jobs have been lost and already the flight of capital has begun. The Kenya crisis cannot but have repercussions that will effect the development of the entire area of central-east Africa. It took only a few days interruption in production and exporting to cause serious discomfort to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, the Congo, the Sudan, Rwanda, which remained without energy supplies. In fact, the economies of the neighboring countries and the stability of a strategically important area for all of the West have always depended on Kenya. Sufficient to remember that in Nairobi the United Nations, various NGO and many Western governments have important logistical structures used for interventions in all of East and Central Africa, and that also a large part of international information-gathering activity for the area, as well as the intelligence services of various countries, are based in Kenya. The importance of its role on the strategic level had grown through its diplomatic activity in seeking solutions to the crises in bordering countries, mediating between the various parties at war, as, for example, the Sudan, Uganda and Somalia. Kenya has on several occasions hosted the various peace negotiations that have taken place over the years. “If therefore Kenya were to become a fragile or, worse still, a failed State, its collapse will inevitably aggravate the instability of the whole area”, the experts have observed. “If Kenya burns there will be no tomorrow”, the President of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konaré summed up tersely. The analyses of the reasons that have opened the door to this crisis vary. That coming from the standpoint of the missionary realities who boast a rooted presence in these territories is not to be neglected. “One has to ask oneself first of all who gains from destabilizing a State so important for equilibrium in East Africa, who gains now from feeding the fire of tribalism”, says Teresino Serra, Superior General of the Combonians, who halfway through January went to Nairobi to visit the missions and to participate in a peace conference called by the local Churches. “Tribalism, the ethno-political divisions are not enough to explain all that has happened” continues Father Serra. “In Kenya more than forty ethnic groups live together. Tribal hatred has never been very strong and in general coexistence is civil and pacific. What was immediately evident internally”, he explains, “is that it was widespread frustration and the enormous social divide to set off the explosion: it is no chance that the fire was lit in the slums of Nairobi. But it was also obvious that the electoral campaign itself was conducted by underlining the ethnic divisions and the tribal interests. The politicians played that card. Under the Kibaki government the dangerous practice of special preference for some tribes was resumed. Government posts were monopolized by members of these groups. The group of Raila Odinga felt they had been set aside and it seemed its time to govern had come. Their slogan for the past year here was: ‘Our time has come’. But these are only elementary reasons”, asserts Serra. “It must also be remembered that the main problem of the country is tied to the distribution of the land. In Kenya, third producer of flowers in the world, where more than two thirds of the territory is occupied by desert, the issue of the division of the land has never been resolved. After English colonialism it remained in the hands of a Kenyan élite who stole it and used it politically, for example to buy the opposition. It is the land not only of rich Kenyans, Kikuyu and others, but also of multinationals such as Del Monte and many besides. The picture is much more complex not least because of the many international interests that come into play”. “Therefore the slaughter of Christians who are killing Christians that has overwhelmed the country”, the Combonian Father resumes “can only but be in some way piloted and organized.” An opinion shared by the Kenyan episcopate. For approximately fifteen years (during which time the country saw its position of leadership in the area consolidated) the Kenyan bishops continued to give warnings about the exploitation of tribalism for political purposes and not only domestic ones. After the violence that exploded in August of 1997, an election year, Ambrogio Ravasi, then Bishop of Marsabit, in northeast Kenya, thus described the clashes: “They are the fruit of egoism, greed and thirst for power. They continue in their impunity, even if in a reduced way, as if they had become an intolerable, but normal, mode of life, or worse as if they were the result of some well planned satanic strategy, directed by some unknown superior power, that human efforts cannot control or halt”. The bishop noted moreover that at the run-up to the elections tension increased and there was “talk about clashes and disorders among the different political parties”. On 16 September 1997 the present Archbishop of Nairobi, Cardinal John Njue, then already President of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference, published a “prophetic” message, in which, speaking about the outbreaks of violence in the Coast Province, he wondered if these “were a pilot project to be repeated elsewhere, in some part of the Rift Valley, in the western, eastern provinces, and in Nyanza”. The very areas that have been the theatre of the recent clashes. On 28 August 2002, on the occasion of the general elections, won by Kibaki, the bishops launched an appeal to the politicians to do everything possible to prevent the repetition of the clashes that had taken place during past elections. “We notice”, explained the bishops “that the so-called ‘tribal clashes’ began in the areas of the country already involved in the clashes of 1992. Is it a coincidence? How it is possible that the population seems to be able to live in peace civilly for a long period of time and then, without any warning, falls into violence? How is it possible that the unemployed young people of the urban areas, of Nairobi in particular, seem so easily organizable and mobilized to cause disorder?”
“The Catholic Church does not have a party other than the people, it is with the people who suffer”, concludes the General of the Combonians. On 24 January last the Kenyan episcopate expressed strong support for the mediation begun by the former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan in the hope that Kenya will not be forced to plunge itself into the abyss of the slaughterhouse of the world. Annan’s work of mediation has brought the parties together to begin talks. And the latest developments lead one to hope. That fragile hope that distinguishes African ongoings. A government of national unity or otherwise, the Kenyan crisis seems headed toward a solution.

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