Archbishop calls for peace after massacre in Kenyan church

by
02 January 2008

by Rachel Harden

Conflagration: top: an aerial shot of an area in Eldoret on Tuesday, showing buildings burning AP

Conflagration: top: an aerial shot of an area in Eldoret on Tuesday, showing buildings burning AP

THE Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Benjamin Nzimbi, has appealled to church leaders to “preach peace, unity, and co-existence” among different ethnic groups to alleviate a wave of post-election violence.

On Tuesday, more than 30 women and children were burned to death in an Assemblies of God church in Eldoret, in the west of the country. The dead were Kikuyu, the same ethnic group as the re-elected President, Mwai Kibaki.

Hundreds of people had been sheltering in the church, and most managed to escape when it was set alight on New Year’s Day; but about 30 failed to get out.

By Wednesday about 250 people were believed to have died in the violence in Kenya, which has been concentrated in the area around Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city, the home of Mr Kibaki’s challenger, Raila Odinga.

Mr Odinga has said that he has been robbed of victory, and has accused the re-elected President of election fraud. EU observers said this week that the presidential poll “fell short of international standards”. In an interim report, the chief EU monitor, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, told the BBC that the tallying process “lacked credibility”.

Members of the Kikuyu group in Eldoret, near to Kisumu, have been seeking refuge in churches and police stations for fear of attacks by supporters of Mr Odinga, who comes from the Luo ethnic group, the BBC reported.

A Roman Catholic priest in Eldoret, Fr Paul Brennan, told Reuters that churches were full; four or five thousand people were sheltering in the main cathedral.

The Revd Peter Oyugi, a Kenyan pastor working in London, who chairs the Kenya Church Association, said on Wednesday said that the root of the problem went back many years, and could not be attributed just to a war between the two groups.

He said that, since President Kbeki was first elected in 2002, there had been disillusionment over his failure to tackle corruption. “If there is one thing Kenyans can be commended for, it is that in last week’s elections they unanimously voted for change. So when it became apparent that, against the wish of many, the tallying of the presidential vote was tampered with, everything went out of control.”

Dereje Alemayehu, Christian Aid’s country manager in Kenya, confirmed this week that in Kibera where he lives, and in Kisumu, his home town, many people had been killed, not just by protesters, but also by police who, he said, had fired into crowds of fleeing demonstrators.

Other aid agencies have also expressed concern. The Kenyan Red Cross said on Tuesday that about 100,000 people had been affected by the violence. It also told a news agency that, in some areas, only those of “the right ethnic group” had been allowed through barricades.

Archbishop Nzimbi’s letter, sent to every diocesan bishop, said: “As you are aware, the outcome of the presidential elections has regrettably sparked off countrywide anxiety and outbursts of violence in various parts of our beloved country, resulting to loss of innocent lives and destruction of property.

“It is for the above reason that I write this appeal letter to all of you in order to make a passionate appeal to your congregations, Christians, and other citizens to maintain calm, peace and brotherly love among themselves. . . . We are in the initial process of mediation between the concerned two parties so that this uncertain state of affairs can be resolved as quickly as possible. We call upon you to join us in prayer and fasting for calm and peace in the country.”

Christian Aid said that the commission should have postponed announcing the results of the election once voting irregularities became apparent, until they had been investigated. The agency is now urging the Kenyan government and opposition supporters to exercise restraint.

Mr Alemayehu added: “The behaviour of the electoral commission has been deeply unfortunate. It should have been guided by the principle that the credibility of a process is vital if the result is to be accepted, particularly where polarisation along ethnic lines prevails. I fear that the country may have been thrown back in terms of the democratic political processes.”

On Wednesday, it was reported that Dr Desmond Tutu had arrived in Kenya. Dr Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, planned to meet members of the electoral commission, as well as political leaders.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Dr Desmond Tutu had arrived in Kenya. Dr Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, planned to meet members of the electoral commission, as well as political leaders.

www.kenyaredcross.org

www.christianaid.org.uk

A MOB of 200 marauding youths was said to be responsible for the church fire, writes Manesses Zindo, in Nairobi. The youths chanted war songs as they surrounded the church on New Year’s Day. Those who tried to escape were waylaid and attacked. A pregnant woman with serious burns to her leg was among those who were rushed to the nearby Moi University Teaching and Referral Hospital.

A MOB of 200 marauding youths was said to be responsible for the church fire, writes Manesses Zindo, in Nairobi. The youths chanted war songs as they surrounded the church on New Year’s Day. Those who tried to escape were waylaid and attacked. A pregnant woman with serious burns to her leg was among those who were rushed to the nearby Moi University Teaching and Referral Hospital.

According to survivors, the killers accused those sheltering in the church of having voted for President Kibaki. One survivor, Joseph Kamande said he was lucky to be alive after he fell into a ditch, leading his killers to believe that he was dead, but he lost his wife, three children and two grandchildren in the attack. Another, Peter Munderu, lost his three children. “Many bodies are still buried in the debris,” he said.

According to survivors, the killers accused those sheltering in the church of having voted for President Kibaki. One survivor, Joseph Kamande said he was lucky to be alive after he fell into a ditch, leading his killers to believe that he was dead, but he lost his wife, three children and two grandchildren in the attack. Another, Peter Munderu, lost his three children. “Many bodies are still buried in the debris,” he said.

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