Continued Kenya Violence Disrupts Food Supply
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
February 14, 2008—Continued violence in Kenya has displaced hundreds of thousands of citizens and disrupted the food supply in parts of that African nation.
Stockpiled food has quickly disappeared, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief is appealing to United Methodists to donate money to bolster the food supply. UMCOR has spent $120,000 on relief needs in Kenya since early January, assisting more than 10,000 people in the region.
"There's just not enough food to feed people," said the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR chief executive, in a Feb. 12 interview with United Methodist News Service.
A thousand people have been killed in Kenya since the Dec. 27 re-election of President Mwai Kibaki, according to news reports. The election results have been disputed by supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga and, as of Feb. 13, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was serving as a mediator between the two political leaders.
Much of the violence is thought to be related to ethnic affiliation. Kibaki is Kikuyu and Odinga is Luo, but both have support from other ethnic groups. In terms of major ethnic groups, about 20 percent of Kenya's population is Kikuyu, 14 percent is Luo, 13 percent is Luhya, 11 percent is Kalenjin and another 11 percent is Kamba, according to reports by the BBC.
"UMCOR joins the world community in being deeply disturbed by the violence and destruction of property that the unresolved political dispute has fostered," said Dixon. "In many cases, it is the most vulnerable who are being victimized by the violence."
Annan offers 'real hope'
The Rev. John Calhoun, a Kenya-based missionary with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, credits mediation efforts by Annan for providing "real hope that the politicians have finally understood what the Kenyan people have been saying for weeks: It is time to end the bloodshed, and find a solution to this crisis," according to a Feb. 11 letter from Calhoun.
The humanitarian crisis, however, may not be resolved so quickly, said Calhoun, who serves as coordinator of humanitarian relief and church development for the Methodist Church in Kenya. He estimated that more than 300,000 people remain displaced and said it may take months before they can return home.
Calhoun and colleagues from the Methodist and Anglican churches visited a temporary camp for displaced persons on Feb. 6 at Tigoni, a small village outside Nairobi.
"The residents of the Tigoni camp are mostly Luo and Kalenjin tribespeople who were driven from their homes and jobs on the Kikuyu-owned tea plantations of this beautiful and fertile region," he said in his report. "In just the last two weeks, more than 5,000 persons have sought shelter in this hastily built camp on the grounds of the Tigoni police station; more than 1,000 of these displaced persons are children."
UMCOR has assisted United Methodist Bishop Daniel Wandabula, of the denomination's East Africa Annual Conference, in addressing the humanitarian needs of both those inside Kenya and refugees who have fled to Uganda.
Food, water, temporary shelter and medicines funded by gifts to UMCOR are being distributed through United Methodist churches in the region and by the annual conference, according to Dixon.
Food exhausted in Nairobi
In the Nairobi district, UMCOR purchased food for distribution under the leadership of Superintendent Carol Ososo. "Food was stockpiled at a central location, and local churches who had received those displaced by the violence were able to pick up some food supplies," Dixon said. "Unfortunately the supply was quickly exhausted due to the high demand."
He added that UMCOR is making arrangements with a private donor to ship 20 forty-foot containers of relief supplies for Kenya. The Methodist Church of Kenya and the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi will help process the shipment when it arrives.
UMCOR also is supporting the relief work of Action by Churches Together, which is being carried out by the Methodist Church of Kenya, led by Calhoun and by other denominations. ACT launched a $4.5 million appeal for Kenya on Feb. 4 and its partners have been working to improve conditions in the camps for displaced persons.
ACT funding, for example, enabled the purchase of 2,300 IDP kits designed to provide for a family's non-food emergency needs. Each kit includes a kitchen set, mosquito nets, female hygiene items and blankets. Members of the ACT Kenya Forum also have acquired 1,619 tents for displaced families.
The Church of Sweden, an ACT partner, has supported nationwide assessment of the psychosocial effects of the violence and mass displacement.
Calhoun said that relief supplies at Tigoni and other camps are being provided by church groups, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and several U.N. agencies. Working ecumenically, the Methodist Church in Kenya, Anglican Church of Kenya and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa have created an organization called Tumaini Na Undugu (Hope and Brotherhood), according to Calhoun.
During his visit, Tumaini Na Undugu sponsored a cultural event that included music, comedy, games and face painting. "The events of the day brought several hours of joy, laughter, relief, and hope to thousands of persons living in anxiety at Tigoni camp," he wrote.
Concerns over Kenya linger by African ecumenical leaders such as the Rev. Sam Kobia, a Methodist and Kenya native who serves as chief executive of the World Council of Churches, and the Rev. Mvume Dandala, a South African Methodist who leads the All Africa Conference of Churches, based in Nairobi.
In "A Call to all Kenyans from the All Africa Conferences of Churches," issued Jan. 21, Dandala mentioned the long-time hospitality extended to the council in a way "that has made us feel truly Kenyan" and recalled how a Kenyan once helped broker peace in South Africa.
"If Kenyans see this crisis as simply just one of their problems that they will in time resolve, let it be said that the rest of the continent is desperate, for if it happens thus to Kenya, how about the rest of us, what hope do we have?," he wrote. "Kenya, you are one of the custodians of the last vestiges of hope for this continent! Please steward our collective hope."
An international delegation from the World Council of Churches visited Kenya Jan. 30-Feb. 3 as part of the council's "Living Letters" initiative to show solidarity and support the peace and reconciliation efforts of Kenya's churches. The visit was hosted by the National Council of Churches in Kenya.
The reconciliation efforts have included face-to-face encounters between Christian leaders from the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities and the Kikuyu and Luo communities. An interreligious forum, with representatives from Christian, Muslim and Hindu communities, also is addressing the crisis by promoting political mediation, peace messages and a nationwide prayer movement and by providing relief aid.
The seven-member "Living Letters" delegation met with Kenya's vice president Kalonzo Musyoka, and with Odinga, the leader and presidential candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement. Delegation members asked the two leaders to seek a compromise solution to the election dispute.
Donations to assist UMCOR's response in Kenya can be dropped in local church collection plates or mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write "UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response-Kenya" on the check memo line. For credit card donations, visit UMCOR's web site at www.umcor.org for online giving information or call (800) 554-8583.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.