Kenya's Persistent Violence Disturbs Christian Groups

Violence in the once-hailed democratic oasis continued Thursday between angry young demonstrators and police, making it difficult for Christian aid groups to provide help to affected victims.

More than 600 people have died and 250,000 displaced in Kenya since violence erupted following the disputed presidential election Dec. 27. International aid groups working with local churches have responded to the instability by distributing food and relief supplies to sustain vulnerable children and adults.

Christian aid agency World Vision has provided humanitarian supplies to more than 150,000 people in Kenya. A WV spokesman from Nairobi noted that the humanitarian situation is likely to get worse the longer families are "too scared" to return home because they will be without basic needs such as food and clean water.

WV is partnering with the Kenya Red Cross Society to meet immediate needs of affected people in Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret, Mombasa and Kisumu. The groups recently distributed milk, bread, lentils, blankets, mosquito nets, jerricans, tarpaulins, soap and kitchen sets to some 3,000 people taking shelter in Nakuru's Afraha Statium.

The agency reported having 800 staff members in Kenya, but noted concerns about the dozens of staff working to support work in nearby Sudan and Somalia who are based in Kenya. It said continued violence in the West African country could affect their ability to work in these neighboring countries.

Violence broke out in Kenya following the presidential election when the opposition party declared that the results were rigged and refused to acknowledge Mwai Kibaki as president. Initial clashes took place between supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga and those of incumbent president Kibaki, but then expanded to Odinga supporters and the police force.

"What you see in Kenya right now are the pains of a growing democracy," said Pastor Mwaya Wa Kitavi, Christian Reformed World Missions' eastern and southern Africa regional leader.

A Kenyan who travels to his homeland several times every year, Wa Kitavi explained that democracy is young in the country and much needs to be done – and redeemed – in order for peace to flourish, according to Christian Reformed Church Communications. He remains hopeful that Kenyans will realize "they need to listen to one another. It is in their best interest in the long run to have peaceful solutions."

Underlying the political violence is the long-held ethnic tension. Kibaki is part of the largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Kikuyu tribe, while Odinga is from the Luo tribe, a smaller but still prominent group. Citizens from both candidates' tribes have attacked one another in defense of their fellow tribesman.

While conflict persists on once peaceful streets, Christian groups are working hard to provide displaced families with basic items.

U.S.-based Church World Service is supporting the efforts of the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church (KELC) to provide 15,000 people (3,000 households) with maize grains, flour, cooking oil, salt and a minimal amount of cash to enable them to buy vegetables and other urgent items they may need.

Other Christian aid groups working in Kenya include Compassion International and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.

Christians account for 78 percent of Kenya's 37 million people, while 10 percent of the population is Muslim.

Odinga supporters have vowed to continue protest rallies until the government agrees to direct talks and seek a solution. The government has repeatedly said the opposition should take its case to the court and said the administration "is very open to dialogue," according to The Associated Press.