NAIROBI, Kenya – Beginning Saturday, Feb. 25, and continuing for three days, about 2,000 youth, armed with machetes, attacked villages in inter-ethnic violence east of the city of Kisumu, Kenya, an area where the Kenya Mennonite Church has a strong presence.
Local Mennonite Bishop Clyde Agola immediately informed Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers in Kenya of the attacks. EMM and MCC responded promptly with $3,000 of emergency aid before other humanitarian aid groups were mobilized on site.
Local partners used the money to provide food and water, with a priority for nursing mothers, and blankets for elderly people. National television filmed the distributions. “The quick action you have taken has made people realize they are not alone,” said Bishop Agola.
According to the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation, five people died in the attacks. Approximately 6,000 villagers took refuge in school buildings around the area, said Gordon Obado, a Mennonite church member and program officer for a local community-based organization.
The newspaper said raiders stole cattle and goats, and they burned 40 homes and several hundred acres of sugar cane, the primary cash crop – leaving people without food, homes, seeds and tools for the planting season that has just begun.
A police investigation is under-way to determine the instigators of the violence. Several assailants captured by police said that they were paid to carry out the attacks.
It was in this same region that violence broke out in 1992, when politically based ethnic tension constricted the nation, said MCC worker Katie Mansfield of South Bend, Ind. Historically Kenyan politics and ethnic identity have been deeply linked, as advantages of presidential power have followed ethnic lines. Local residents believe that the recent attacks are again motivated by political and ethnic tension, which is mounting toward Kenya’s elections later this year as various groups seek their own candidate’s rise to presidency. The Christian church in Kenya has exhorted believers to pray for peace, and to develop peaceful relationships with their neighbors of all ethnicities.
Political and ethnic conflict has featured heavily in Kenya’s 48 years of nationhood, particularly in the post-election crisis of 2008, when more than 1,000 people were killed.
Drawing from the experience of 2008, Mennonite churches have stepped up to respond to the needs, even as members also are affected. They are working at camps for displaced people, communicating with each other on needs and incidents, and recording detailed information on the families represented so that aid can be distributed in an orderly way.
“Once people are safe and have returned to their homes, the priority and challenge is to re-establish peace and relationships among the affected communities,” said Ron Ratzlaff, MCC representative in Kenya with his spouse Martha. The Ratzlaffs are from Calgary, Alta.
After years of serving the community through development projects, the church has gained respect and credibility among its neighbors. “Through all of this, we are seeing God’s grace shine through the church to the whole area,” commented Aram DiGennaro, EMM’s regional representative for East Africa.
EMM and MCC are accepting contributions to provide immediate relief and are aiming to raise $10,000 initially. The funds will be used through the local Kenya Mennonite Church and other partners.
To give through EMM, designate your contribution for “East Africa Relief” at emm.org/donate or by check mailed to P.O. Box 458, Salunga, PA 17538-0458. To give through MCC, visit donate.mcc.org to give online or to find mailing information (designate “Kenya Emergency Assistance”).
Debbi DiGennaro is a worker with Eastern Mennonite Missions in Nairobi, Kenya.