My heart cries out for the people of Kenya. The unfolding crisis conjures up haunting and horrific images of Rwanda. While the situation has not reached the scale of genocide, the flawed and arguably fraudulent elections held last month have already led to far too much bloodshed and represent a major step backwards in Kenya's democracy. The aftermath from the election has inflamed simmering ethnic tensions, pitting Luos and others who support opposition leader Raila Odinga against Kikuyus and their allies, who support President Mwai Kibaki.
The media seems to be under-reporting the scale and gravity of the tribal and politically motivated violence. From the shantytown of Kibera to the rural villages of Western Kenya, people are gripped by fear, particularly Kikuyus who make up about 22 percent of the population. The roughly 500 deaths reported so far fail to capture the countless number of people who have been injured by machete or the estimated 100,000 people already displaced by the conflict. The stolen election has awakened people's deepest fears and spurred barbaric acts between former neighbors.
I've been blessed to travel to Kenya twice - most recently a year ago - and have talked to many young Kenyan professionals who lamented the lingering tribalism that impedes Kenya's future. Fierce distrust and animosity between the over 40 tribes was often manipulated by the divide and rule machinations of British colonial rule. However these brothers and sisters also expressed real optimism that Kenya was moving in the direction of making tribalism a vestige of the past. I can only imagine what they are thinking and feeling now.
The Bush Administration made a costly mistake by rushing to recognize the flawed election results that re-elected President Kibaki to power. Since this initial blunder, our government has backtracked and tried to broker a needed political compromise through the recent visit of the Under Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazier. Based on the European Commission's compelling evidence that the election was stolen, the U.S. must send an unequivocal message to Kibaki's government that we refuse to recognize the outcome of this deeply flawed process. America's commitment to democracy around the world becomes even more tarnished every time we lend a blind eye to clear evidence of electoral malfeasance. Fortunately, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Elders group have also been working to foster reconcilation and forge a political compromise between President Kibaki and opposition leader Odinga.
What should active Christian solidarity look like in the response to this crisis? Many of our churches have direct missionary and church to church relationships with Kenyans. We must keep them in our prayers and let them know that they are not alone as they pursue the courageous path toward reconciliation. We can give to humanitarian relief efforts that are increasingly needed across the country. Finally we can escalate political pressure on the Bush Administration to play an even greater role in getting both sides to break the current political stalemate, whether through the promise of holding a new election, conducting a re-count and independent investigation, or a proposed power-sharing arrangement. Averting further bloodshed is inextricably linked to solving the political crisis in Kenya. My prayer is that our celebration of the birth of one that we call the prince of peace will lead a deeper commitment to sowing seeds of peace and reconciliation in Kenya and across the world.
Adam Taylor is director of campaigns and organizing for Sojourners.