Kenya

Kenya: Working for reconciliation

Six months on from Kenya's post-election violence, the part played by CMS in church and NGO initiatives to heal a hurting nation is evident.

On 31 December 2007, a large group of religious leaders from across Kenya gathered to discuss the escalation of violence in the aftermath of the elections and their disputed result.

In attendance were Inter-Religious Forum (IRF) members, including, among others, the National Council of Churches of Kenya, some other large denominations, the Catholic Church, the Hindu Council, the Council of Muslims and representatives from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

CMS Africa Director Dennis Tongoi leads the IRF.

It was agreed that the forum would take a leadership role in addressing issues linked to emerging crises. A communications committee, a spiritual crisis committee, a political crisis committee and a humanitarian crisis committee were set up to respond to key concerns.

Dennis Tongoi was asked to lead the humanitarian crisis committee, which was to alert and mobilise churches and NGOs to respond to the various needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the violence.

Information gathering to facilitate that response became the immediate priority. So a crisis co-ordination centre, managed by CMS volunteers, was opened on 5 January 2008.

The Crisis Co-ordination Centre immediately established a call centre to receive calls from throughout Kenya reporting urgent needs, and broadcast contact information on HOPE FM to create awareness of the scale of the emergency.

This proved a critical service, given that the crisis broke at a time when most relief agency personnel were on holiday. For a time, the centre, manned by a dedicated group of volunteers, became virtually the only source of such information.

In addition, it maintained a database of volunteers who were always ready to respond when called upon. CMS-Africa led this initiative.

Collaboration

A loosely organised group of protestant evangelical churches, known as the National Alliance of Churches (NAC), also led by Dennis, took a principal role in co-ordinating the work of the Centre, which collaborated closely with Caritas, representing the Catholic Church, and ADRA, representing the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the Kenyan government.

That co-operation proved critical in helping to notify and educate NGOs about IDPs' large-scale needs, including food, water shortages, health emergencies and security issues.

As the goals of the response changed from rescue and relief to resettlement, rebuilding and reconciliation, the need to work together to see that sustainable interventions continued was voiced time and again.

Dennis, in conjunction with other stakeholders, engaged with that bigger picture.

Key accomplishments

Food distribution - in partnership with the Red Cross, the World Food Programme, World Relief, ADRA and other NGOs, the committee helped to co-ordinate the distribution of 425 metric tons of food.

IDP camps/shelters - most IDPs found refuge at various churches throughout Kenya. The Centre helped to co-ordinate the creation of the Jamhuri Park Camp and the Karura Community Chapel Camp.

By June, 178,000 out of 220,000 IDPs had been resettled by the government. However, issues revolving around IDPs' resettlement continue to require a long-term investment of resources.

Counselling and psychosocial responses - the NAC put together a database of trained and certified counsellors and mobilised and dispatched them throughout Kenya to conduct both individual and group counselling sessions, including trauma counselling.

The churches' response to requests for help, it was widely acknowledged by Kenyans, was outstanding during this unprecedented crisis.

CMS worked with local churches and communities in the affected areas, particularly in the slums, towards healing and reconciliation.

CMS also initiated an economic recovery initiative to reconstruct businesses and livelihoods in the affected areas in Nairobi.

Conclusion

The NAC has continued to come together as a forum of stakeholders, incorporating the Inter-Religious Forum.

The group recognises that the crisis has many long-term implications and that the Church is a key stakeholder in addressing the ongoing issues facing Kenyan communities and the nation at large.

It was one thing to resettle people who have gone through this kind of trauma and another to help communities who are hurting to heal. That's part of what the Church is called to do of course, and CMS-Africa is helping the NAC forum to sensitise the Church in its response to that calling.

CMS is supporting the coalition's work to give hope to a people who were left polarised and are in need of deeper reconciliation in order to live together peacefully.