Kenya's crossroads: What you can do

By Ida Wahlstrom

What's Happening

As January comes to a close, over 800 Kenyans have been killed and at least 255,000 displaced by the violence that erupted after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of allegedly faulty elections held in late December 2007. What began as unorganized riots and protests escalated, within days, to campaigns of ethnically motivated attacks that many believe are being stoked by political leaders.

The fighting is so intense that it is not only threatening the safety of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans, but it is debilitating various other aspects of daily life, including economic transactions, education, and health. Indeed, the economy has reached a near standstill as the movement of people and goods is severely restricted; teachers are fleeing and children are unable to attend school in affected areas of the country; and violence against women has skyrocketed, with one women's hospital in Nairobi registering unheard of numbers of rape victims.

Some international and local observers are even asking whether these seeds of conflict will lead Kenya down a path to civil war.

Also being questioned is the foreign media's understanding and coverage of the crisis. As one local paper reports, "There is more to Kenya's post-election violence than a bungled vote count and so-called tribal rivalries." One of the fundamental issues is the inequitable distribution of resources among the majority of Kenyans, a problem that politicians have exploited by citing ethnic divisions, in order to garner support following an unfair election.

What Others Are Doing

In response to the ongoing devastation, many local and international actors -- including OneWorld's partner organizations active in Kenya -- are mobilizing people and resources while others on the ground are keeping the international community informed of what regular people are experiencing on a daily basis.

An open letter from a local priest contemplates ethnic violence among previously cohesive communities, and emphasizes that people must first overcome hatred for peace to thrive.

Meanwhile, the president of a U.S.-based human rights organization penned this blog while he was in Kenya assessing the political and humanitarian crisis and meeting with those affected -- victims and heroes alike.

Seeking to ensure awareness of the gender dimensions of this crisis, an eleven-member committee representing the Kenyan Women's Consultation Group on the Current Crisis in Kenya recently presented a memorandum to the mediation team headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

OneWorld partner organizations working on the ground in Kenya include:

Academy for Educational Development (AED) - AED works globally to improve education, health, civil society and economic development -- the foundation of thriving societies. In western Kenya, AED runs a program that supports families and communities to improve the health, nutrition, and psychosocial care of young children orphaned and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Action Against Hunger - Action Against Hunger strives to eliminate hunger through the prevention, detection, and treatment of malnutrition, especially during and after emergency situations of conflict, war, and natural disaster. In addition to monitoring nutrition among displaced Kenyan children under five, Action Against Hunger is providing humanitarian assistance to the growing population of internal refugees, including clean water, sanitation, and essential non-food items such as blankets, soap, and clothing.

The Centre for Population and Development Activities (CEDPA) - CEDPA works hand-in-hand with women leaders, local partners, and national and international organizations to give women the tools they need to improve their lives, families, and communities. In this letter, Selestine Otom, who attended CEDPA's Advancing Women's Leadership and Advocacy for AIDS Action training workshop, reflects on the violence that has engulfed her country.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) - The IRC is a global network of first responders, humanitarian relief workers, health care providers, educators, and community leaders providing access to safety, sanctuary, and sustainable change for people affected by violence and oppression. In Kenya, the IRC has delivered food and emergency supplies to thousands of Kenyans who fled the spreading violence.

John Snow, Inc. (JSI) - JSI is a public health research and consulting firm dedicated to improving the health of individuals and communities around the world. JSI works on a plethora of programs in Kenya related to HIV/AIDS, public and reproductive health, tuberculosis, and much more.

Oxfam America - As an independent humanitarian and development organization, Oxfam is supporting initiatives by Kenyan citizens which are aimed at helping those affected and bringing a peaceful outcome, independent of any party political affiliation. In Kenya, Oxfam is giving financial support to a network of organizations campaigning for peaceful negotiations and to the Kenya Red Cross. Oxfam is also promoting community reconciliation at the grassroots level.

What You Can Do

To stay up-to-date on this extremely dynamic situation, visit the blog of latest coverage of the crisis from around the world, updated daily by Pambazuka News, a local forum for social justice in Africa.

To learn more about Kenya, its history, and the issues it faced even before the current crisis, please see OneWorld's Country Guide on Kenya.

You can also lend your voice and support to the OneWorld partner organizations mentioned above or join in the following online campaigns:

Africa Action - Africa Action is a U.S.-based organization working to change U.S. foreign policy and the policies of international institutions in order to support African struggles for peace and development. Africa Action invites you to write Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today and ask her to call for an independent, comprehensive, and transparent recount of the votes, as well a lifting of the media ban, the ban on freedom of speech, and the ban on all other human rights now held in suspension.

Global Giving - Global Giving is an online marketplace where you can browse ways to help people around the world, pick the initiatives you are most passionate about, and give to the solution. Global Giving invites you to donate funds to support organizations responding to the post-election crisis in Kenya, including feeding and medical programs, shelter, transportation, and psychological counseling for victims.

Lutheran World Relief (LWR) - LWR seeks lasting solutions to poverty and injustice around the world. LWR invites you to help them, through donations, provide emergency food aid, tents and blankets to 4,000 displaced families in Mombasa and in the Nyanza Province.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) - UUSC supports programs and policies that promote workers' rights, advance the human right to water, defend civil liberties, and preserve the rights of those affected by humanitarian crises. UUSC invites you to ask President Bush to support the demands by civil society organizations in Kenya for an independent audit of the election results and to donate to the UUSC-UUA Kenya Crisis Fund.