Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Report 12 part 1 -- Quakers in Kenya

January 8

Dear All,

I have been asked to discuss the issue of how the violence here in Kenya is affecting the Quakers in Kenya.

Friends United Meeting (then Five Years Meeting) sent missionaries to Kenya in 1902. They trekked up country and settled in Kaimosi which is in the Western Province of Kenya. Western Province stretches from near Lake Victoria about a hundred miles north to Mt Elgon, along the border with Uganda. The British divided up the provinces by ethnic groups. Western Province is the home of the Luhya: the second to largest group in Kenya after the Kikuyu. Almost everyone in Western Province is Luhya. Of course, over time, many Luhya have immigrated to other parts of the country. Partly due to the excellent education the Quaker missionaries promoted during colonial rule, the Luhya tended to go into the educated professions--teachers, managers, government civil servants, and similar occupations.

There are more Quakers in Kenya than any other country in the world. FWCC says 137,000. FUM-Africa office is trying to get a better count, but this is going to be difficult for such large numbers. I think that the total is considerably higher. If there are 3,000,000 people in Western Province and 100,000 of them are Quakers, then 3% of the population is Quaker. While still a small percentage, it is probably one of the highest concentrations of Quakers in the world. Quaker churches and Quaker schools can be seen everywhere.

At the time of independence all the Quakers were in one very centralized, yearly meeting-- East Africa Yearly Meeting. But due to mismanagement at the center, sub-ethnic group differences, beginning in the 1970's East Africa Yearly Meeting began to split apart until now there are 15 Yearly Meetings (there is actually another one which hasn't been officially recognized yet). Much of this division was very acrimonious. Note how parallel this history is to the history of Kenya that I reported previously. Most religious groups in Kenya went through similar conflicts and divisions. Now all the yearly meetings are members of Friends United Meeting. All, except a silent worship group at Friends Church--Nairobi, Ngong Road, are programmed Friends, with singing, vocal prayer, preaching, an offering, choirs, etc.

Starting in about 1999, the many yearly meetings began to settle down and re-develop normal relationships among themselves. Now the Friends Church of Kenya includes all the yearly meetings. During the time of conflict, the Quakers were not represented in the National Christian Council of Kenya because they could not agree on who would represent them. Now the Friends Church has a representative there.

Politically the Luhya have been seen as the political "plum" that would allow someone else to run the country. If a politician could get the votes of the second to largest tribe, he would have a nice voting block. Consequently there have been many Luhya vice-presidents. Kibaki's vice president was a Luhya, Moody Awori, and there was obvious resentment against Kibaki when Awori was unable to even hold his own seat in Busia--he was defeated badly by the ODM candidate. In Moi's last government, Musalia Mudavadi was vice-president for only a short time. In the 2002 election the Luhya were determined to oust the Moi government and Mudavadi, like Awori in this election, lost his seat. He soon recognized his mistake, joined the ODM campaign against the proposed constitution in 2005, and returned to the good graces of the Luhya. He is now Raila Odinga's vice-presidental running mate. I cover these details because Musalia Mudavadi is a Friend. I am told that he sometimes attends church at Ngong Road in Nairobi. I have found him to be level-headed, a calmer speaker than most politicians, and he carried the ODM campaign very well when Raila was in the United States raising funds.

As part of the larger population of the province, the Quakers have been directly and indirectly affected by the violence. I mentioned a Luhya who was killed in Nakuru (I don't know if he was a Quaker or not). The shop of another prominent Quaker in Nairobi was looted and burned. If a Quaker lived in a Kikuyu's house, they were burned out. If they rented a house to a Kikuyu, it was also burned. There are probably many more examples of death, looted shops, and burned homes among Kenya Quakers that I do not know about. Of course indirectly everyone has been adversely affected. Prices have gone up, transport has been almost impossible, and anyone with a business has experienced decreasing sales. On top of this is the tension, the uncertainty, of what will happen; the retreating into the home and interacting with trusted neighbors only. Then there are the questions, "How can our society have fallen apart like this?" "Where have we gone wrong?" "Is this going to happen again?"

In my daily reports I try to highlight those things that I hear the Quaker community is doing: digging latrines at an IDP camp, caring for people in Eldoret Friends Church, our beginning attempts at reconciliation here in Lumakanda, attempts to dialogue with the looters in Kakamega.

All these are small initiatives in hard times. As the conflict here in Kenya is no longer "news," and you hear little about what happens, I hope that you can stay informed about our Quaker brothers and sisters in Western Kenya.

Dave Z

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Quaker but I lived in Luhya land for quite a while. I have not been able to get in touch with any of my friends since everything has happened over the election and I was hoping you could provide me with some info on what is going on there. I used to live in Ileho (of Isuha, it's in the rainforest near Rondo) and am very worried about people there (esp. since they experienced clashes there in 1992). I'm sure there is violence going on Kakamega and I would like to know the situation on the ground there if possible (my email: mkora2000@yahoo.com).

Thanks for your time in writing about this. It helps me.