At many intersections and along many streets you will find billboards and signage encouraging Kenyan pride. However the attempt to create national unity seems hollow and unattainable and these attempts go unnoticed and are generally ignored in the light of the recent internal conflict. Here in Kenya tribal pride always trumps national pride. “For Kenyans our tribal heritage shows up in every way from the type of job you may have to your name”, says Benjamin, a Kikuyu, the major tribe, which accounts for 21 percent of the population.
This stark reality was never proven more powerfully when in early 2008 this quiet and peaceful nation of Kenya erupted into chaotic violence following elections and subsequent decision of by the government reallocating land and ownership rights. People who held title to parcels and farms now were stripped of their rights through a series of decisions and enforcement and for months Kenya sat on the brink of a national tribal meltdown with an exponentially greater potential of mass slaughter than Rwanda.
Kenya has more than 30 million people divided into 42 different tribal groups all vying for equality, which cannot be obtained. With land ownership being stripped from rightful owners these corrupt governmental decisions fueled people’s inability to reclaim what has been their own leading to frustration turning neighbor against neighbor, worker against boss, now years of peaceful coexistence was disintegrating into hatred, brutality and murder as hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and once friendly tribal relationships disintegrated into hatred and a “getting even” mentality.
People who once felt safe to live and work in areas and among people of a different tribal background now fled in fear, relocating and literally running for their lives as they left everything behind. Buildings and schools were torched, people attached, looting and violence were out of control. Government statistics show that, at a minimum 1200 people were killed however local people recount stories of witnessing many more dying horrible deaths such as burnings and beheadings as ordinary people became thugs, murderers and executioners all along tribal lines.
Jan recalls discussing what people witnessed, “People fled with only what was on their backs in fear because they were living in an area where other tribal groups outnumbered them. For months children woke up with terrifying nightmares from remembering the screaming, violence and the smell of tear gas. Men attempting to return to gather up the little that may have been left after the looting and rioting were dragged away and brutally murdered – all because they were of another tribe.”
Churches began to intervene with prayer establishing camps, safe havens, and tent-cities that housed hundreds and thousands of refugees based solely up on the tribal heritage.
With a united cross-tribal demonstration of the love of Jesus many churches publicly lived out their faith and prayed for unity. Shortly after this demonstration an assemblance of peace began to slowly settle over the nation. Was God at work? Many undoubtedly say yes. However the situation is not resolved.
Kenya in many ways have been reshuffled from a nation which once had large groups of tribal peoples all living together in peace being intermingled and interspersed to a balkanized divided people unsure of the future and if their once friendly intertribal relationships will turn deadly at a moments notice.
What does all this mean? If government and tribal factions continues to create an environment in which tribal vengeance and retaliation can occur then knowing the heart of mankind chaos may be a reality and the types of atrocities we saw happen in Rwanda are exponentially possible here in this nation.
Won’t you pray for Kenya today? Pray for righteous leaders to emerge in government. Pray for the influence of the church to remain and grow and bring healing to the many different tribal peoples. Pray that this light in East Africa won’t go out and the 150-year investment of the gospel will not be extinguished.
This is your investment. This is your joy.
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