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Maryknoll Missioner reports on effects of election violence in Kenya

By Sr. Paula Kuntz MM and Sr. Noel Doescher MM

“To see a somber Kenyan in the midst of chaos and adverse circumstances is rare, but the day I went up the mountain to help distribute food to 1000 or more homeless people camped there, I was overcome by the haunted looks and unsmiling faces of the people quietly waiting for the food,” says Sr. Paula Kunz, a Maryknoll Sister from London, Ontario, Canada. “In my 39 years of living among the ethnic groups in this area, this is the first time I have experienced such a feeling of hopelessness from these usually buoyant people.”

Sr. Paula Kunz, MM

The violence of the recent clashes which robbed people of their homes, their land and many family members started as a result of the presidential elections held in late December 2007. The voter turnout was exceptionally large and all went peacefully until news came trickling in that the opposition part of Raila Odinga which was originally in the lead had been surpassed by the party of the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki in votes. Fighting broke out in Nairobi especially in the slum areas and quickly spread to other towns especially to those along the road to the Uganda border. In the town of Eldoret, a church and its worshipers were set ablaze and as one woman tried to escape through a window in the church, her baby was torn from her arms and thrown back into the flames.

The Kitale area, where Sr. Paula has lived and worked since 1972, is about 60 miles northwest of the Ugandan border and is home to a mix of the 42 ethnic groups in Kenya. Though for the most part they live in harmony together, underlying it all are the issues of land, unemployment and tribalism. Because these issues have never been properly addressed, there is an uneasy peace in the country.

When fighting broke out on the slopes of the mountainous area around Kitale, the army was sent in to restore quiet. They did this by extreme violence, rape and brutality causing the people to flee to areas of safety in the foothills of Mt. Elgon where camps were established. The Kitale area itself was spared violence and Sr. Paula was able to join a team which was taking food to the homeless in the camps. The Maryknoll Lay Missioners in the area and other religious communities all pitched in to help with this gigantic task. Ministering to the homeless and their needs became a full time work. Later when food supplies were dwindling, the government came with huge lorries, uprooted the people from the camps, drove them back to the areas where they had fled from and dumped them. Their houses were burned and their plots of land destroyed. They were left with nothing.

Koffi Annan, former Secretary General of the U.N., worked with the government leaders for some time trying to get across his idea that the government is for the people NOT for themselves. Because the unresolved issues have not been fully addressed, the uneasy peace remains. We continue to pray that God will give hope and peace to these beautiful people in this corner of his vineyard.

story and photos courtesy:

Sr. Dolores M. Mitch M.M.
Communications Office # 509
Maryknoll Sisters Center
P.O. Box 311
Maryknoll, NY 10545-0311
Background Note: Kenya

Maryknoll Sister recently returned from Kenya reports on Kenyan election violence

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