Today, Kenyans are trooping to the ballot to vote for a new government and leaders. One of the greatest immediate fears is whether or not the post-election days will be peaceful. The memory of post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 is still fresh on our minds. Many remember these days as fading flashbacks of news items seen on television from the comfort of their peaceful neighborhoods. But for some of us, the memories are much more vivid—too vivid.
No one thought it would get this serious. We ignored the death threats after the election results were announced on that December evening in 2007. We thought we were safe. At least that’s what I thought as I watched the violence erupt before my eyes, five years ago. When my mum received a phone call telling her that we needed to leave our home because it wasn’t safe, I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. Within minutes, we left our house with nothing but the clothes on our backs. The next several days were some of our most helpless, as our home was broken into and looted of everything. Before I could wrap my mind around the chaos, I was an outcast in the only town I could call home.
Five years on, I can no longer call Eldoret my home. My little sister was practically born and raised there. All her precious childhood memories come from this town to which we can no longer return. In Kiambaa, a village on the outskirts of Eldoret, mobs from a rival tribe set a church on fire, killing 20 people who had taken refuge. Those who perished in this tin-roofed, mud-walled, and wooden-pewed structure were mostly children. And their crime was a genetic—they belonged to the wrong tribe. The ground once pinnacled by a cross symbolizing the death of Christ is now patterned by little crosses memorializing the death of children.
More Serious Union
But more than setting fires to churches and separating mothers from their children, the sword of negative tribalism severed an even more serious union—the church. In the Sundays following the violence, attendance in many churches dropped drastically. It wasn’t just a numerical drop; certain tribes didn’t show up any longer. The violence clarified the allegiances of many church members. And it was tribe, not Christ, which was decisive. This was by far the most devastating outcome of the election violence. Whenever chaos or wars break out in Africa, people usually take refuge in church buildings or mosques. These areas are not only considered sacred, but also neutral. It seems that the rule no longer applied this time. The force of negative tribalism was too compelling even for the church walls.
But is tribe too compelling for the transforming power of the gospel in Kenya? Many Christians were forced to re-examine their faiths. What did it really mean to be a Christian? Is allegiance to my tribe more important than allegiance to my local church? What role can the church play to ensure that 2013 will not resemble 2008? Are peace walks, peace placards, peace concerts, and peace conferences enough? Or is there more? Many Christians in Kenya view these election with a pensive mood. Church leaders have become unusually less vocal on their political views. But this does not bother me so much as the scarcity of the gospel message in many sermons about peace in many churches.
We sincerely plea for peace in the weeks following these elections. We may be divided on whom we want to be the next president, but we are united in echoing this prayer in our national anthem: “May we dwell in unity, peace, and liberty.”
And we call on Christians from across the world to echo this prayer for peace. Pray for peace that is not just superficial or temporal, but a lasting peace that finds its root and foundation in the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified.