David Purnell, Canberra Regional Meeting.
Review of Lumb, Judy (2012) Ending Cycles of Violence: Kenya Quaker Peacemaking Response after the 2007 Election Washington: Madera Press, Washington.
This is a fine collection of Quaker voices about violence that erupted in Kenya after the December 2007 election, and the creative ways in which Quakers responded. It is a valuable archive, as well as a vital testimony to the movement of the Spirit in a critical time and place. Judy Lumb, an American Friend from Atlanta Georgia, document the work of Friends during the post-election period as a volunteer with Friends African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI).
Lumb writes in the preface that ‘n the peacemaking tradition of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers initially provided humanitarian assistance to many, many internally displaced people, then began a counselling and trauma healing effort that is still ongoing. For long term peacemaking, Friends developed a peace curriculum for every educational level, from primary through secondary schools and for the training of pastors in the Friends Theological College’. With quotations from 34 Friends, the book is a lively read with valuable references and links.
Kenya has a long history of disturbances from to the British colonial legacy, over land, over the centralisation of political power, and some ethnically-based. Each election from 1992 has involved killings, burnings, and removal of people from their homes and land.
By 2007 Kenya has a stronger economy but greater inequality. Two coalition groups, led by Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki contested the election, which was mainly smooth and peaceful. Initial results favoured Odinga, but later counting led to the announcement that Kibaki had won. Violence broke out in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu and spread throughout the country. Over 1100 people were killed, and 600,000 people displaced, in the first two months of 2008.
Some Quakers caught up in the violence suffered losses in their families and communities. Corporately there was a determination to respond with care for all people who had been affected. A pastoral letter was written to the leaders of the nation expressed the Quaker peace testimony and emphasising the importance of achieving a peaceful society. It called on all Kenyan leaders to reject violence and work for a united country. A Kenyan national Quaker peace conference in January 2008 agreed on immediate action to encourage nonviolent approaches and build reconciliation within communities. An Open Letter to all Kenyans appealed for an end to violence, highlighting economic injustices, youth disempowerment, and religious and ethnic divisions. The intervention of Kofi Annan and Graca Machel helped bring about an agreement between political leader, with Kibaki as president and Odinga as prime minister.
International Quaker groups provided Humanitarian assistance throughout Kenya, with workshops on ways to deal with trauma. By allowing time for people to recover a sense of safety, then focussing on affirmation, communication and collaboration, Quakers were able to help rebuild trust across divided groups. A particular challenge was to bring together ‘perpetrators’ of the violence and provide an opportunity for them to talk about what happened. One Quaker, Getry Agizah, said ‘We had that meeting and they talked the whole day. …they were expressing their anger about their life….they talked about their rights being denied. We left the meeting understanding why Kakamega town burned’.
By now, the worst of the after-effects of violence have subsided, there is a new constitution supported by major political parties and new electoral boundaries have been drawn.
This book is a compelling account of a modern-day Quaker faith-in-action approach. It shows how Quakers, confronted by a horrifying set of events, carefully thought and prayed about how to respond. It is clear from the book that those on the receiving end valued this Spirit-led way of relating to the people involved, regardless of their background. Quakers in Kenya are now actively working to ensure that violence does not occur in the lead-up to the next election, due later this year