A group of Pokot women. Photo by Roger S. Duncan, U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons

The True Winners Among Division

The elections triggered clashes. The African country wavers between chaos and stability. Yet this account from a CL responsible reveals an encouraging certainty.
Joakim Koech

This year’s presidential elections in Kenya were an event particularly deeply felt in the community. For the first time, we prepared a judgment flyer. Our experience in the CL Movement, the Social Doctrine of the Church, and the letter that the bishops of Kenya wrote on the occasion of the elections were starting points for this leaflet.

In the document, entitled, “We are Called on to Build the Common Good,” we stressed that the experience we are living in the Movement has made us aware of the infinite value of each person and of reality. Above all, it has taught us to enhance and explore the desire for happiness we possess, and which we share with all men. We met several times to work on this document, reminding ourselves of the hope that stems from the experience we are living.

So, starting from this certainty, each of us went to vote on December 27th. The results were made known, after some days’ delay, on December 30th. Mwai Kibaki was proclaimed President. Across the country, there was an immediate wave of violence and destruction. As widely reported in the domestic and foreign papers, Kibaki’s party (the PNU) is supported mainly by the Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya. The opposition has the support of the population living in the western regions, inhabited by peoples such as the Kalenjins, the Luo, and the Luhyas. This was the area where the worst violence occurred.

To verify our experience

I happened to be in this region the day after the elections. I’m a member of the Kalenjin tribe and my family comes from Eldoret, where we went to cast our votes. On the days following the proclamation of the results, we shut ourselves up in the house, because Eldoret was one of the towns worst hit by protests and clashes. There was widespread fear and uncertainty. We were all afraid it could degenerate into genocide.
All the same, this time of fear and bewilderment became a great opportunity to verify our Christian experience. As soon as the disorder began, our friends in the community who had stayed in Nairobi called us up. Many of them sent text messages. One of these commented that everything that was happening was an opportunity to verify that Christ answers our needs, even in a situation like this. I took this positive provocation seriously.

Certainty and Mystery
As I said, I come from the Nandi tribe. This is a small Kalenjin group, but it was well to the fore in the violence against Kikuyu. The friends of the community of the Movement belong to many different tribes: Kikuyu, Luo, Luhia, Meru, Masai… My Fraternity consists mainly of Kikuyu. The clashes in those days clearly revealed that what defines us is not our tribal membership but the fact of Christ. Each of us was able to experience the miracle of communion, including communion through prayer. For example, the parents of a friend were in a zone at risk. We began to recite the Rosary for them each day and asked the whole community in Kenya to do the same. I think I have never prayed so much for my friends. The desire for peace for me and my family, for my friends and their families, was always in our hearts and on our lips.

Every day we were keyed up with fear and tension. But our friends in Kenya and Italy bore witness by the way they judged and lived these events. One of them told us: “We are the winners”–words that clearly expressed what was happening to each of us. In our eyes, it was and is evident that there is only one fact which can break down the barriers of tribal hatred: belonging to Another. One of our friends wrote, “We cannot hope for peace from the ideologies of who won or lost. Our certainty can lie only in the whole of the Mystery.”

Before this certainty, amid all this turmoil, I recalled the words of Fr. Giussani (published in Traces, Vol. 5, No. 3 in 2003): “Any event that happens would never find an adequate answer if Christ were not there. He marks God’s ultimate victory over human reality. Whatever happens, it is ‘mercy’ that gives the reading of everything that is human. Mercy: God accomplishes the victory over evil within history as positivity. It is this that gives a reason to what happens.”

Being aware of this was a great grace to me and my friends. Clearly, we cannot reduce everything to the party that wins or loses. In fact, if it had not been for the presence of Christ in our midst, we would have been lost. The temptation to get revenge would have won; pain and violence would have decided for us.

“I have given everything to Christ”
A friend of ours who lost two brothers in the violence was a true testimony for us. More than once he repeated, “I have given all my pain to Christ. There is nothing I can save; only He can do everything.” This reminded me of what Carrón repeats so frequently: “The fact of Christ may seem small, but in reality it is everything.”

There are endless examples like this. An Italian friend of the Movement, one whom I’d never met, sent me a text message saying she prayed to Mary Queen of Peace every day for Kenya. She followed this message by another: “Today, I went to the tomb of Fr. Giussani to ask him to pray to restore peace in Kenya, for the friends of the Movement that live there and their families.”

Carras called me practically every day. Despite difficulties in communicating because of language differences, I could feel his affection for me and the community. His friendship kept me company in those days because he always reminded me to turn to Christ as the possibility of a positive in reality.

The priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles kept in contact with us, sending us mobile phone credits to enable us to communicate. Being penned-up indoors, we couldn’t get out to buy more credit. And, anyway, there was none on sale any more.

Eventually, many days later, we returned to Nairobi. On the journey, my wife and I wondered how we would manage with the children, where we would be able to find food. Here, too, the answer surpassed our expectations: even before reaching home, we were invited to dinner by our friends of the Memores Domini.

After all we had been through, my wife and I are more assured than ever that our children will continue to attend the school they have been at for some years now (a school run by friends of the Movement with the priests of St. Charles). In fact, it is above all young people who have wrought the havoc of recent days–university students, jobless youngsters, and others. So it’s clearer than ever that “if there was education for the whole people, everything would be better.”

But, as I reflect on the grandeur I experienced in these days of sorrow for our people, I am impelled to say one thing: no havoc can ever hide the certainty and the belonging that we lived then and are living now.

Photo by Roger S. Duncan, U.S. Navy (http://www.navy.mil/view_image.asp?id=38786) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons