The following reflection is from Bert Ebben, OP (Southern U.S. Dominican Province) who is the coordinator of community development projects for the Order in Africa. He wrote from Ongata-Rongai, Kenya, five days ago.
His observation is important for us in America, too. What is happening in Kenya could conceivably happen one day in our own country, if we do not reverse the widening gap between rich and poor, including the disappearance of the middle class.
After months of drought the parched land of Kenya thirsts for life-giving water. After years of oppression and exploitation the weary people of Kenya long for justice and peace. After four decades of independence the nation bleeds from a nearly mortal wound, while it reverberates with threatening accusations of tribalism, ethnic cleansing and genocide. This very morning yet another school and orphanage were torched in Mathare, Africa’s largest slum just a few kilometers from the Kware slums of Ongata-Rongai where I continue to facilitate various programs at VICODEC, a center dedicated to the promotion of human development.
Prompted by my Dominican Brothers in Raleigh I am writing this reflection, an attempt to respond to repeated questions from around the world. Why have 600+ Kenyans been so brutally massacred? Why have 250,000 people been driven from their homes and villages? Why are thousands more fleeing across the borders into Uganda and Tanzania? Why, this very day, are masses of Kenyans threatening to demonstrate in thirty cities and towns across the country? Because of an election, alleged by the opposition (Raila Odinga and his ODM Party) to have been fraudulent yet subsequently declared to have been free and fair by the Kenyan Electoral Commission, thus giving the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki of the PNU Party another five years in office? I don’t think so!
However controversial this decision is itself, it does not radically explain how the normally tolerant, long-suffering and peace-loving citizens of Kenya were driven to perpetrate such horrific death and destruction upon their beautiful country, once thought to be the most united and democratic nation in sub-Saharan Africa. While the failed electoral process is, without doubt, the catalyst that continues to spark such devastating reactions, fear and violence, it cannot account for the ensuing explosive situation. The root cause can be found only in the poverty, inequality and injustice that have plagued this country since independence and that have been systematically incorporated into the structures of its society, ever widening the great divide separating the powerfully rich minority from the masses who languish in poverty and hopelessness. Bridging that divide seems to be so far beyond the reach of ordinary poor Kenyans that they regrettably resort to anger, bitterness, acrimony and despair.
In such an anti-gospel milieu, it appears almost impossible for the everyday Kenyan to accept that God’s reign does not reach down from the presidential State House, nor from the Parliament, nor from the heights of power and wealth, but that the God of peace only breaks through in real acts of compassion, healing and justice, only in the nonviolent liberation of the poor and oppressed.
Sharing the pain and anguish of my Kenyan brothers and sisters, I am pushed and pulled into the confrontation and indignation of their experience. But even more I am emboldened to pursue God’s promise of peace on earth. I am compelled to continue to confront my own country’s “wars on earth”. I am driven to resist the present U.S. administration’s militaristic and arrogant imperialistic ambitions around the world. I am persuaded to oppose handguns, the death penalty, abortion, racism, sexism, poverty, corporate greed and the environmental devastation of our spectacular planet Earth.
Even as I conclude this reflection, the skies suddenly break open to release a soft, gentle rain. I am reminded of Isaiah’s “Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum”(45:8) in which the prophet expresses the world’s longing for the coming of the just one. I pray that the refreshing rain, now at last gently falling on the parched earth of Kenya, is a prophetic sign of the coming of God’s “Just One”, showing all of us the way to that New World without war, without poverty, without injustice – peace in Kenya, peace in the world, peace at last!
Please say a prayer for Kenya, and for Br. Daniel Thomas, OP, a member of the Western Dominican Province who works there.