Kenyan churches have joined in an effort to provide humanitarian assistance for hundreds of thousands of people displaced after violent unrest erupted in parts of the East African country following a disputed election held on Dec. 27.
“We are appealing to our churches to donate food, clothes and other essential supplies and gather them in their respective parishes,” Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi told journalists on Jan. 5.
Religious groups held national prayers for peace at Sunday services on Jan. 6. Churches had in preceding days joined other relief agencies in securing aid for as many as 250,000 people, United Nations agencies said. Some of those displaced were camping in church grounds or near police stations.
“We are first looking for food and non-food items to relieve the situation. We are in all the affected towns,” said Margaret Mwaniki, the co-ordinator for African Anglophone countries of Caritas Internationalis, the relief wing of the Roman Catholic church.
News agencies reported that nearly 500 people across Kenya have been killed in the unrest.
Also in early January, Church World Service, a member of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, also began distributing emergency aid at makeshift camps through its local partner, the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Churches urged President Mwai Kibaki, who was declared the winner of the election, and his challenger Raila Odinga, who says the poll was rigged, to engage in talks. President Kibaki is offering a government of national unity, while Mr. Odinga wants a re-run of the presidential elections with international mediation.
“We can try as ordinary Kenyans to pray and preach peace amongst ourselves, but if there is no word from Kibaki and Raila, then anarchy and destruction will persist,” Catholic bishop Peter Kairo of the Eldoret diocese, one of the regions most affected by the clashes, told journalists.
A convoy of 20 World Food Program trucks arrived in Nairobi and Eldoret targeting the people displaced by the violence. The Red Cross Society appealed for aid for people living with HIV who are thought to be especially vulnerable.
“The major challenge we are currently faced with is medication for those who were on ARVs [palliative drugs]. The supplies of the NGOs charged with treating them are locked up. There is no access to them,” said Abbas Gullet, country director for Kenya’s Red Cross.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu has been attempting to persuade politicians to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis, at the at the invitation of Bishop Mvume Dandala, the All Africa Conference of Churches’ general secretary.