The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kenya has been involved for more than a year in efforts to prevent violence as a national election is held Monday (March 4). Five years ago more than 300 people were killed and 100,000 left homeless from fighting that broke out after a close, contested election that ended in international negotiations and a coalition government which included both major candidiates, Mwai Kibaki as president and Raila Odinga as prime minister.
During the first two weeks of February, the church conducted training for more than 500 members who volunteered to serve as peace ambassadors in the town of Naivasha where the worst violence broke out five years ago. “We do not want a repeat of the 2007-08 violence … neighbors turning against another,” Pastor Jack Ogemba told Hivisasa, a Nakuru County newspaper on February 12. The church officially “urged Naivasha residents to avoid fighting one another during the electioneering period,” the newspaper announced.
A choir from an Adventist church in Kigali, Rwanda, was brought to the event. “We would not want Kenyans to experience what we experienced during the 1994 genocide, where people butchered each other because they couldn’t solve their problems amicably,” a choir member told the trainees.
Pastor Blasious Ruguri, president of the East-Central African Division of the denomination which is headquartered in Kenya although it covers 11 nations all together, issued a statement on January 30 urging politicians to control their supporters. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church has called on politicians to engage in responsible politics,” The Star, a national newspaper published in Nairobi, stated. “Ruguri urged politicians not be irresponsible in their utterances and actions.”
“It is high time that all these people interested in vying for elective seats [in parliament] do away with negative politics,” Pastor Ruguri was quoted as saying. “He called on Kenyans to be wise [and] not vote for leaders with tribal-based agendas. He warned that if Kenyans will vote through the influence of tribalism, Kenya will experience dark moments after [the] elections,” wrote reporter Kerubo Lornah. “Election related violence is a result of tribalism and negative ethnicity,” he quoted Pastor Ruguri. “I urge all Kenyans to choose visionary leaders” who look beyond tribal interests and “greed for power and money … the force behind evil activities.”
Sources in Kenya have told Adventist Today that a number of Adventists serve in both of the major political coalitions. Three members of cabinet have been specifically identified through a search of public records by Adventist Today reporters, and requests for interviews have been made.
Kegengo S. Ongeri represents Nyaribari Masaba in the National Assembly and is a member of the KANU political party. He has been Minister of Education for the country since 2008. At the age of 75 he has a long career of public service, attending medical school in India in the 1960s, completing a doctorate in 1972 at London University, serving as a professor at the University of Nairobi from 1973 to 1988, when he became Minister of Technology in the Kenyan government. Throughout much of the 1990s he carried ambassadorial rank from Kenya and served in a number of positions with the United Nations, including as the permanent representative from Kenya in 1993 through 1997.
Christopher M. Obure represents Bobasi in the National Assembly and is currently Minister for Public Works for the country and part of the Orange Democratic Movement (a political party). He is 70 with many years in management positions in corporations in the 1970s and 1980s, after completing a business degree at the University College of Nairobi and 1968. He has served as a cabinet member or sub-cabinet official in six different departments of the national government over the years.
Dr. Wilfred G. Machage represents Kuria West in the National Assembly as a member of the Democratic Party of Kenya and is in private practice as a physician. He is 56 and completed medical school at the University of Nairobi in 1983. In 2009 he attended the executive education program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2007 and 2008 he served as minister of health for the East African Community, a regional inter-governmental unit affiliated with the United Nations. His theme in this campaign has been, “We are one people with diverse ethnic backgrounds. Kenya is our mother.”
In January of 2008, the denomination was forced to close the 2,300-student University of Eastern Africa at Baraton because of the violence and evacuate about 280 faculty, staff and families. In May of 2012, President Kibaki visited the campus and helped to dedicate the “ultra-modern … Judith Thomas Library,” reported the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) at the time. In his remarks, the president praised the Adventist Church for establishing two universities in the country.
The Adventist denomination in Kenya has nearly 700,000 members in 8,300 congregations. It is estimated that the number of Kenyans who identify with the Adventist faith may be as high as two million. Sociologist Ron Lawson reported in 1994 that more than a million individuals had told the official census they were Adventist adherents.
Update on March 5: The Associated Press reported that throughout much of the country voting was largely peaceful. There was violence in Mombassa, the port city of Kenya, with a number of killings by a secessionist group. "Everyone is still holding their breath," one source told Adventist Today. "Five years ago the worst violence came in the aftermath of the elction."
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