Kenyan church moves past painful election history
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The Rev. Joshua Kimuyu pointed where his church floor is broken and black, a scar from an attack five years old. More than 200 young men armed with crude weapons stormed the Africa Inland Church in Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum and set a generator on fire.
The explosion tore through the roof, creating one of the most visible scenes of postelection violence after Kenya's disputed election of 2007.
The dark spot is a constant reminder of the church's vulnerability during national elections. But for Kimuyu there was no question of keeping its doors shut this Sunday, the day after Kenya's election commission announced the winner of the East African country's fiercely contested presidential election. This time, Kimuyu said, there was nothing to fear after the two leading candidates —winner Uhuru Kenyatta and loser Raila Odinga —pleaded for calm and unity.
"When presidential candidates spoke to the media, they kind of fueled the steam in the people," he said, looking back on the disputed election of 2007, when more than 1,000 people died in tribe-on-tribe violence. But this time, although the election was hotly contested and close, the candidates urged Kenyans to respect authority, and that appears to have made a difference, said Kimuyu.
Sunday was a day of peace in Kenya. No violence was reported. Only the most minor of disturbances were reported late Saturday in the hours after Kenyatta was named the winner.
Odinga, who called the election "tainted," vowed to press a case of election irregularities with the Supreme Court. But he asked that Kenyans love one another and remain at peace.
The election commission said Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding father, won last Monday's vote with 50.07 percent of ballots. Kenyatta stands accused by the International Criminal Court of helping direct some of the 2007-08 postelection violence in which tribes attacked each other with machetes and bows and arrows and the police shot protesters.
Five years ago, President Mwai Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in for a second term, even as Odinga said the election had been stolen. His supporters took to the streets.
At the time, the Africa Inland Church was targeted because it was believed to be patronized by the Kamba tribesmen of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, whose willingness to serve in Kibaki's government was seen as a betrayal by the opposition.
In the wake of the 2007-08 violence Kenyans passed a new constitution. That document says that President-elect Kenyatta cannot be sworn in before the court rules on the petition Odinga says he will file. If the court rules that Kenyatta did not cross the 50 percent mark, then Kenyans will vote in a run-off election between the top two finishers.
For Kimuyu this is tremendous progress from five years ago, when Odinga called for mass action.
"I think this is one of the things that have changed since the last election," Kimuyu said. "Odinga is an advocate of the new constitution."
In the run-up to this election, clerics and activists held rallies that preached peace and unity no matter the election result. That investment seems to have paid off, with some of the most hardened Odinga supporters saying he should concede for the sake of the country.
In the Kibera slum, an Odinga stronghold that saw some of the worst violence after the 2007 election, residents went about their business on Sunday morning. Stalls were open, and some young men even seemed more animated by European football than by the outcome of the election. In Kimuyu's church a choir sang as he got ready to deliver a sermon that he said would focus on what it means to be a responsible, lawful citizen.
"We never talk politics here," said Ericson Munyao, a long-time member of the church who was among the first to witness the 2008 attack. "We just tell them to vote wisely, not who to vote for. We simply preach peace."