Cesran International

Awake O Ye Silent Religions and Promote Post-Conflict Reconciliation!

Towards an Understanding of the Role of Religion in Peace Building in Kenya*

BY DR. SUSAN M. KILONZO** | 07.06.2011


The announcement in the late afternoon of 30 December 2007, of President Mwai Kibaki as the ultimate winner of the highly contested Kenyan presidential elections by 231,728 votes over the Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) candidate Raila Odinga, was the final blow for those who anticipated change in the political rule of the country. Mr. Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in, notwithstanding raucous protests that the results had been rigged. These protests and an ODM press conference were abruptly silenced by a news blackout and security clampdown, as armed soldiers hustled candidates, party agents, diplomats and domestic as well as international observers out of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre where the tallying process was taking place.[1] Televised utterances by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) Chairman, Samuel Kivuitu, only served to make matters worse, as did a hurriedly composed media statement released by four out of twenty-two commissioners, commenting on the twist of events and calling for tranquillity.[2]

Mwai_KibakiDespite the fact that this was anticipated to be the most hotly contested and close-run presidential, parliamentary and civic elections in the country’s 45 years since emerging from British colonial rule, Kenyans did not foresee the ethnic cleansing and mass destruction of property that turned the country into a bleeding nation. The dispute over the intensely contested presidential election results degenerated into an orgy of ethnic cleansing and revenge massacres. Mobs of disgruntled citizens looted and torched businesses in many parts of the country, while others blocked main roads and burnt vehicles to paralyze the country. The massacres left over 1,150 people dead, while the ethnic cleansing processes displaced over 300,000 others.[3]

Following these events, it was evident that Kenya was facing a crisis largely due to the contested election results and ethnic cleansing taking place in several parts of the country, especially in Kisumu, Eldoret, Mombasa, Molo, Kuresoi, Kibera, Eastlands (Mathare and Kariobangi). Hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps were emerging in several parts of the country, signifying the magnitude of the violence. Some citizens fled to neighbouring countries, including Uganda and Tanzania, for refuge. Those accommodated in camps continued to suffer. With the need for protection and food, it was reported that women and young girls were forced to provide sexual favours in return of these essential commodities. Indeed, the men providing security in these camps were also associated with the rape cases. Despite these challenges those who sought refuge in the camps at least saved their lives.[4] However those who sought refuge in places which were thought to be a safe haven, such as churches, faced the wrath of rioting gangs. One sad story told by a Kikuyu lady describes an incident that led to the highest number of lives lost at one time.

On the 1st of January 2008 at around 10 a.m., I heard people yelling that some raiders were coming. I saw smoke coming from some houses in our village and the houses were burning. Everyone in the village started running away to the Kenya Assemblies of God Church. My mother who was 90 years old was with me at the time. I decided to take my mother into the church for safety. After a few minutes, I saw more raiders coming towards the church….We thought the raiders would not attack the church. Many people were being pushed into the church by the raiders. The raiders threw some mattresses onto the roof of the church and threw more into the church. They were also pouring fuel onto the mattresses. All of a sudden I saw fire break out. I took my mother towards the main door to get her outside, but there were many others scrambling toward the door as well. We both fell onto the floor. I wanted to save my mother from the burning church, but one of the raiders prevented me. I saw the fire had reached where my mother was. I heard her cry for help as the fire burnt her, but I could not help[5]

Kikuyu men attempting to defend their church and loved ones were hacked to death with machetes, shot with arrows, or pursued and killed. The death toll for this horrific incident was 17 burned alive in the church, and 11 others who died in, or on the way to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital-Eldoret. Fifty-four were treated for their injuries and discharged from hospital. These and more horrible incidences characterized the PEV which continued until late February 2008 when the peace agreement was signed by the two key principals.


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*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation and Security (JCTS) Vol. 1 | No. 1

** Dr. Susan Mbula Kilonzo is a Lecturer at Maseno University, Kenya. Her areas of research and teaching include Sociology of Religion, Peace and Security, and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN


[1] The Kriegler Commission Report, 2008, p.1

[2] The settlement of effects of violence after the signing of the National Peace Accord under Kofi Annan’s mediation processes included the appointment of two commissions, one to examine the violence and the other, an Independent Review Commission (IREC) to examine the December 2007 Kenyan elections from various perspectives. IREC (led by Kriegler, and otherwise referred to as the Kriegler Commission) drew its findings and recommendations based on its analysis of the legal framework for the conduct of elections in Kenya, the structure, composition and management system of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and its organization and conduct of the 2007 electoral operations. The report specifically examines the integrity of the whole electoral process, from voter registration and nomination of candidates through voting, counting, transmission and tallying to dispute resolution and post-election procedures.

[3] The Kriegler Commission Report, 2008, p.3

[4] http://blog.ushahidi.com/index.php/2008/03/20/report-on-post-election-violence-in-kenya-un-human-rights-team/ (Accessed 23 August 2009).

[5] This story was told to the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence (CIPEV) otherwise known as the Waki Commission (formed to investigate the causes of post-election violence) by a Kikuyu woman who lost her mother in a church deliberately set on fine by youths from the host community. It is a story that was confirmed by an official of the Kiambaa cooperative farm where the Church was located.

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