When Robert Makunu, the Catholic Relief Services deputy HIV/AIDS unit manager, spoke to Cabrini students Nov. 27 for World AIDS Day, he said, “Come, visit Kenya.” Cabrini students, stirred by the picture of an extremely poor country nevertheless making great progress in combating HIV/AIDS and developing into one of the most stable countries in Africa, seriously considered how they could find a way to visit him and see CRS work in Kenya.
Exactly one month later, Kenya’s place as a stable democracy was shaken as the country experienced rioting after a disputed presidential election. On Dec. 27 violence erupted in a usually peaceful nation when President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner in a disputed vote count, beating out contender Raila Odinga. As a result, more than 650 people have died and approximately 220,000 were displaced due to burning, looting and marauding mobs in Nairobi and western Kenyan towns.
CRS country representative Ken MacLean spoke in a phone interview with Loquitur and said, “The height of the violence is over but there are concentrated pockets of bad violence.”
Catholic Relief Services has transitioned itself to providing emergency relief and aid on the ground for the country while attempting to maintain the numerous developmental projects they have implemented over the years.
The Children Behind Project, the community-based development program which Makunu partakes in, is among one of the projects that is in danger due to the sudden violence in Kenya.
“Kenyan hearts are bleeding, and CRS staff hearts are bleeding too,” MacLean said, in an open dialogue discussion found in the CRS blogs.
The violence began shortly after President Kibaki was declared the winner of the election. Odinga claims the vote was rigged, which triggered wide-spread rage and violence among the tribes in the streets of Kenya.
Thousands fled their homes to avoid the sound of violence that penetrated villages. In addition to teaching young Kenyans arithmetic and grammar, schools along with churches became safe havens before proper assistance was established.
Kenyans were subjected to living under scraps of tin sheets that once held together their homes. Businesses have been closed for weeks, and the once stable and developing economy that grew 6 percent last year has screeched to a halt with no clear solution in sight.
According to Debbie DeVoe, the regional information officer for CRS in Kenya, CRS and partner staff are keeping a close watch on the situation in the area and continue to monitor the status of project participants in order to respond quickly if situations arise that could further hinder project implementation.
CRS has provided $250,000 worth of emergency supplies to aid 37,500 people in the worst-affected regions. They are working closely with other agencies, including the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Caritas Kenya.
The Kenya Red Cross has distributed 7,000 blankets, 10,000 mosquito nets, 5,000 water cans and 7,500 plastic sheets that CRS has delivered. In addition, they are developing plans to help communities rebuild trust and eventually enable displaced families to rebuild their lives after extensive loss.
DeVoe said in an email to the Loquitur, “No beneficiaries have died in the violence, although four girls received minor injuries during skirmishes in Karungu. They were treated promptly afterwards.”
Service delivery has been disrupted due to lack of transportation, but this has yet to cause significant problems because most beneficiaries are treated at health facilities near their homes.
“This has become a humanitarian crisis,” MacLean said. “The attacking and burning of homes continues. The number of Kenyans affected by this violence will only escalate unless security is restored.”
MacLean said that longer term work is needed to address the wounds the electoral process opened in the nation.
“It’s going to take time to heal,” MacLean said.
John Katunga, regional technical adviser for peacebuilding and justice, said in an interview with DeVoe, “What has happened in this country cannot be isolated. CRS employees in Kenya are a microcosm of society, and as Kenyan society is divided by the crisis, it affects our staff.”