Kenya: Workers at Adventist University
Evacuated as National Conflict Continues
Political rallies may spur renewed violence; some Adventist students stranded in Uganda
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER and ANSEL OLIVER, Adventist News Network
n estimated 280 students, staff and international workers were evacuated from Seventh-day Adventist-owned University of Eastern Africa, Baraton to Nairobi on Sunday, January 6, church officials reported. More than 100 staff members had earlier taken refuge at a local police station amid violence fueled by contested election results in the east African nation.
Adventist Church leaders in the East-Central Africa region secured needed funding over the weekend from world church headquarters for the evacuation to safer conditions in Kenya’s capital city.
The situation in Nairobi, though "not back to normal," has improved, with most offices open and the city's transportation system running, said Geoffrey Mbwana, president of the church in East-Central Africa.
While ethnic tensions eased over the weekend, church and national leaders anticipate violence will again escalate as opposition leaders challenge President Mwai Kibaki's election to a second term in office. The moving of staff and students was meant to preempt conflict surrounding a series of countrywide political rallies planned for early this week, Mbwana said.
" Of course we are praying for calm, peaceful rallies, but we are taking precautions at every point," Mbwana said.
Church leaders reiterated their call for nationwide restraint and reconciliation in a press statement released by the East African Union on January 4. The statement echoed an appeal to end violence released last week by world church Executive Secretary Matthew A. Bediako.
"The responsibility of safeguarding and maintaining peace lies with each and every one of us," the statement read. It also urged Mr. Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to engage in "honest and forthright" talks.
"They should ... provide leadership in this dark hour by coming together in open and honest dialogue to bring a lasting solution to this impasse. Let us remember this country is bigger than all of us," the statement continued.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Kenya, in coordination with other humanitarian agencies in the country, is providing emergency food assistance and medical supplies for displaced and affected families.
|An aerial view of Adventist-owned University of Eastern Africa in Baraton, which was recently evacuated. [Photo: UEA]
Meanwhile, church leaders in Kenya are working to help a group of Kenyan Adventist students on retreat in Rwanda back into the country. While some roads have reopened, most remain blocked, Mbwana said. Church leaders have sent food and basic supplies, including tents, to the students, all of whom remain stranded in Kampala, Uganda.
Kenyan Adventists across the United Kingdom and Ireland prayed last weekend for the situation in their home country following the outbreak of violence. Pastor Michael Mbui, a Kenyan pastor serving in the London area coordinated the prayer effort, and kept in contact with the situation in Kenya. "This is a very sad time for me," he said. "While I recognize that it is another indication of the times we live in, it is still not what I expect to see in people, however aggrieved they are."
A Kenyan official said violence had only affected about 3 percent of the country's 34 million people, according to media reports. However, that violence has been at times unusually severe: In Eldoret, another town in the Rift Valley about 119 miles from Njoro, an arson fire at the Kenya Assemblies of God church killed more than 25 people who had taken refuge in the sanctuary. The victims were members of the Kikuyu tribe, from which Kenyan president Kibaki also hails.
"As a faith community we strongly believe in prayer," Bediako said to church members. "We therefore invite our brothers and sisters around the world to bring before God's throne the people of Kenya, and other regions where there are crises. We pray that calm will be restored throughout Kenya, and throughout the world."
There are more than 560,000 Adventists worshiping in approximately 7,000 congregations and small groups throughout Kenya.
-- with additional reporting by Victor Hulbert, British Union Conference, and AR staff