The Bishops of Kenya have written several Pastoral Letters and on the Third Sunday of Lent (22nd. March 1992) they issued 'A Call to Justice Love and Reconciliation'. It begins:
"We the Catholic Bishops in exercise of our prophetic role do once again address this letter to you, all people of Kenya and particularly to our leaders, during this difficult political situation in our country. Urged by the word of God we feel that the words of the prophet Ezekiel are relevant to all of us in Kenya today. We are shepherds of the Catholic Church and in union with all the religious leaders of the country, are challenged by the words of the prophet Ezekiel:
"Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear the word from my mouth, warn them from me. If I say to someone wicked, "You will die", and you do not warn this person; if you do not speak to warn someone wicked to renounce evil and so save his life, it is the wicked person who will die for the guilt, but I will hold you responsible for that death' (Ezekiel 3:17-18)."
They then address the problems of 'inter-tribal conflict', multi-partyism and human rights in Kenya and draw to a conclusion with the plea below followed by the prayer of St. Francis.
"We admire the courage and self-control of our Kenyan people who have resisted the provocation to fall into the trap of violence. We call upon the people in the affected areas and indeed in the whole country not to take revenge but rather to be reconciled with one another. We appeal to them to hold reconciliation barazas so that the peace and harmony that existed between them may be restored. Those who hold property belonging to others are morally bound in conscience to restore it to its lawful owners. We further call upon you all, of whatever religious confession: Muslim, Hindus, Traditionalists or other creeds, but particularly you Christians, not to allow yourselves to be divided by tribal disputes. 'For you are all sons and daughters of one and the same Heavenly Father' (Col. 3:10)."
Over Christmas and New Year I was lucky enough to get the opportunity of visiting Kenya. It was my first time to visit an African country as a 'tourist' - not to be actually working there. Prior to returning to Britain I had been in Malawi for nearly ten years, but my time there did not prepare me for the 'culture shock' of Nairobi.
My first surprise was when we flew in to Nairobi airport and the whole of the city lay before us. A vast city with a population of at least two and a half million people - the size of Birmingham - with many tall buildings which a western capital would be proud to have. Over the next few days I was to get to know the city better and come to appreciate its extremes.
Nairobi is a place of great contrast; from the rich trappings of tourism and its souvenirs to the poverty brought home when being startled by someone emerging from a rubbish skip as you walk by! - opposite poles with a great deal of variety in between.
Different people are attracted to Nairobi for various reasons. It has become, as most cities in developing countries, a city paved with gold for the rural population but also is host to many coming from surrounding countries where conflicts rage. To walk along the streets and look at faces is an education in recognising people from virtually all over eastern Africa.
It is hard to believe that a hundred years ago Nairobi was just a place where the Kikuyu and Maasai watered their cattle: it was known as 'Enkare Nairobi' - 'the place of cold water' in the Maasai language. In 1899 the British established a staging post there for oxen and mules on their way from the coast to the interior. With the building of the railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria the town grew and gradually all the colonial administration moved up from the coast.
The White Fathers have two Parishes in Nairobi, South 'B' (Our Lady Queen of Peace) and Eastleigh (St. Teresa's) both of which I visited. Though Our Lady's is a more 'prosperous' place both Parishes have their poorer areas, and the people share the same problems of urban life.
There are four White Fathers at Nairobi South 'B' and the Parish has a contrasting population from fairly well off to those who live in the shanty town. In 1988-89 there were only two Basic Christian Communities (BCC's) in the Parish and many people thought it was not possible to start such things in a 'middle class area'. All the same it was decided to give it a try.
Bishop Holmes-Siedle, a White Father, and Fr. Louis, a Mill Hill Missionary, were invited to talk to people who were interested. From the seed which they planted, and the concern which the parishioners had, BCC's grew - by the end of 1990 there were 15, today 26. They were not imposed by the priests, but where the people saw a need they responded and met together to bring a greater sense of community on a local level.
People meet in someone's home, a different place each time, every week and discuss the Gospels. They look at their work and see the problems which they all face and try to help each other. In this way many people are able to sort out their problems. They come back to the Church and arrange their marriages.
Our Lady's Parish is a very lively place and one of its main centres of activity is 'Club Pax'. This is a part of the Parish youth club which helps to entertain people with their singing and the musicals they perform. While bringing enjoyment to many they also try to help those in need. At present they are attempting to raise money to set up a 'Drop-in' Centre for children between the ages of seven to eighteen. The daily problems which members of the Club face have helped them to become aware of those around them who are in need. They wish to help others to help themselves by having a place where they can come to talk and sort themselves out. By charging a small entrance fee at the concerts and plays they are able to raise money towards the cost of building the Centre. The young people involved have done a great deal already but will need a lot more in the bank before their dream comes true.
One of the groups that the 'Club Pax' want to help are the 'Street Children' of Nairobi. These are children from the city and surrounding areas who have left home for all sorts of reasons. Their ages vary from seven or eight years old to their early twenties and they can be found all over Nairobi at any time of the day or night. They live in small groups and exist by trading, theft, prostitution and begging. The day to day survival is made even more hazardous with the added problems of drugs, and of petrol and glue sniffing - the latter appears to be quite common. Even though life is hard for these children they still retain a strange innocence. The Undugu Society also takes care of these children around the city.
It is difficult to estimate the population in Eastleigh Parish - some say 300,000 others 500,000 - the reason for this being the Valley! Mathare Valley covers more than half the Parish and no one really knows how many people live there - it could be as many as half a million - because of the continual influx of people. This shanty town is a place which attracts people from all over Kenya and also refugees from other countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia where wars have been raging for some time. Mathare Valley can be a haven for some.
The problems and tensions of life within the Valley often boil over and result in robbery and street violence which is carried out especially by gangs of youth. The 16th. November, 1991, was one such day when many incidents occurred. This coincided with a rally held by 'Forum for the Restoration of Democracy' (FORD), an opposition party, at Kamukunji - a traditional meeting place for expressing political views - not too far from the Parish compound. The meeting was broken up by the Police and the leaders arrested. It is difficult to find the link between the disturbances in Eastleigh and the rally, but it is probably fair to say that some of the gangs took advantage of the circumstances to indiscriminately rob and beat people up.
The above paints a bleak picture of life in Eastleigh and the Valley but this is not so. The deprivation suffered by the people is quite incredible but they are friendly and very hospitable - as I found out when I went to a baptism in the small community church of 'Mathare 2'. The faith of the people carries them through much of what they have to suffer and unites them in their daily lives. There are 15 Basic Christian Communities (BCC's) in the Valley and another 9 in the rest of the Parish. Again, as at Nairobi South 'B', when the Church is present at such a local level, as with the BCC's, it really does improve the lives of the parishioners.
The Parish compound itself is a centre for all sorts of activities. There is a Mass attendance of about 6,000 every Sunday and while the various Masses are going on there are other meetings in the Parish halls - from teaching catechumens to choir practice. During the week the pace does not slow and various classes are given in adult literacy and accountancy (mentioned in previous magazines).
St. Teresa's is the birthplace of the 'Undugu Society' and it too has many activities in the Parish. During the week the buildings become home for 40 to 60 'Parking Boys'. They are given facilities to shower, wash their clothes and to have a meal. The only condition put on their acceptance is that they do not sniff glue or petrol - a great problem with youngsters throughout Nairobi.
The White Sisters do a great deal of work in various parts of Nairobi and one of their best known projects is 'Dollicraft' at Kangemi (St. Joseph the Worker Parish). The project employs thirty women on a full time basis and they produce hand made dolls in tribal and national costumes. The dolls are about a foot high and made of local materials - brown cotton cloth, black wool and filled with polyester yarn. Though they are mainly sold to tourists they are well liked by Kenyan children.
After a basic training in how to sew the dolls, the women are left to their own devices. 'Dollicraft' is open to women who have unemployed husbands or are single parents, no matter to what faith they belong. It is a way of helping them gain some income and also leads to an improvement in education, as it is possible to follow adult literacy classes and also course in tailoring and dress-making.
This article has just concerned itself with the Capital of Kenya and not with the rest of the country. The reason for this is mainly because the White Fathers only work in Nairobi and also that it is a side of Kenya that people do not often see.
At this delicate time in the country's history the Church in Kenya is giving guidance which is valued by people, of all denominations, who have a concern for the future. The Bishops do not fear to speak out against injustice, despite the consequences - nor do many journalists and lawyers. Through their influence they are helping to find peaceful solutions to the problems which Kenya is faced with these days.
Facts and Figures
and the Country
582,646 sq. km. (224,901 sq. miles)
Total Population ('89) 23,500,000
Inhabitants per sq. km. 38
|Age Distribution ('88)
| 1 - 14 years
|15 - 64 years
|65 and over
|Distribution of Working
The population may be divided into
linguistic families of Bantu, Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic and Cushitic - with more
than 44 ethnic groups.
Currency: Shilling - 51 to a pound
GNP ('88) $8,460,000,000 ($360 per
|Gross Domestic Product
|$242.13 per capita
||71.7% of GNP.
|Major Imports: Machinery,
petroleum (crude), vehicles/chassis, iron & steel.
|Major Exports: coffee,
tea, petroleum, hides/ skins, soda ash, sisal.
|Average annual inflation
|Religious adherence (1980).
|| 4,141,600 (26.4%)
|| 491,300 (6.0%)
|| 80,000 (0.5%)
|| 3,209,520 (20.5%)
|| 980 (0.0%)
|| 4,000 (0.0%)
|| 5,093,000 (22.0%)
||Total all priests
||Catholics per priest
||People per priest
Church ('89) Students
Kindergartens (1,828) 114,398
Primary schools (3,867) 1,615,332
Secondary schools (720) 168,283
Primary schools (13,392) 4,843,432
Secondary school (2,461) 24,039
Adult Literacy ('85)
Of total population 48%
Life Expectancy ('89) 59 years
|Hospital beds ('89)
|People per bed ('89)
|People per doctor ('89)
|People per nurse ('89)
Infant Mortality Rate ('89)
68 per 1,000 in first year
111 per 1,000 in first five years
170 per 100,000 maternal mortality.
|Access to safe drinking
Facts and figures - We are grateful,
and wish to thank, the 'Catholic Missionary Education Centre' (CAMEC) for
supplying most of the statistical information in this article.
If you would like to know more about CAMEC, please write to:
CAMEC, Holcombe House, The Ridgeway, London NW7 4HY.
This article first appeared in "White Fathers - White Sisters"
(UK), issue 305, of August-September, 1992.
The article may be published freely with due acknowledgements
to the "White Fathers - White Sisters" magazine.
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