Kenyans Reject Corruption
01 August 1998

The conference was opened by Julius Khakula, the Chairman of MRA, Kenya. 'For Africa, the 19th century was a period of assault by external forces and confusion,' he told participants from 12 African countries. 'The 20th century has been a period of awakening.

The sixth All-Africa conference for MRA, which took place in Limuru, Kenya, in May, was marked by plain speaking about the continent's problems--and evidence that individuals can make a difference.

The conference was opened by Julius Khakula, the Chairman of MRA, Kenya. 'For Africa, the 19th century was a period of assault by external forces and confusion,' he told participants from 12 African countries. 'The 20th century has been a period of awakening. The 21st century should be a period of self-assertion and leadership.

'There is something basically wrong with the quality of life of our continent,' he maintained. 'The seeds of our malaise are in ourselves. We have departed from our culture of honesty and communal caring. We have ditched morals that once held our societies together.

'We must cultivate a new culture that does not look for scapegoats, a culture that admits mistakes and failures, a culture of self-criticism, a culture of self-assertiveness, a culture of self-determination.'

The opening session was punctuated by music from Nairobi's internationally known St Barnabas Choir, which sang in eight Kenyan languages. After Khakula's address the whole conference stood to join the choir in singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

The conference launched the Clean Kenya Campaign, a follow-up to the Clean Election Campaign which challenged voters to refuse bribes and eschew violence in the run-up to 1997's elections. The conference invitation stated, 'Africa is a continent of only two tribes: the corrupt and the incorruptible.'

Over the next four days, the 120 participants discussed such issues as corruption, tribalism, Aids and family breakdown, not just as national and international challenges, but on the personal level.

'I know what it is to look a client in the eyes and stand up to him, knowing that he is powerful and that I am afraid of losing him because I have a daughter to educate overseas,' said a lawyer from Nairobi. 'I know what it is to find myself alone with a client in my office, when she is in no hurry to leave. I always ask myself: what is the right thing to do? How to find the inner strength to resist?'

A Ugandan speaker in a responsible job spoke of her decision not to take bribes--and how much she valued the support of other people who had made similar choices. 'Without that, I could not stay in my job,' she said.

These contributions sparked a response from a student leader from Uganda, who admitted publicly that he had accepted bribes. 'I passed judgement in favour of those who were wrong,' he said. 'I feel deeply ashamed.'

Joseph Wainaina, a member of Kenya's Kikuyu community, described how, as a child, he had shared a school bench with children from the Kalenjin community. As an adult, clashes between the two communities had forced him to flee his home twice in one year. 'I was looking for a way I would kill some of them [the Kalenjin] as revenge,' he told the conference, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He had planned to get arms in Uganda, but 'God captured me before I could do that'. He had since apologized to members of the Kalenjin community for his hatred--and now spent most of his time working for reconciliation between the two communities.

Shortly after his words, a young Kalenjin social worker said that she had chosen to work with Kikuyu refugees as a way of making reparation for the way her tribe had treated them.

Somali peaceworker Yusuf Al Azhari spoke of the negotiations which were leading towards the establishment of a transitional government in his country. Twenty-six of the country's 28 clan leaders had come to an agreement, but recent developments seemed to have reduced their efforts to nothing. There were two needs, he said. The first was unity among the countries who had supported the peace process so that a government which excluded no one could be created. The other was an internal military force which could disarm the militias, made up of 10- to 20-year-olds, who were in control in several Somali towns.

During a session on family issues, speakers shared their pain and struggles. A father described how he tried to involve all his children in family decisions; another spoke of his problems with a son who had often been in trouble with the police. He had realized that his ambition for his children lay behind his son's rebellion. When he had asked his son's forgiveness for the pressure he had put upon him, his son began to change his ways.

A young woman said that she had only spoken to her father three times in her life. 'Please pray and help me bring peace to my family,' she asked the conference.

Others spoke of their experience of God's intervention in their lives. A young Nigerian told how he had been planning to travel to a friend's wedding near his home village, but had decided not to visit his family because he would have to take them presents and he had seen them recently.

On the day of his departure, an insistent thought struck him. 'Go to your village rather than the wedding!' When he arrived he found that his sister had just been rushed to hospital. He went to the hospital and discovered that the surgeon had refused to operate because the family had not paid. The sum needed was exactly the amount he had planned to spend on the wedding present.

Is he my brother?, a film featuring two Kenyans on either side of the Mau Mau struggle (see FAC Feb/Mar 1998), was formally launched at the conference. After watching the true story of how a former Mau Mau fighter and a white farmer had worked together for change and reconciliation, a young Ugandan commented, 'I feel a tremor passing through my body to change.'
Joseph Karanja and Frédéric Chavanne

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