Last November, a friend and ministry partner from East Africa traveled to the United States to spend a few weeks with us in North Carolina. Our national election day came and went during his stay. While driving to a meeting, we discussed the election and the results. My African friend said that we must not get overly excited about the winner or loser of an election. He pointed me to Romans 13:2: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
He reminded me that our elections are generally peaceful and fair. We don’t worry about violent protests erupting in the streets. When a new president takes office the transfer of power is calm and orderly.
While we Americans argued about who won or lost, this African reminded me that fair, non-violent elections are a gift that we must not take for granted.
I point this out now to bring attention to the upcoming presidential elections in Kenya on Tuesday, August 8. Most Americans are probably unaware of the tension that has grown in recent months and has now reached a boiling point. The potential for manipulated voting results and violent protests is high. US news media probably will not devote much coverage to these elections since Kenya is on the other side of the world, separated by many miles and time zones.
If Kenya is so far removed geographically and culturally from America, is there any reason to care about what happens on August 8? The answer to that question should be a resounding yes. What should we know about these Kenyan elections? Why should they matter to American christians? What can we do?
To understand these elections, it is important to know Kenya’s history. Kenya is in East Africa and fell under British colonial rule in the late 1800s. The nation achieved independence in 1963. Jomo Kenyatta became the first president and Oginga Odinga the vice-president. The names of these two men are important because their descendants are still the main players in the current presidential election.
In 1966 a division occurred between Kenyatta and Odinga, and two rival political parties formed around them. Many of the diverse ethnic tribes in Kenya sided with one party or the other. Today, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, is the incumbent candidate and is primarily backed by the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups. On the other side, the challenger Raila Odinga is the son of Kenya’s first vice-president and is backed by a union of tribes including the Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Swahili ethnic groups.
Much of the tension and dread leading up to August 8 stems from events surrounding the past two elections in 2007 and 2013. The results of those elections were contested due to voter fraud, vote rigging, errors and manipulation of vote counting. In the aftermath of the 2007 election, Kenya erupted into violence resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 people.
Why You Should Pay Attention to Kenya’s Election
The church should pay attention to the Kenyan election for two key reasons. First, many Christians call Kenya home. Their churches proclaim the gospel and make disciples. As fellow brother and sisters in Christ, we identify with them, and we desire peace and civility in their land.
Christians in Kenya today find much in common with those first century New Testament saints. Consider the apostle Peter’s encouraging words to exiled believers that faced suffering, hardship, uncertainty and mistreatment at the hands of a corrupt government.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
Second, I work for a ministry called 127 Worldwide and we partner with indigenous local leaders in Kenya that care for orphans, widows and vulnerable people. These local leaders and their families have become close personal friends. We are concerned for their safety and well-being. They minister in the slums of Nairobi and rural villages in western Kenya, and both areas were directly impacted by the violence following the election of 2007. If the work of ministries such as these is disrupted, what will happen to the neglected widow and the hungry orphan?
How You Can Help
Is there anything that we can do? First, we can pray.
- Pray that God will graciously bring about peace in the midst of chaos.
- Pray for churches in Kenya that the light of Christ will shine brightly through them in a dark place.
- Pray for local leaders and ministries that are serving the voiceless such as orphans, widows and families in desperate poverty.
Second, we can advocate for, encourage and support those churches and ministries in Kenya that are obediently doing the work of the gospel. If you aren’t familiar with ministry work that is currently happening in Kenya, let 127 Worldwide help. We can point you to some organizations, pastors and churches that are doing excellent gospel-centered ministry to the glory of God.
On August 8, many Kenyans will cast a vote at a polling place as we did last November, but the potential outcome and consequences could look much different than what we experienced. We are concerned for our brothers and sisters in Kenya, and we ask God to bring about peace during this election season.