Dominican Missionaries Prepare for Possible Election Chaos

February 27, 2013

Fr. Martin Martiny OP, Vicar Provincial

An Interview with Vicar Provincial, Fr. Martin Martiny OP

February 26, 2013

Fr. Martin Martiny, OP is the vicar provincial for the Dominican Vicariate of East Africa for the Province of St. Joseph. He is a retired Naval Commander and taught at the Naval Academy before entering the Dominicans in 1992. He has served in the province’s mission since the year 2000.  *see also: Vatican Radio story about Elections

Can you give a little overview of the Dominicans in East Africa?

As Dominicans we are blessed to have a mix of friars from Rwanda-Burundi, Angola, from the Equatorial Africa vicariate, from Cameroon, from Congo, from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. We hope to have an ordination to the priesthood this summer (May 18) along with two diaconate ordinations. Also two friars from Rwanda-Burundi will be going back to their home country for ordinations. Our student friars are studying at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Tangaza University College, and Consolata University College. The schools will be closing soon to allow full participation of all citizens in the first national elections under a new Kenyan constitution adopted last August. We are within days of the March 4th national polling. Most Kenyans are both hopeful and a bit nervous because the results of the last national elections were disputed. Political clashes became tribal fighting and then deteriorated into criminal looting, burning, raping and pillaging—bedlam. Over 1,300 died in the fighting and thousands ended up, and many remain today, in refugee camps. We Dominicans, along with most Kenyans, are praying for a peaceful election and post-election period and an orderly transition to a new government. We ask that other Dominicans and those in the United States who support us to join us in these prayers.  Should it become other than peaceful, we will do our best to assist those who come to us for help.

What are some of the preparations the friars are making for the upcoming March 4 elections in Kenya?

We have 3 Dominican communities in our vicariate in East Africa. In Kisumu we have St. Martin dePorres Priory which houses our postulancy and novitiate. Currently we have 3 postulants and 2 novices. Friars from the priory run a university chaplaincy at Maseno University. They also started a primary and secondary school in 2008 called Our Lady of Grace. In Nairobi we have two houses, St. Catherine of Siena parish and St. Dominic’s Priory which is our Dominican House of Studies for our mission. We have asked all of our communities to check out our equipment, especially our backup generators, to see if we can build in some redundancy in our communication systems. During the last post-election violence electricity, water, food, and communications proved to be real challenges. We have also looked into our ability to provide support for those who might come to us for refuge. During the 2007-2008 elections, Kisumu had the brunt of activity with refugees (“Internally Displaced Persons”, to use the UN term). There was violence in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru, but in regard to our friars we had refugee opportunities only in Kisumu. Although one of our brothers had an uncle killed during the violence in Nairobi, our friars were spared. In Kisumu we had at various times between 100 and 250 refugees and 200-300 children for whom we were responsible. Fortunately, because we had a walled compound we were OK and were able, with the help of the police, to move the refugees back to their home areas. We are hopeful that with most people traveling to their home areas to vote there will be fewer refugees. Sadly, there are still many refugees in camps and they are determined not to be there much longer. Many Kenyans fear that if a conflict arises over a disputed election, those in the camps who are mostly from one tribe will come out in large numbers to take back what they lost five years ago and 2007/8 could repeat itself on a larger scale. The Rift Valley remains a volatile area, and not just because of tectonic plates. Democracy is not a one election phenomenon. It takes a number of peacefully contested elections and good, or at least acceptable, governance. Under the new constitution there have been bumps on the road; but the judiciary is showing an independence from the presidency and the parliament. The president had vetoed parliamentary bills raising the Members salaries. The Parliament has likewise challenged both the presidency and the courts in the past year.  The irony is that one sign of a vibrant election is that those running are neck and neck. Another is that controversial subjects are raised in challenging ways. For the first time in Kenyan history, presidential candidates have participated in nationally televised debates and have challenged each other publicly on sensitive and controversial issues. On the other hand, a close election could mean another disputed result that could spark another period of post election violence. The issue of land ownership was controversial five years ago and remains so today. The presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his running mate, William Ruto, are both indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for murder during the last elections. They are actually from the tribes who fought each other in 2007/8. Many Kenyans believe the only thing they have in common is their determination not to go to trial. These publicly aired and debated issues are all signs of an emerging democracy; but they could likewise be the sparks that send the tinder wood into flames again. The Church, Dominicans in particular, is preaching peaceful participation by all Kenyans in an important aspect of the life of the citizen. Even, however, promoting peace and justice can cause irritation amongst those who believe they have been deprived for half a decade of justice and their hearts are not at peace. Our hope is to spiritualize the Kenyans approach to the elections through prayers, Masses, and meetings bringing our faith in God to a nation that needs a peaceful election followed by a peaceful and calm transition to a new constitutional government. We hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Many can criticize the Kenyan democracy; but in comparison to what? Samuel Johnson observed in seeing a dog walking on its hind legs that it is not that it is elegant; but that it is done at all. Democracy is often a messy business in any country. Kenyans are clearly laboring to think and act in the interest of the nation as one. Their challenge is to have being a Kenyan transcend being a member of a particular tribe. Julius Nyerere had substantial success in doing this in Tanzania. Nelson Mandela made considerable progress in one term in South Africa. As Dominicans and Catholics, we do not have a horse in this race. We pray the Kenyans will find a Kenyan path to a peaceful democracy.

We have friars and employees from different tribes at St. Martin dePorres Priory in Kisumu. Are there plans for them to leave for the elections?

We expect our Kenyan brothers to be at home for the elections and to return peacefully to their communities. Those who are not Kenyans will remain in their communities. We will play the rest by ear and hope to be able to help any who are in need. Last time we were blessed to do so with reasonable success. We pray the Lord graces us again.

Can you tell us a little about what happened during the 2007 elections with the refugees in the compound at St. Martin de Porres in Kisumu?

We waited until things calmed down and with the help of escorts from the police we got them out. It is not really safe to talk about that here. We took in whomever came to us who needed refuge. When we were asked by people outside which tribes were inside, we said, “Everyone here is a son or daughter of St. Dominic” and left it at that. Fortunately we did not have a problem that we were not able to deal with. We did have our novices go to Nairobi during that time, but they were able to come back as well.

So this time will the novices go to Nairobi as well?

It will be up to the novice master whether or not he sees a need for that. The reason they went last time is because there were novices from tribes that would have been vulnerable in the Kisumu area. So we were advised by higher Church authority to take those who were of different tribes out, but they came back after things settled down. We will have to consult with the novice master. Our houses in Nairobi and Karen both seem to be in relatively safe neighborhoods, but you never know what could develop, so we are doing our best to be prepared. We don’t have a political position as a vicariate or as the Church.

We heard that your security wall broke down in Kisumu. Can you tell us more about that and the community in Kisumu? 

About a hundred yards of a wall on the formerly Hawthorne hospice fell down. We fixed it quickly because of the potential security problem; but it cost us $10,000. It was a 25 year-old wall. Fr. Chris Saliga OP with Fr. Tom's KidsOur Lady of Grace School is a non-profit primary and secondary school for children who would otherwise likely miss the opportunity to get a Catholic education. It came into existence during the post-election fighting of 2008. Fr. Cleophas Tesha, OP serves as chaplain and spiritual counselor at both schools and assists in school administration. The schools were recently blessed with two new and productive boreholes, which have met the needs of both schools. Should the March 2013 elections become as violent as those of 2007 and refugees return to the Dominican compound, the additional water will prove most valuable. The senior community of friars at St. Martin de Porres Priory in Kisumu comprises five priests and two deacons. Fr. Stephen Lumala OP serves as Chaplain at Maseno University in nearby Maseno. Fr. Lumala under the direction of the archbishop is collaborating with the archdiocese to raise funds for the construction of a permanent chapel for the university. The community also houses the Vicariate Postulancy, directed by Fr. Luke Bett, OP, and the Vicariate Novitiate, led by Fr. David Adiletta, OP. The Vocation Director, Fr. Dominic Mutuku, OP assists at Maseno University when needed. His work keeps him on the road quite frequently.

If you would like to make a donation for the work of the Dominicans in East Africa please go to this page and designate your donation “for the work of the Friars in East Africa.” If you would like to make a donation to Our Lady of Grace School (“Fr. Tom’s Kids”), which educates primarily orphans and victims of HIV/AIDS, please visit this page and designate your donation “for Fr. Tom’s Kids.” More about our East African Missions friars in chapel in E. Africa

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