In June, as campaigns hit fever pitch ahead of last month’s general election, a Kenyan woman was being honoured in London, far away from home, for her peace work.
That such a feat might have passed Kenyans without notice does not bother Dr Agnes Abuom. She remains focused and happy, too, that her peace efforts in the region have been recognised.
She cannot describe the joy she felt after she was informed that she was among the persons to be honoured at Lambeth Palace. “Ooh, my goodness. It was unexpected. I was like… What have I done to deserve this?” she told the Star.
Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, bestowed the honour on Abuom at the Lambeth Palace.
Abuom says the fact that the Archbishop recognised “a simple woman from Africa” is a great honour.
She has been involved in ecumenism work right from her student days decades ago. “It goes to show what Jesus can do and a proof of what commitment to prayer does,” she said, adding that ecumenism means the household of God.
Obuom, who is currently the moderator or ecumenical accompanier to the Horn of Africa, was involved in the Sudan peace talks, as well as peace initiatives in Somalia and Burundi. “In the World Council of Churches, we began a programme that brings the three Abrahamic religions together. Young Jews, Muslims and Christians meet at a summer school. They interact, learn more about each other, and overcome stereotypes.” This, she says, is also a way of making peace.
During the awarding ceremony, Abuom and 35 other people from around the world were recognised for their outstanding service to the people and the church. The recipients included religious, political and community leaders and musicians from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Archbishop Welby personally presented the awards, which honours service in different fields, including those of the Archbishop’s ministry priorities of prayer and the religious life, reconciliation and evangelism.
The awards consisted of three existing Lambeth Awards: the Lambeth Cross, the Canterbury Cross and the Cross of St Augustine.
It was Archbishop Welby’s wish to give the awards to those who had made outstanding contributions to the aims of the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.
He said he wanted the lives and actions of those receiving the awards, which exemplified the Church’s beliefs and values, to be visible to the Church and the wider world.
“Firstly, I know only too well that there are good people doing excellent work in support of the Church all over the world. Very often, the fruits of their efforts are not apparent to many, but they are no less valuable for that. I want to encourage those who dedicate their lives to such work by assuring them that their efforts do not go unseen,” he said.
Engulfed by violence
Abuom says the world at the moment is deeply divided, but we should always remember that we are one humanity, created by one God. “Yes, we are not equal, but with the collaboration of diverse people, cultures and races, we can achieve a lot. The 21st century has many challenges,” she said.
She said she was happy to be recognised as an African woman. This is because, for a continent that continues to be afflicted by conflict, pursuing peace and unity has not been easy.
Kenya, for example she said, has been surrounded by countries that have been engulfed by violence for decades. She cites Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi and the dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In all these conflicts, a Kenyan or Kenya has been involved in efforts to restore peace.
Abuom remembers the late Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat, who played a big role in reconciling warring communities in different parts of the continent, while working at the National Council of Churches in Kenya.
She said other sons of Africa have been on the forefront in persuading the warring communities to work together. The All Africa Conference of Churches, and especially Canon Benge, was central to the resolution of the Anya Nya war in Addis Ababa. Ambassador Kiplagat was committed to the accompaniment of Sudan and the South Sudan peace process and eventual independence. Cardinal Musengo pushed for peaceful resolution in Congo. “It took the genocide for Rwanda to be what it is, but we have seen the role the faith has played,” Abuom said.
She said Africa is endowed with a lot of resources, but they have not been exploited for the good of the people. “We need to tell the West and multinational corporations that we cannot continue to engage in an exploitative relation; that Africa needs to be acknowledged.”
Abuom acknowledged that the region has come a long way, from one conflict to another. “Ten years ago, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region were afflicted by conflict. There was intra-state conflict, which in some instances spilled over to the neighbouring countries. We need to preposition ourselves and be strategic and look at resource-driven conflict,” she said.
No justice no peace
Abuom said that peace without justice is not possible, but Africa should be reminded not to succumb to the colonial divisions and neo-colonial tutelage of different countries. “We have to have an introspection of ourselves and use the rich resources we have for the benefit of all,” she said, adding that leaders should set up structures that foster development and harmony.
In the global arena, it is time for Africa to participate at the negotiating table, Abuom said.
“How do we reduce Africa from being an aid recipient to a donor? That should be the question,” she said.
Abuom said Africans have to grow and not succumb to colonial divisions. “Let us relate with one another as equal people. We suffer from the perception that Africa is less human. This award is a reminder that Africa should be at the table.”
She said Africa’s ties to China poses a challenge, as unlike Europe, China does not have links to the church. Abuom said the ruling elite in Africa is in cohorts with the Chinese in looting Africa.
She encouraged dialogue in dealing with any disagreements at all levels. “Non-violence dialogue has to be enhanced from the family level, school, churches and government institutions. Even at family level, if you exclude your children in decision-making and decide to command them, you will miss out on certain insights. They may be young, but they see things from a different perspective, with different lenses,” she said.
Abuom is, however, concerned about the region being flocked with small arms. “These small arms and light weapons are not manufactured here but they have found space because we have many pastoralist communities in the region. It is a critical area, which faith-based communities need to focus on.”
She said herders should learn to co-exist with their neighbours. “How can people die while the animals are left alive?” she asked. “New opportunities that will diminish the dependency on livestock need to be opened up. Critically, we need to deal with the whole economy. Cattle rustling is no longer about arrows but AK47s.”
She said in Sudan, the cow is so sacred to human life, the whole pastoralist economy generates inbuilt violence.
“Faith communities need to interact with locals to find solutions, such as opening up abattoirs, to eliminate overdependence on pastoralism.”
On Kenya politics, Abuom said: “The constitution has brought benefits but we have not arrived there yet. Our politics is still ethnic-based as opposed to ideologies. We are still fixated with personalities.
“I would plead with the current leadership to nurture peace. Kenya is greater than they are. Whoever wins at this point is still a son of Kenya. They should see Kenya as a state of 44 tribes that need to be served.
“Amical Cabral, class suicide, has balkanised the country into ethnic enclaves. At the end of the day, we are still Kenyans. We want service, inclusion; we want commitment.”
She concluded that the youth need to be told that this country belongs to them. The future is theirs so they should respect themselves and refuse to be used by politicians. “They need to wise up and push the peace agenda.”