Refugee Reflects on Election Unrest in Africa vs. America

To pursue reconciliation, officials and church leaders should first get to the root of things.

Refugee Reflects on Election Unrest in Africa vs. America

Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya Image: Tom Albinson / IAFR

Christianity Today

In each conflict, I see the same thing. Different leadership tries to say it’s time to move on. Things are calm for a while, and leaders continue with other things like nothing happened.

But this is like a tree germinating in the wrong place. You go and cut only the stem and leaves, but you don’t pull out the roots. When it rains, the stem and leaves will come back.

Twice I saw this in Africa.

The key issue that simmered for so long (until 1994) in Rwanda was that no one went back to study the main thing causing racial tensions to occur again and again. Something that has been going on for 400 years cannot have a quick fix in one month or two months.

Then in 2007, I was living in a Kenyan refugee camp. People were hiding in their houses after the presidential election because both candidates claimed to have won. Neither candidate agreed to back down. Both sides said they would inaugurate their president.

You know, youth are always hot in matters like this. The young men are always prepared for anything, especially whatever their leaders direct. Because the leaders did not back down, the youth of each group were already prepared. They started burning the houses of the opponents. They said if you refuse, we have war. We will answer this question ourselves.

There was so much killing across the country that some of top leaders in the country were later taken to the Hague. Churches were destroyed, it was really terrible. In the refugee camp, nobody could come to us because we were already vulnerable. The problem for us was food.

(The mistake Trump made is this: he did not, or could not, change the Constitution to advance his agenda. The Constitution keeps on blocking him. Back there, in Africa, the trick they do first when they get power: they start working on the constitution. Brainwash people. They put in some articles to use later in a time of defeat, in order to hold onto power.)

Whenever there is smoke, there is a fire coming after the smoke. Last year, at the state level, when we saw people going to the Capitol steps with guns, then going back home… there was something in their hearts which caused them to go to show a gun. Singling out shops for destroying– that is smoke.

Now, we no longer see smoke. We are now speaking about the real thing. Those same supporters are the ones who traveled to the U.S. Capitol, from different states, to show there. When the leader of the Proud Boys was arrested, he was already prepared for something big. Others had military gear everywhere. He was prepared for war.

These people were beyond other demonstrations; they should be held accountable for what they have done before we can talk. We have now entered into issues of justice. If the government is going to talk about reconciliation in the future, they should start with justice first for those who were involved in what happened. If the government is going to be blind on this… it will be problem after problem after problem.

I have spent much time studying world history and American history. As I look around the U.S., the church has failed throughout history to address the real issue. Whites and blacks have achieved racial integration. But they have not reached to the level of reconciliation. That is what is remaining and causing what is now going on.

People keep on referring to what has happened in the past to justify what they are doing in the present. So the church still has a lot to do. They have to teach much about reconciliation. Not by speaking, but also by action and involvement in the issue. There is much talk, but the action is little.

Just look at what Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk initiated from the top in South Africa. A commission of inquiry was headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu. He went into the roots of the issue. It took years, but now at least you can see between whites and blacks in South Africa, there is not as much trouble as before.

But: if another person with the same heart as the previous leader is elected, and puts in a few words on what has happened today… This is the urgent issue to work on before we get into another big event or campaign in the future.

I still have the U.S. as my favorite country. (In September of this year, after five years of having my green card, I will be eligible to apply for citizenship.) Yesterday was a test of 200 years of democracy. And it still stands.

But in this case, the Republican and Democrat officials who are involved in what is going on should have the heart of humility. They should compromise and back down on some hardline stances, and see what they can do together.

They should also agree to hold accountable those who caused violence. They must support one another on this matter so people can see their unity. This is a test of their union, for the country to move forward. If they don’t, then who knows what is going to happen in 2022, or maybe 2024. There is always another election to come.

 

Rwandan genocide survivor and longtime Kenyan refugee Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera now ministers from Minneapolis, Minn. with the International Association for Refugees,  and is on Arrive Ministries Board of Directors.

 

The Humanitarian Disaster Institute recently produced a Spiritual First Aid Manual to help U.S. church leaders and lay helpers serving refugees, which Pastor Gatera contributed to. Download your copy here.