Geneva, 24 June 2008

Melting Snow on Mount Kilimanjaro: A Witness of a Suffering Creation

Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God (Rom 15:17)

Excellencies and distinguished delegates,

Bishop Hanson, chair, Dr Noko, general secretary,

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

You are gathering in Tanzania not far from my own home country, Kenya. So let me join all those in welcoming you to Eastern Africa in our own language, Swahili: Karibu - come closer and feel at home. The word "welcome" is a poor English equivalent of Karibu. For Karibu invites someone to come closer for dialogue. The dialogue is about the personal well-being of the immediate subject; but it is also about the health and well-being of the guest's household members. The conversation will also include concerns about the state of one's livestock, and even crops in the field. But that is only the introduction, or the warming up, for dialogue on even deeper matters about life. The whole idea behind Karibu is to encourage mutual sharing of both joy and problems. It is also about seeking for solutions to problems together. For that purpose one is called to Karibia, to get even closer, and now for a real palaver.

As the LWF Council, I see you doing exactly this for the community you belong to: the churches of the Lutheran World Federation. You are gathering for a real palaver addressing the concerns of your community and its relationships to others. While this will lead you to addressing the concerns of your world wide communion of churches, you are also ready to listen to your local hosts and to hear more from them about the situation you are facing as signaled by the theme of your meeting: "Melting Snow on Mount Kilimanjaro: A Witness of a Suffering Creation." You could also add: the melting of the ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro is also witness of a suffering people who are increasingly confronted with the lack of fresh water for themselves, their livestock, and their gardens and fields.

It has been one year since I was invited to speak on World Environment Day to another world wide gathering in Norway on the joint invitation of the Church of Norway and the United Nations Environmental Programme. "Melting ice - a hot topic" was their theme. The thought, of course, first of all of the melting ice of the polar regions and the glaciers in various parts of the world. But it came as a surprise to some of them that I could immediately connect with the theme, thinking of my home country Kenya and of our highest mountain, Mount Kenya, the closest brother to Mount Kilimanjaro.

The meaning (in local languages) of the two mountains' names is the same - the snow-covered glittering mountain. When I grew up, both of these mountains were covered with ice and snow. This was still the case until about fifteen years ago. Today, Mt. Kenya has lost almost all of its ice cap and the glacier covering Mt. Kilimanjaro is also rapidly retreating. Thawing ice has nurtured the steady flow of water in small rivers running down the slopes. First the rivers were polluted due to erosion and pesticides when farmers started to grow coffee and tea higher up on the mountain. Then came the logging that led to accelerated deforestation. Now that the ice cover is gone, the river beds are empty and dry from September to March. They only carry water during the rainy season.

This has devastating consequences for the communities near the rivers. There is not enough water for agriculture and domestic use. The water supply is severely threatened as the rivers dry up. There is already competition for water, pasture and farmland in other areas of Kenya, which sometimes leads to violence. In fact, all over Africa we can see how water scarcity aggravates existing conflicts and forces people to migrate away from their homes.

The researchers in our universities come to the conclusion that the loss of ice on the two mountains is a result of global warming. We see now that the fossil fuel-based industrialisation and affluent life-styles of developed countries have come at a high cost to ecology and people's livelihoods. The majority of the victims are the poor who have not contributed to global warming with the little they need for their daily lives like the people in my home country, Kenya, here in Tanzania or in other places like Bangladesh, or the low-lying islands of the Pacific. The victims are also our future generations in both the developed and the developing nations.

For this reason the WCC has seen climate change as a matter of international and inter-generational justice. We have argued that it is of utmost urgency that people leave the fossil fuel-based development path of highly industrialised countries behind and concentrate fully on renewable energies and sustainable life-styles and production patterns. We are very glad to see that now this is also a priority of the Lutheran World Federation. We will achieve more when we join hands and work together on such an urgent concern for the future of humanity.

This is one of the areas where we can immediately see the benefit of increasing co-operation and common action. To harness our potential, we need to consider carefully what the others are doing while we are setting our own priorities and determining our own programmes. Welcoming what the others are doing and are ready to share with us, this is how we can grow together and strengthen our common witness to the world. The challenge of climate change, like racism and injustice, is too strong for a divided church. We are compelled to come closer to each other and to witness together to God's word of life in Jesus Christ.

Once again Karibuni, and I pray that God will bless you with a successful council meeting.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

 WCC general secretary