KENYA: Church heads urge feuding political leaders to reconcile

February 22, 2010

Church leaders in Kenya have warned that a dispute between the country's president and prime minister, who are in a government of national unity, could destabilize the east African country, and should be resolved urgently.

"Temperatures are rising," the Rev. Peter Karanja, an Anglican priest and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, told journalists on Feb. 17 in Nairobi, the country's capital. "We call upon the leaders ... to rise above petty personal and party machinations."

Karanja spoke as differences continued between President Mwai Kibaki, who is a Roman Catholic, and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, an Anglican. The dispute began when Odinga suspended two government ministers accused of corruption.

On Feb. 14, he first suspended the agricultural minister, William Ruto, over a US$26 million maize scandal. Odinga next did the same to education minister Samuel Ongeri because of his alleged inability to account for US$1 million made available for free primary school education. Then, Kibaki lifted the suspensions.

Disputed election results centering on the two politicians in 2007 triggered off fierce inter-ethnic fighting in which around 1,300 people died.

"We remind all that the machineries used to perpetrate the post-election violence have not been dismantled. Rather, the groups have been actively amassing weapons," said the NCCK's Karanja. His words echoed other warnings that elections scheduled for 2012 could trigger a re-run of the 2007 conflict.

Some Kenyan church leaders have said that whilst healing and reconciliation is beginning to bear fruit in the country, they view the current developments as worrying.

Launching his church's 2010 Lenten Campaign on Feb. 16, Cardinal John Njue called on all Christians to pray for the two leaders so that they could work together to keep Kenya peaceful and united. "If there is something that is beyond what meets the eye, let it be solved so that this country may remain in peace," the Catholic leader told journalists on Feb. 17.

Still, Karanja, together with leaders of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya and the Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches, warned politicians against setting the country on a path of self-destruction similar to that between 2002 and 2007.

He said that during this period politicians broke agreements, bickered over a constitutional review, and arranged a contentious constitutional referendum through which they heightened ethnic hatred.

"They then pushed the country into ethnically based elections, perpetrated the post-election violence, welcomed international intervention, and made another agreement. We are witnessing a repeat of the circle," said Karanja, who added that the parties of both political leaders should take stock of what is going on in Kenya concerning corruption.

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