Church leaders and civil society groups in Kenya are calling for investigations into reports that communities are arming themselves ahead of national elections in the east African country scheduled for 2012.
"If it is true, this very alarming and dangerous," Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa told Ecumenical News International on October 12. "Such a trend would spell doom for the country."
Some politicians have dismissed as baseless the reports, which began to circulate after an investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Kalu, however, urged the Kenyan government to rein in what he sees as a race to arm communities. He also appealed to Kenyans to live as one family, and not as ethnic groups.
Various media in the east African nation, as well as communities that fought in the violence following the December 2007 general election in Kenya's western Rift Valley Province, have engaged in speculation about a trade in firearms in advance of the 2012 elections.
"All Kenyans stand to lose greatly if fresh violence breaks out," said Roman Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir of Eldoret.
The Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups used bows, arrows and machetes to wage their conflict in 2007, but are preparing to use guns in the next round of fighting, the reports said.
Ken Wafula, the director of the Centre for Human Rights based in the town of Eldoret, said lethal weapons such as G3 and AK47 automatic assault rifles have been sold in illegal markets for about 25,000 Kenya shillings (US$330).
"We have been told communities are arming themselves. The government should deal with this urgently," Wafula told journalists on October 8. He was quoted by the Daily Nation newspaper as saying that some residents in the province meet every night to strategize on how to protect their communities from adversaries.
Rift Valley church leaders want the government to take the allegations seriously and they have warned that any further violence could leave the country far worse than after the 2007-2008 conflict.
At the same time, President Mwai Kibaki has instructed security forces to embark on a disarmament exercise, and has demanded that illegal owners surrender their firearms or face prosecution.
"It is clear to the people of Kenya that the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons remains a key challenge to security in the country," said Kibaki at joint prayers for members of Kenya's police, prisons, wildlife forestry and other services held at the Roman Catholic Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi on October 11.