Kenyans pray for peaceful polls to avoid repeat of deadly post-election violence
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Kenyan churchgoers on Sunday prayed for peaceful elections ahead of the country’s fiercely contested polls this coming week. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Alliance is pitted against veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Nasa party. Religious leaders have been critical of the controversial language used by political leaders during the campaign in light of the country’s deadly post-election violence almost 10 years ago.
"We prayed for peaceful and credible elections - maintaining peace, not to fall into what happened in 2007-2008," said parishioner Moses Njagi, speaking after attending Sunday service at All Saints’ Cathedral in Nairobi.
At least 1,200 people were killed following elections in 2007-2008 when Raila Odinga disputed the victory of Mwai Kibaki, sparking violence along ethnic lines. The next elections in 2013 were by and large peaceful. However, during this election cycle and some of the language used by politicians has worried some people.
“We, as Church leaders, have been concerned about some of the public utterances the political leaders have spoken that can easily trigger fear and anxiety in the country,” Sammy Wainaina, the Provost of All Saints’ Cathedral, told RFI.
During his sermon on Sunday, Wainaina urged his congregation to go home after casting their ballots and avoid “protecting their vote”, a practice advocated by some politicians who fear victory may be stolen during the count at polling stations. The Anglican minister is also worried about the unemployed youth, who he fears could be manipulated to contribute to any potential bloodshed.
The Church’s influence
The Church plays a big role in Kenyan society with more than 80 per cent of people identifying as Christians, according to statistics. “Kenyans are very spiritual people,” said Pauline Leima Otieno, who was at the Anglican service on Sunday. “We fear God and it’s only obvious for us to come back to God to guide us, to help us,” she said.
The National Council of Churches of Kenya has accused presidential candidates of peddling propaganda during the campaign and not focusing enough on policies. The multi-faith Dialogue Reference Group, which includes a number of Christian denominations, also called on candidates to stop disparaging the country’s electoral commission.
Despite the role Kenya’s Christian institutions have played in calling for peaceful polls in 2017, they have previously been criticised by some for not doing enough to stop the 2007-2008 ethnic fuelled violence. Some church leaders were accused of siding with their ethnic communities and not being strong enough in their condemnation of the violence.
“Both on the ethnic side and on the religious side, people have been critical about the church putting their own interests ahead of the national interests in some cases,” Nic Cheeseman, a Kenya expert from the University of Birmingham, told RFI, in reference to the post-election violence.
In spite of that, the church in Kenya was vital to reconciliation following the post-election chaos 10 years ago through peacebuilding initiatives aiming to bring together divided communities.
The church also succeeded in bringing together presidential candidates for a prayer meeting during the 2013 polls. No such unified meeting has taken place ahead of the 2017 ballot, although political leaders have signed a peace agreement, vowing not to stoke unrest.
“It is like a job interview,” said Provost Wainaina, drawing an analogy with the candidates’ election campaigns. “They have applied to Kenyans, let them leave us now to make the judgement - if they win, let they be humble enough, if they don’t, let them accept the results.”