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Kenyan bishops urge calm in the amid political crisis

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Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan Catholic bishops have urged the citizens to guard the country’s peace, as a prolonged election standoff took its toll on the economy and the social conditions of ordinary people.

The bishops said the matter is grave, while highlighting growing anxiety among the people and increased polarization along political and ethnic lines.

Riot police officers detain a supporter of the Kenyan National Super Alliance opposition coalition during an Oct. 13 protest in Kisumu, Kenya. (CNS photo/James Keyi, Reuters)

“God has given us given us only one country, our nation Kenya, and it is upon every Kenyan to stand firm and say no to everything that will take away from the peace,” the bishops said in an Oct. 12 statement signed by Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“If the election goes on as scheduled, we call upon Kenyans to turn out and exercise their democratic right peacefully,” said Bishop Anyolo. “If for any reason the election is rescheduled, we call on Kenyans to remain calm and peaceful.”

The crisis started Sept. 1, when the Supreme Court nullified the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta over irregularities and illegalities. The court ordered a repeat election in 60 days, but political positions have hardened, even as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission planned to conduct the repeat polls Oct. 26.

On Oct. 10, the crisis appeared to deepen after Raila Odinga, the National Super Alliance coalition leader, withdrew from the repeat polls. Announcing the boycott, Odinga said the IEBC had failed to meet the demands he had presented to the officials’ “irreducible minimums.”

The veteran opposition politician has been demanding restructuring of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which he accuses of bungling his win. The opposition argues that, as constituted, the commission cannot conduct a free and fair election.

Apart from the boycott, the opposition has been threatening to disrupt the polls, but the ruling Jubilee Party insists they will take place as scheduled.

The coalition has taken to street protests to force change within IEBC. The police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, who have been blocking roads, attacking civilians and looting properties. At least 33 people have been shot dead by the police, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday Oct.16.

The Caritas microfinance bank branch on Cardinal Otunga Plaza near the city’s minor basilica had its windows smashed during demonstrations Oct. 11.

“We were quite lucky that the demonstrators only ‘smashed’ the windows at our offices,” msaid George Maina, bank CEO. “We would be talking of something different if (looters) had accessed the bank.”

Maina told Catholic News Service looters only managed to smash some of the office windows and the gate to the main entrance of the building.

He also said the current political instability was negatively affecting business.

“On our side within the banking operations, we are currently witnessing a general financial ‘decline’ in terms of lending and borrowing,” he told CNS without elaborating.

Meanwhile, a drought affecting millions of rural people is further adding weight to the crisis. Nurses and health workers are on strike, which has also left thousands of patients across the country without treatment.

“We call for an end to this neglect and abandonment of the lives and affairs of our people,” the bishops said. “This cannot continue under our watch.”

The bishops have moved to convene high-level mediation talks, while stressing dialogue as the way forward.

     

Contributing to this story was Francis Njuguna.

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Pope Francis arrives in Kenya, says tolerance, respect are keys to peace

By

Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya — With security concerns looming over his visit, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Nov. 25 urging tolerance and respect among people of different religions and different ethnic groups.

During the less than seven-hour flight, Pope Francis told reporters the only thing he was worried about were the mosquitoes, and after greeting each of the 74 reporters individually the pope took the microphone again and said, “Protect yourselves from the mosquitoes.”

Pope Francis smiles as he looks at Kenyan traditional dancers performing to welcome him after landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 25. (CNS photo/Dai Kurokawa, EPA)

Pope Francis smiles as he looks at Kenyan traditional dancers performing to welcome him after landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 25. (CNS photo/Dai Kurokawa, EPA)

Speaking to a small group of reporters as he made his way around the plane, the pope also confirmed he would visit four cities, including Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexican border, when he visits Mexico in February.

In his brief remarks to the whole group, the pope did not mention the security concerns or the travel advisories issued by many governments after the terrorist attacks Nov. 13 in Paris.

Pope Francis was greeted at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers, women ululating and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first president, for whom the airport is named. After the brief arrival ceremony Pope Francis traveled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came out and lined the road to greet him.

The formal welcoming ceremony took place at Kenya’s State House, where the pope met with the president, government and civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.

In his speech, the pope focused on the values needed to consolidate democracy in Kenya and throughout Africa, starting with building trust and cohesion among members of the different ethnic and religious groups on the continent.

“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration,” he said. “To the extent that our societies experience divisions — whether ethnic, religious or economic — all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing.”

Kenyatta told the pope that colonization left Africa with artificial borders dividing communities, which has created tensions, but war and violence on the continent also has been fueled by “our own selfish politicization of our ethnic and religious identities.”

As the U.N. Climate Conference was about to begin in Paris, Pope Francis also spoke of the traditional African value of safeguarding creation and of the need to find “responsible models of economic development” that will not destroy the earth and the future.

“Kenya has been blessed not only with immense beauty in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests, savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources,” the pope said.

Kenyans recognize them as gifts of God and have a “culture of conservation,” which they are called to help others embrace as well, the pope said.

“The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature,” he said. “We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received.”

On a continent where the population is predominantly young, but unemployment among young adults is high, Pope Francis also urged the Kenyan government officials and representatives of other countries to recognize that the young, too, are a gift from God to be assisted with care.

“To protect them, to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which are the very heart and soul of a people,” the pope said.

Knowing that he was speaking in front of the country’s political and economic leaders, Pope Francis reminded them that the Gospel insists that “from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded.”

“Show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country,” he told them.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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