Kenyan Bishops urge President and Opposition leader to go beyond handshake
By Fr. Paul Samasumo -Vatican City
Kenya emerging from a divisive election
In a pastoral statement made available to Vatican News and signed by Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Philip Anyolo said that the country was emerging from a presidential election that had divided the people and shattered the economy.
“As a Country, we have just come from an uncertain and tough election period that almost divided the nation, with a shattered economy and a section of the population left wounded during political violence. There are those who lost their lives and property to the post-election violence. Many more are still traumatised by what they went through and remain bitter and hence in need of healing and reconciliation,” Bishop Anyolo said.
An unexpected truce
Kenya’s 2017 presidential election between the Opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader, Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta left the country reeling and tottering on the verge of a repeat of 2007 post-election violence. Reports of the 2007 post-election violence vary, but in all, more than 1,200 Kenyans were reported killed; thousands more injured; over 300,000 people displaced and around 42,000 houses and businesses looted or destroyed.
On 9 March, this year, an unexpected truce between Kenyatta and Raila caught many of their supporters off guard. Raila’ supporters had vowed never to accept the 2017 election results. Earlier in January, thousands of Raila supporters defied authorities and participated in a mock swearing-in of Raila as “president of the people.”
Now the followers of both leaders are struggling to come to terms with the Kenyatta – Raila truce. Some NASA hardliners want Raila to abandon the peace agreement with Uhuru. Kenya’s Catholic Bishops have now weighed in with a pastoral statement calling for far-reaching changes beyond the handshakes.
Bishops are praying for a united country
“While we don’t know all the details of their discussion (Uhuru-Raila), we note that their coming together was, and will continue to be good for the Country. We see this as a step forward in the right direction, and we call upon them to speed up the process of real, meaningful and lasting reconciliation. We hope to see greater commitment beyond the handshake. We have been praying all along for a united country, where every person’s dignity is respected and where all have equal opportunities irrespective of where they come from. It is our hope, and that of all Kenyans that this meeting will herald a new era of reconciliation, dialogue, peace, stability and prosperity,” the Bishops’ pastoral statement reads in part.
The Bishops call for changes to the constitution and the electoral system. They urge politicians to give devolution and county governments a chance. They decry corruption, tribalism and nepotism rampant in many counties.
Kenya's National Police Service
The National Police Service is singled out by the Bishops as one of the institutions that “continues to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.” They urge the country’s police to operate professionally and ethically.