Protests in Kenya Protests in Kenya  (AFP or licensors)

Kenya: Opposition suspends planned protests after Bishops' call for truce

As Kenyan Bishops release a new statement over current political and social crisis in the country, amid threats of famine, opposition leader Raila Odinga calls off anti-government protests over rising living costs and disputed 2022 elections.

By Lisa Zengarini

After nearly two weeks of heightened political unrest, tensions seem to have eased this week in Kenya, after opposition leader Raila Amolo Odinga called off a fourth national anti-government protest scheduled for 3 April, and expressed openness to negotiate with President William Samoei Ruto on electoral reforms.

Protests against high living costs and alleged electoral fraud 

Since 20 March, three demonstrations called by Odinga’s Azimio One Kenya Coalition have taken place against rising living costs, and alleged fraud in the 2022 presidential elections. The protests came as northern Kenya, namely County Turkana, faces an unprecedented drought and food crisis along with other countries in the Horn of Africa.

The protests have been marred by violence, with at least three people killed, 400 wounded, over 200 arrests, and several businesses looted, as well as properties, places of worship, and cars set ablaze.

President Ruto's offer to dialogue with Odinga

Odinga, a former prime minister who lost last August's elections, and has disputed Ruto’s victory, announced on Sunday evening that he was suspending the fourth rally in response to his rival’s call for dialogue to work through opposition’s concerns about the electoral process.

The opposition leader said he saw the President’s statement as an “olive branch” and a positive development. However, he warned his party was ready to resume demonstrations “should the process not bear fruit.”

Bishops' call for a truce 

Only a few hours earlier, reports AciAfrica agency, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) issued a statement addressed to all “Kenyans, leaders in Government and in Opposition”.

The Bishops urged a “truce” and called for the “suspension of all political demonstrations.” The statement's highlights were read out to the press by KCCB chairman, Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa.

In the statement, titled “I have heard my people cry” (Exodus 3:7), the Bishops again cautioned against the risk of the country slipping into anarchy. They noted the “mayhem and lawlessness” that have marked the protests offer “a glimpse of what our country can degenerate into”, and pointed to Kenyan political leaders’ refusal to address its serious problems.

Kenya cannot afforward the risk of anarchy

“Instead of seeking solutions, our political leaders have chosen to escalate hate, revenge and anarchy without care for our country,” the Bishops lamented, referring to politicians’ “irresponsible threats and inciting of Kenyans … reckless actions by leaders and citizens and gross negligence and mistreatment by the law enforcement agents.”

“Kenya cannot be allowed to follow this path … we cannot and must not allow our country to descend into chaos of disorder of a lawless society,” they remarked.

In the statement, which followed a previous message released on 22 March, the KCCB therefore made seven pleas calling “upon all God-fearing Kenyans” not to participate in demonstrations this week, as Christians begin the Easter celebrations and Muslims celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadan and on political leaders “to stop for a moment, from pushing the conflict any further.”

“(Political leaders) must not shout at each other but talk; not hate but love and forgive; not fight but listen and find peaceful paths.”

The statement went on to caution against “celebrative gatherings and prayer meetings organized by Government and political leaders”, explaining that “with the political nuances witnessed in such gatherings and prayer meetings, we question the intention behind them.”

The bishops further demanded an end of all provocative utterances, personal attacks, political agitation and verbal exchange between leaders in Government and Opposition”.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference then asked for an investigation and the arrest of the perpetrators of looting and attacks against properties during the protests  and also demanded “a public apology” for the “inexcusable” negligence of law enforcement agents.

Call for special prayers during the Holy Week for a solution of the crisis 

The Church leaders then addressed the people of God in Kenya, asking them to take the opportunity of the Holy Week to hold “special prayers... for a lasting solution to the disintegration of the country’s hard-earned democracy.” 

“As we witness the suffering of Christ, let us examine how we as citizens and especially our leaders are betraying the very truth that he dies for, that is, mercy and forgiveness.”

Finally, the bishops challenged all Kenyan citizens to take control of the solution of the crisis by rejecting violence as a means to solve differences  

"We cannot always be lamenting and passing the buck to someone else to solve our problems," they said. "We must decide that no leader, whatever his rank or power, will drive us into the pit of hatred and violence."

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Appeal for dialogue from religious leaders

Other Kenyan religious leaders have also joined in condemning the violence and in urging for dialogue to prevent the country from descending into post-election violence that left more than 1,200 people dead in 2007.

Following the latest incident on 28 March, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) appealed for “brotherly coexistence” and unity which they said Kenyans have shown amid “challenges and tribulations.”

The instability in the East African nation has prompted international concern, with the African Union, the United States and the United Kingdom, among other foreign missions, calling for restraint and  a peaceful end to the chaos.

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04 April 2023, 16:34