Kenya’s Religious Leaders Call for National Dialogue to “defuse tension in the country"

Chairman of Dialogue Reference Group (DRG), Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva of the Archdiocese of Mombasa addresses the media during a Friday, October 16 press conference in Nairobi.
Credit: Public Domain.

Religious leaders in Kenya have called for an inclusive national dialogue that would involve “all Kenyans” in view of defusing tensions that have characterized the political landscape in the East African nation.

In a collective statement issued Friday, October 16, the leaders caution, if Kenyans “do not have an urgent change of heart, we risk experiencing widespread conflict and violence before, during and after the 2022 elections.”

“We call upon all Kenyans and more so the political and religious leaders, to spearhead a national dialogue process designed to defuse the tension in the country,” representatives of religious leaders in Kenya under the auspices of the Dialogue Reference Group (DRG) say in their collective six-page statement issued during the October 16 press conference.

In making their case for an inclusive national dialogue, DRG officials revisit the three scenarios highlighted in July 2018 as probable situations that Kenyans could face in the near future if the country’s leadership does not address issues of contention.

Scenario one situation, the representatives of the eight-member religious bodies recalls, is that of “normalized crisis and national stagnation,” which is the “default setting for Kenya, where the country is stabilized but the underlying conflicts are not resolved.”

In this first scenario, there is a “captured and ineffective opposition;” continued violation of human rights, impunity and blatant disregard of the rule of law; a continued reign of corruption; as well as a lack of reforms, structured dialogue, and life is business as usual.

The religious leaders who include representatives of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) decry that two years after their 2018 caution, “the country remains in a Scenario One status.”

In their considered view, Kenya is not only stuck in “Scenario One,” but is “speeding fast towards Scenario Two” where the country risks a “relapse to conflict.”

Scenario two would see a collapse of the agreements reached between President Uhuru Kenyatta and the leader of opposition, Raila Odinga “through the handshake,” and an implosion of ruling Jubilee Party leading to discord between the President and the his deputy, William Ruto and their perceived supporters.

In this second scenario, 2022 elections would take center stage with political campaigns overshadowing national reconciliation and development agenda complete with ethnic mobilization and negative propaganda.

Additionally, the leadership of the ruling Jubilee Party would use its majority to consolidate power and hinder genuine reforms.

Still in the second scenario, there would emerge underground militias, the members of DRG caution and adding that with weakened, social institutions, there would be anarchy.

Scenario three presents the ideal situation that Kenya’s religious leaders want fostered as a way forward.

In this scenario, the members of the four-year-old interreligious entity make recommendations that will see the country realize inclusive dialogue, resolution of frequent conflict among communities, as well as electoral reforms.

For electoral reforms, DRG members recommend a focus on changes that will facilitate a “credible, free, fair and verifiable general elections in 2022.”

They argue that a referendum is not possible before the next general election, and that a window for reforms through parliament will run out in June 2021.

Regarding the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that is “now a political tool that is bound to drive more division than unity,” the representatives of religious bodies in Kenya want the BBI report and proposals of the team “published to ensure further discourse is on the content rather than the toxic political diatribe we have witnessed so far.”

“This Dialogue Reference Group continues to be appalled by the blatant impunity that is bedrock of corruption in this country. There is no justice in corruption,” the members of the religious entity that is headed by Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva of Mombasa say in their October 16 statement obtained by ACI Africa.

They urge President Uhuru Kenyatta “to institute a broad-based consultative process to develop a corruption eradication strategy for the nation. Knee jerk reactions will not eradicate the impunity that drives corruption.”

The religious leaders further call for the filling of the four vacant vacancies at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and recommend that officials of the electoral body regularly update and engage Kenyans in the preparations for the 2022 general elections.

We must avoid handling the elections as an emergency, the members of DRG say in their October 16 statement.

They make reference to an episode where security officers reportedly disrupted public worship in a bid to stop politicians from addressing the faithful saying the action amounted to “interference with right to worship,” was “inappropriate” and should not happen again.

“Whereas justice is core to humanity and a stable nation, justice itself is dependent on truth. Let us all embrace truth, and resist those who peddle lies,” the representatives of religious leaders in Kenya under DRG say in their October 16 statement.

Established in 2016 to advance good governance, peace, cohesion and stability of the country with a focus on ensuring free, peaceful and credible elections in 2017, DRG is made up of representatives of eight religious bodies among them KCCB.

Other members include the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), Hindu Council of Kenya (HCK), the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the Organization of African Instituted Churches (AIC), the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), Shia Asna Ashri Jamaat, and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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