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Kenyans plead for peace

by Manasseh Zindo and staff reporters

WORSENING VIOLENCE in Kenya has brought fresh pleas for peaceful political dialogue from church leaders.

The known death toll reached 850 this week, after a weekend of murderous attacks in the Rift Valley. The violence was sparked by a disputed election at the end of December (News, 4 January). Violence also erupted in the capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday, in retaliation for the murder of Melitus Were, a member of the opposition party.

Mr Were, aged 39, and a graduate in communication at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, was marked out after defeating an assistant minister in the December election. At least seven people were killed in reprisal attacks.

Concern continues to be expressed about Naivasha, in the central Rift Valley, where at least 16 people were killed in one incident, and where gangs of youths seek out those belonging to other tribes.

Fran Etemesi, wife of the former Bishop of Butere, writes: “It is now very clear that the presidential election dispute was only the touchpaper which has ignited something much deeper in the Kenyan psyche — land rights and enormous social disparities — the origins of which date back to colonial times.”

She says that many are pinning their hopes on the visit of the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and a team of eminent African statesmen and women. Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi on Saturday, Mr Annan echoed Mrs Etemesi’s analysis: “The crisis has mutated from an electoral dispute into much deeper problems, with a high potential for recurrence.”

Among those seeking to bring peace is the Roman Catholic Cardinal John Njue, who has urged President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, to engage in talks without preconditions.

“Go beyond where you are,” said Cardinal Njue, speaking Juja, near Nairobi. “Look ahead, and realise that for Kenya to be peaceful, for current tribal divisions to end, and for the killings of innocent Kenyans to stop, you must dialogue.”

Other calls came from the All-Africa Conference of Churches, which is based in Nairobi, and the Inter-Religious Forum.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Nakuru, the Rt Revd Peter Kairo, was caught up in the chaos in the town as he drove to church on Sunday. He was force to leave his car, and it was only when he prayed for peace that he was allowed to continue.

An ecumenical team from the World Council of Churches began a five-day visit on Wednesday. Current scenes of violence “portray a country that one would hardly recognise as Kenya” said the WCC general secretary, Dr Samuel Kobia, who is himself a Kenyan. The delegation, hosted by the Kenyan National Council of Churches, will visit trouble spots around the country.

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