With violent protests and several deaths in the wake of Kenya's Aug. 8 presidential election, the nation's bishops have lamented the violence and called for respect for the democratic process. The re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta was announced Aug. 11, and international observers called the vote free and fair. Kenyatta's challenger, Raila Odinga, claims the election was rigged.
At least 24 persons have been killed during violent protests in the wake of the vote, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Anti-riot police shot protesters, and some children are reported to have been struck and killed by stray bullets. “
Dear Kenyans, to lose even one life because of elections is abominable,” the Kenyan bishops wrote in their Aug. 17 statement signed by Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chairman of the bishops' conference. “To injure and maim anybody is unacceptable. This must never be allowed in any civilized society like Kenya.”
The bishops castigated the riot police who confronted protesters, saying their actions resulted in “painful loss of life, the barricading of roads and the destruction of property.” They said the violence was a reminder “of the post-election violence of 2007/2008 that we, as a Nation, had vowed never again to experience.”
Kenya’s 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced as many as 700,000. Odinga was also the challenger in that election. Odinga has called for peaceful protest and strikes, and has said he will mount a legal challenge to the results in the courts. He claims computer fraud had given extra votes to Kenyatta.
The choice was welcomed by Kenya's bishops, who said, “All the aggrieved parties should use the legal means as provided in the Constitution to seek redress. It is only by respecting and having recourse to the established Constitutional institutions that we, as Kenyans, are able to enhance and strengthen the rule of law and the democratic process in our country.”
“As we await the determination of the disputed Presidential elections by the Supreme Court, we call upon our Government leaders, beginning with the President to take the lead in uniting the country.” They urged “all Kenyans to avoid anything that incites others to violent protests.”
At a press conference presenting the bishops' message, Bishop John Oballa Owaa of Ngong stressed the need for the courts not to rubber stamp automatically the election outcome, saying: “We call upon the judiciary and other constitutional institutions to jealously protect their independence and discharge their mandate justly, in a fair and impartial manner, to act without any favour and not to give in to any form of coercion or intimidation.” This, he said, “is the only way these institutions will earn the trust and confidence of all Kenyans.”
Bishop Anyola added that the “ugly divisions that we witness every election year, the tribal voting pattern that emerges, the hatred that is triggered by the winners and losers syndrome, and the win-it-all mentality that characterizes Kenyan politics are pointers to an electoral system that needs to be reviewed.”
The bishops' statement commended citizens' participation in the election, saying it reflected a “sense of patriotism and love for our nation.” “We commend this country to prayer for peace, justice and prosperity,” they concluded.