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Churches call on us and Britain to put pressure on government

Posted on: March 3, 1998 2:50 PM
Related Categories: Kenya

(ENI) Kenya's church leaders have called for the United States and Britain to bring pressure to bear on the Kenyan government to ensure that the recent tragedies in Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia are not repeated in Kenya.

The church leaders' call for outside pressure demonstrates their sense of alarm as Kenya's ethnic, social and economic problems worsen, following the re-election of President Daniel arap Moi's government at the end of last year.

Relations between the Kenyan government and the churches have been tense for several years, but have deteriorated rapidly in the past month. Immediately after the December election, the church leaders tried to urge Kenyans to accept the election results, but their hopes for improvement in Kenya evaporated quickly as ethnic violence broke out last month, resulting in more than 200 deaths. The church leaders said the government was implicated in the tribal violence which, they suggested, was directed against ethnic groups who had supported the opposition parties in the election.

Immediately before an ecumenical service in Nairobi on 19 February in memory of 272 people killed in the ethnic violence, prominent church officials said that the government lacked the "moral legitimacy" to lead the country. In a joint statement they called for the scrapping of the forthcoming review of Kenya's constitution, and urged that the government set up a "constitutional conference" to discuss the future direction of the nation.

The signatories to the statement included Anglican Archbishop David Gitari and Anglican Bishop Joseph Wesonga, Professor Zablon Nthamburi, who is a leading Methodist, Dr Jesse Kamau, who is moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, and two leading Roman Catholic bishops - John Njue and Cornelius Korir.

The statement described the country's constitutional, ethnic and economic crises, and rebuked the government for its "lack of commitment" to the rule of law and protection of human rights. Referring to the ethnic violence, the church leader urged the British and United States governments to bring pressure to bear "to stop these murderous acts forthwith".

The churches said they feared that the disasters which in recent years have plagued Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia could be repeated in Kenya.

"When our political leaders talk about leaving a legacy after they depart from the scene, what sort of legacy do they really mean? Is it the legacy of death and destruction?" the church leaders asked.

Kenya required "an urgent surgical intervention" and true spiritual cleansing to save it from decay and destruction, they said.

The church leaders also said the present constitution was being "manipulated" and "serves only the interests of one or a few groups" who wanted to preserve their assets which had been gained by"questionable methods". President Daniel arap Moi immediately accused the churches of "preaching falsehoods" and creating turmoil. He said the churches were supporting a "Philippines-style revolution", similar to that which saw the removal of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. But, President Moi warned, such a revolution was not possible in Kenya.