Kenyan church leaders insist on mediated solution, not mass protests

NAIROBI, January 15, 2008 (CISA )ᾹAs a showdown looms between the opposition and police over banned protest rallies around the country starting Wednesday, Catholic and Anglican leaders have insisted that dialogue, not mass action, is the best way out of the current crisis.

Catholic nuns today called for softening of hearts to allow for a dialogue “in which both sides may feel understood and respected.” The women religious, through the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK), urged leaders to think of the humanitarian catastrophe afflicting especially the poor, women and children.

“We have heard people say, “Justice must be done”; and we firmly believe that there can be no lasting peace without justice. However, we are convinced that pressure to achieve justice, through violent or unjust means, creates even greater injustice,” the nuns said a statement signed by AOSK chairperson Sr Mary Gitau.

They appealed for a peaceful solution “rooted in the law.” The opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) says “the people in all Kenya’s eight provinces were cheated and betrayed when the election was stolen.” But the party refuses to take the matter to court.

It wants a solution through international mediation. Former UN secretary general Koffi Annan was expected to jet into the country on Tuesday night with a team of eminent African persons to start another round of negotiations.

But at the same time ODM has called for three days of nationwide protests starting Wednesday, the day Annan’s team is expected to start work. In newspaper adverts today, the party said rallies will be held simultaneously in Nairobi and 41 other venues. The party said it had notified relevant authorities in accordance with the laws on freedom of speech and assembly.

But police, citing the possibility of a fresh wave of violence, are firm that no rallies will take place. Riots by ODM supporters following the announcement of contested presidential elections on Dec. 30 left at least 500 people dead, 250,000 displaced and wreaked extensive damage on property in parts of the country.

On Sunday, the chairman of Kenya Episcopal conference, John Cardinal Njue, told worshippers at Consolata Shrine Parish in Nairobi that the two sides to the conflict should find a negotiated solution and that “it is not taking to the streets that is going to liberate us.”

He attributed the recent violence to sentiments of tribalism that had been propagated around the country by politicians in their quest for power.

On their part, Kenya’s 33 Anglican bishops resolved on Saturday that “both parties [should] submit themselves to mediated dialogue on outstanding issues. And that both parties restrain themselves from activities that may go against the spirit of effective dialogue.”

The violent protests have paralyzed socio-economic activities in the worst-hit areas, leading to huge losses in the country’s key sectors. Analysts predict massive job losses in the coming months.

Though there is an uneasy calm around the country, police are still reporting skirmishes especially in the ODM strongholds of Rift valley and Nyanza and Western provinces. A source returning to Nairobi from Western Kenya last week told CISA chances were high non-natives of the region would be targeted again in the event of new riots.

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