Churches pray for end to bloodshed
But clergy’s moral authority challenged as some blamed for causing rifts in nation
NAIROBI— Conspicuous in their absence from the crisis until now, Kenya’s largest churches staged nationwide prayers for the country’s salvation yesterday, asking for guidance from above to help find the peaceful solution that continues to elude feuding political leaders.
But the rallying cry for calm from Protestant, Catholic and other denominations came amid growing questions over how much moral authority the Kenyan clergy wields in the aftermath of an election that many complain featured a series of unholy alliances between church, state and the political opposition.
As aid groups scrambled to rush food, blankets and medicine to an estimated 250,000 people displaced by post-election violence, opposition leader Raila Odinga held open the prospect of powersharing talks while also renewing calls for protests to ramp up pressure on President Mwai Kibaki to resign his post.
But the day otherwise belonged to the church, which urged an immediate end to upheaval that exposed both economic and ethnic fault lines throughout the country in spasms of rioting and looting.
“Around here tribes don’t matter. We are all just Kenyans. And it is right that we should pray for salvation. It can only help,” said Richard Ndegna, who stood among a group of well-heeled parishioners at Holy Family Minor in Nairobi, the country’s largest Catholic basilica. As Kenyan commentators take stock of damage done since last Sunday, when Kibaki was declared president, many are including church leaders in the blame. Columnist Gakuu, writing in the Sunday Standard, lamented that clerics who for decades rose above the din of politicians “with awed authority” are today widely seen as political partisans, guilty of taking sides.
“The churches were silent when we really needed them. So for a day of prayer to come now, they are behaving like coroners. They are trying to save face but it is already too late,” said Musambayi Katumanga, a senior political scientist at the University of Nairobi.
“We are a bit more harsh with our church leaders because they are precisely the ones who are supposed to stick their necks out on questions of justice and honesty. That is their mission. And they have failed us.”
Ndegna and his friends at Holy Family Minor stood testament to the irrelevance of tribal affiliation in some pockets of Nairobi. When asked which ethnic groupings each belonged to they shrugged and laughed. Some had known each other for years but did not know.
“I’m Luo, what are you?” said Ndegna to a fellow worshipper, who belonged to the rival Kikuyu tribe. “You see? This is news to me. We don’t know and we don’t care.”
For those in Nairobi shantytown Kibera, conversely, worshippers say once-mixed parishes now are separated by tribe, a development that began five years ago when officials from some denominations began speaking partisan commentary on political developments.
In the run-up to December’s parliamentary and presidential elections, observers say that political links between opposition leader Odinga’s coalition and Kenya’s