KENYA: Church leader says violence instigators must confess

September 17, 2009

The head of Kenya's largest Protestant church grouping, the Rev. Peter Karanja, says people who instigated violence after the disputed 2007 elections in the east African country must be held to account.

"Those who have wronged others must own up. Forgiveness works where people repent," said Karanja, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Churches of Kenya, on September 15 while launching a religious leaders' report on causes and implications of the 2007 election violence.

Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders, under the Inter-Religious Forum of Kenya, commissioned the report titled, Root Causes of the Post-election Violence, in March 2008.

The report says the violence was caused by inter-ethnic stereotypes, and the failure of the population to integrate, which led to feelings of victimization in communities that was directed at the regime. It estimates that 1,200 people lost their lives, 350,000 people were displaced and the violence cost at least 100 billion Kenya shillings.

"All reports that have addressed the post election situation have warned the country faced a very shaky future unless real and fundamental changes are done," Karanja, an Anglican, said at the launch of the report, noting there must be no false hopes as to the stability of the country. "We call on Kenyans not to leave this country to the political class."

Soon after President Mwai Kibaki was announced the winner of the December 2007 general elections, and was strongly criticized by opposition leader Raila Odinga, now Kenya's Prime Minister, several churches were attacked in the ensuing violence. Some were torched, but analysts say attacks on worship centers occurred because of ethnic animosity, not a dislike for any religion.

"Perpetrators meant to punish church leaderships for being partisan in politics," said Paul Mbatia, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi, who directed the research. "Only churches were burnt, because they were harboring the ejected community," said Mbatia.

In the report, religious leaders are advised to remain neutral on controversial issues, provide exemplary leadership and to act as whistle blowers for the poor and marginalized.

Some analysts have said that both former government and opposition elements were responsible for the violence after the disputed election and believe that prosecuting all those to blame for the violence could stoke more destruction, a view contrary to that of Karanja.

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