KENYA: Religious leaders castigate president and prime minister

February 19, 2009

Religious leaders in Kenya have castigated their president, Mwai Kibaki, and prime minister, Raila Odinga, saying that citizens are dispirited, embarrassed and bitter with their leadership.

"We are concerned enough even to rise up and march in the streets against our political leaders," Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi told a national prayer rally on February 19 what is seen as one of the strongest messages from the faith community to Kenya's political leaders.

"But before we march and demonstrate against corruption," said Nzimbi, "we have said we would come before God and pray together."

The government announced the national prayer rally after a supermarket fire in Nairobi and a fuel tanker blaze in Sachang'wan, near the western Kenyan town of Eldoret, resulted in the deaths of 160 people. Kenya is also experiencing a lethal drought affecting nearly 10 million people, which was also upheld in prayer.

Abdulgafur Al-Busaidy, the chairperson of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, said at the prayer meeting that political leaders had become the greatest threat to peace and development in the east African country. "You have led the people towards conflict. As a result, Kenya is tinkering at the brink of self-destruction," warned Al-Busaidy.

Religious leaders said the coalition government inaugurated in 2008 has failed to end corruption. Kibaki stayed on as president and Odinga became prime minister in the government set up after widespread violence followed a disputed election at the end of 2007. The faith leaders also say the government has not united and reconciled the nation, nor has it curbed insecurity.

"For 45 years, the people have yearned for a better tomorrow. They have dreamt of leaders who will inspire them to overcome poverty, disease, ignorance and bad governance," the Rev. Peter Karanja, the general secretary of Kenya's National Council of Churches, said at the rally. "Every regime that had been sworn in has been greeted with enthusiasm and expectation. But the hope has often turned into disillusionment."

The Rev. Boniface Odoyo, head of the 10 million-member Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, told political leaders, "We urge you to take charge and restore the dignity and unity, equity and justice for all." He said Kenyans are "discouraged, ashamed, disillusioned and angry."

Kibaki, who was present at the prayer rally, however, dismissed the claims, telling the faith leaders not to apportion blame, but to help build Kenya.

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