YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Faith leaders in Kenya are warning against continued violent demonstrations, saying they could lead the country on the path to self-destruction.
Demonstrations this week against the high cost of living have left at least 23 people dead, according to a spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office, Jeremy Laurence.
“The UN Human Rights Office is very concerned by the widespread violence, and allegations of unnecessary or disproportionate use of force, including the use of firearms, by police during protests in Kenya. Reports say up to 23 people have been killed and dozens injured in the demonstrations in the past week,” Laurence said in a statement July 14.
More than 300 people have been arrested in connection with the protests.
Opposition leader Raila Omolo Odinga, who called for the protests, has promised more demonstrations next week, and that forecast has caught the attention of Church leaders in the East African country.
In a collective statement July 14, a cross-section of religious leaders, including representatives of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), cautioned President William Ruto against allowing the country to descend on the path of an insurrection.
“The suffering individual Kenyans are experiencing is pushing them into hopelessness that can easily inspire insurrection,” said the religious leaders, in the statement signed by the Chairman of KCCB, Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde, NCCK Chairman Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki, and SUPKEM chairman Al Hajj Hassan Ole Naado,
“Your Excellency, do not allow this country to go down this path,” they urged.
Noting that the country was on a “downward spiral into the abyss,” the clerics called on Ruto to reverse the trend “by adopting policies and strategies that give Kenyans hope while addressing the economic challenge in both short and long terms.”
Ruto signed a Finance Act 2023 last month that raised taxes in a country already reeling from the rising prices of basic commodities. In response, Odinga, whom Ruto defeated in elections last year, called for nation-wide protests in what has been seen as an effort to force the government into collapse.
The clerics called on President Ruto to repeal the Finance Act 2023 “so as to review the heavy taxation burden it imposes on Kenyans.” The bill not only introduced new taxes, but it also doubled the tax on fuel.
“Maintaining the prevailing tax levels will give citizens a chance to recover their livelihoods and inspire hope for the future,” they said.
“As religious leaders, we have listened to Kenyans and recognize that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. It is time for us to ‘Take Our Country Back.’ We must not allow the selfish interests of political leaders to destroy our homeland and push us into destitution.”
Addressing Odinga, the religious leaders underscored the need for him “to overhaul the tactical approach adopted by the Azimio la Umoja coalition, recognizing that the current push for mass action is pushing the country into insurrection.” Azimio la Umoja is the political alliance and party headed by Raila Odinga.
“The tension, violence, and shedding of blood are making the situation worse for the people of Kenya, rather than solving the problems they are struggling with,” they said, in attempts to appeal to Odinga’s sense of restraint.
The faith leaders further bemoaned the destruction of businesses as well as public and private properties which, they said, was further “pushing the cost of living higher, not lower.” They urged Odinga “to embrace dialogue and consultations as a strategy for addressing grievances so as to promote reconciliation.”
“Let us all resist the incitement and provocation to engage in violence and destruction which will destroy who we are and what our nation stands for,” they said.
“Since we are all hurting from the high cost of living, our best approach is to embrace non-violence as we demand better laws and policies.”
They appealed to Ruto to “hear the cry of the people of Kenya,” and guided by the Wisdom of God found in the Bible, give careful attention to the needs of the people.
They called for the rule of law and an end to impunity, and urged the president to “open the way for dialogue and consultations as a way of addressing the longstanding and deep-seated grievances in the country so as to promote healing and reconciliation.”
Addressing the people of Kenya, the religious leaders offered condolences for families that lost loved ones in the demonstrations.
“We are also praying for a speedy recovery for all who have been injured, and those who have lost livelihoods and properties,” they said.
“Let us declare that no more blood of Kenyans should be shed!” they said.