NAIROBI, Kenya — Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 elections, the country’s Catholic bishops warned about the potential for inflammatory language and politician-driven ethnic tensions to add to violence and endanger the country.
“The well-being and prosperity of our country depends on all of us,” the bishops said in a Nov. 11 statement.
“This is the only Kenya we have, and we must guard our liberties jealously so that those who come after us will find a country where there is peace and harmony. We should never allow a few individuals to spoil the peace in Kenya and interfere with our inheritance.”
“Together we can build a country that is just and free from corruption, a country that is orderly and respects the rule of law and a country where the dignity of every person is respected and valued,” they added.
The statement, titled “For Love of our country, work for peace and unity,” was signed by Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to the Catholic News Agency for Africa.
The bishops stressed the need for peaceful elections, voicing concern about “the resurgence of violence, confrontational languages and hate speeches.” They warned such habits could return the country to the period of 2007-2008 when civil conflict became a real concern.
Kenyans should avoid a tribalistic mentality where voters decide to elect “one of our own” at the expense of other communities, they advised.
“We wish to caution, again and again, our politicians to avoid inflammatory language, and the tendency to set one community against the other,” the bishops continued, asking leaders to promote harmony and peace.
“Politicians are tearing into one another and making dangerous statements capable of whipping up ethnic tensions, clashes and violent political rivalry,” the bishops said. “Accusations and counter accusations are being traded at the expense of the truth.”
“The lives of Kenyans are very precious and anybody threatening or attacking them has no place in any decent and civilized society. We condemn these acts of violence in the strongest terms and we call for the arrest of any person inflicting violence and continuous suffering to others.”
Among the topics the bishops’ letter addressed was the issue of politics in church.
“The Church is called to be the conscience of the society. Consequently those working in the Church must be seen to be above party politics,” they said. “We call upon the clergy not to use the Church or the pulpit to promote any political candidate.”
The bishops would not allow churches and church functions to be used as campaign platforms and “forums of hate speech.”
“As much as politicians and those aspiring to elective positions are free to worship and pray where they want, they should not use such opportunities to make their campaign statements,” said the bishops.
Another topic of concern was terrorist attacks in regions that border Somalia and efforts to radicalize or recruit youth.
“The intention of these evil people is clear – to create animosity between Christians and Muslims in this country,” the bishops said. “We should never succumb to this temptation for evil can only be overcome by good.”
The bishops lamented “perpetual infighting” among elected leaders and the “disease” of corruption, an evil “that seems to be perpetrated without shame or fear.”
They spoke as Kenya’s Ministry of Health faces allegations of mismanagement.
“Tolerating corruption and letting those considered ‘untouchable’ free to loot the taxpayers’ money for the sake of political expediency shows weak leadership in the fight against corruption,” the bishops said.
On the topic of education, the bishops said children should receive a religious education from the time they start school so that they become “respectful, God-fearing, hardworking, honest and orderly people.”
“We must reject outside interference from those who are bent to derail our young people from our God given values that are at the heart of our moral fabric,” they said, rejecting the exclusion of religious education and sex education that lacks the context of good values.
“We call upon all our Catholics and all people of good will to pray for Kenya so that we can have peace and build a one united nation,” their statement concluded. “God bless Kenya!”