Kenyan churches call for fresh elections to tackle political crisis

By Ecumenical News International
March 21, 2009

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) is calling for fresh elections in the east African country due to what it claims is a crisis of leadership and bad governance under President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"The impression and expression of most Kenyans is that they have a moribund president and an ineffective prime minister," said the council's general secretary, the Rev Peter Karanja, in Limeru near Nairobi on 18 March. "We are convinced Kenyans should call for new elections now to replace the current parliament."

Kibaki, a Roman Catholic, and Odinga, an Anglican, agreed on a coalition government a year ago, after mediation by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan following weeks of violence that came after disputed elections at the end of 2007. About 1500 people lost their lives in the unrest and another 300,000 were driven from their homes.

Karanja said the coalition government is not working. "Ministers spend their time quarrelling about peripheral issues, rather than undertaking their duties," he said.

He recommended downsizing the cabinet, taxing all holders of constitutional offices, and imposing severe punishment on government officers who misuse public resources.

At the same time, the NCCK has launched a campaign to get one million signatures on a petition calling on Annan to make public the names on a list of those suspected of leading the post-election violence.

The former United Nations secretary-general was given the list by a commission of inquiry into the unrest. The church council also wants the alleged perpetrators to face prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"Had Kenyans had faith in the judiciary, the post-election violence would never have happened," said Karanja. "However, the judiciary continues to display a lethargy that is making Kenyans seek justice elsewhere."

The call for elections has been strongly contested by some politicians.

"Religious leaders have no business calling for elections as the matter is guided by the constitution," said the speaker of Kenya's parliament, Kenneth Marende.

Richard Onyonka, an assistant minister for foreign affairs, said, "If they say, 'Let's hold elections now', does that mean they want the president to abdicate from the constitution? Why are they sounding so naïve?"

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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