Inside Politics

AU joins clerics push for end to Ruto, Raila strife

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 06:50 | By
National Cohesion and Integration Commission chair Rev Dr Samuel Kobia addresses the press on the state of the nation at his office in Nairobi, yesterday. PD/alex mburu
National Cohesion and Integration Commission chair Rev Dr Samuel Kobia addresses the press on the state of the nation at his office in Nairobi, yesterday. PD/alex mburu

Calls for sobriety, an end to violent protests and the start of a dialogue between President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga took centre stage yesterday after Monday’s protests that degenerated into the torching of places of worship and invasion of private property owned by the Kenyatta and Odinga families.

The African Union, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), and religious and civil society leaders all rallied behind calls for a return to calm and dialogue.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang’ula criticised both the demonstrations, in which one person was killed in Kisumu, and the invasion of the Ruiru land. Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki also added his voice to the calls for calm, urging Kenyans to avoid Kenyans that would make the country slide into anarchy.

On its part, the NCIC called for an immediate stop to the anti-government demonstrations. “There are indeed deep issues we need to address from the cost of living, to the grinding poverty, structure inequalities and indeed even to issues of land ownership and equity,” NCIC said in a statement. However, it warned that these challenges were unlikely to be solved by shouting matches between government and opposition supporters.

Led by its chairman, Prof. Samuel Kobia, the commission urged both sides to engage in dialogue and address the issues bedeviling the country. “In so doing, put the interest of Kenya first and be mindful of the needs and aspirations of Wanjiku. Let’s stop violence and instead talk with each other also as Kenyan brothers and sisters and not enemies. As NCIC we are ready to initiate national conversations on the pressing issues,” said Kobia. He reiterated that only dialogue can address the deep underlying issues affecting Kenyans. He and the commission regretted that the demonstrations — which entered their second week on Monday and which continue tomorrow — had provided an opportunity for criminals to vandalise and destroy property. “While the Constitution allows for the right to demonstrate, it does not guarantee the right to perform illegal acts against people and property,” Kobia warned. “We are worried that such acts will escalate into tensions across ethnic lines and also hate speech.”

The African Union (AU) Commission, also added its voice, asking President Ruto and Raila to put their differences aside and engage in dialogue. The commission expressed concern over rising political temperatures in Kenya, reminding the leaders that the country’s political stability was paramount.

In a statement, AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki pledged his support to the government as it works towards national unity, peace and stability.

Economic activities

“AU expresses deep concern at violence following public protests in Kenya since March 21, 2023, which resulted in the loss of life, damage to property and the interruption of certain economic activities in Nairobi,” the AU boss said. “I urge all stakeholders to exercise calm and engage in dialogue to address any differences that may exist in the supreme interest of national unity and reconciliation.”

Faki recalled the successful conduct of Kenya’s August 2022 General Elections and the subsequent unanimous confirmation of the election outcome by the Supreme Court. “The chairperson reiterates the total solidarity with and support to the government and the people of Kenya’s efforts working towards national unity, peace and stability in the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, religious leaders under the aegis of the Inter Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) have condemned the arson attack on a church and mosque in Kibra, Nairobi, on Monday night, warning that such attacks could easily plunge the country into a civil war.

“We call on Ruto and Raila to have unconditional meet up and for discussions to quell the political tension in the country… They must meet and come together and talk, we demand,” said the clerics.

Led by Presbyterian Church of East Africa General Assembly Moderator Thegu Mutahi, the clerics jointly issued a statement after inspecting the destruction of the PCEA church and mosque which were torched by protesters on Monday night. “IRCK is weighed down by the unfortunate events that started Monday morning during the mass protests culminating to a night of arson, tears, anger and losses for Muslims and Christians,” the leaders said.

They urged Raila to call off demonstrations and use alternative approaches to handle the grievances he has raised against the government, including his demand that the electoral commission servers be opened for a forensic audit.

Mutahi also called for neutrality among religious leaders and other civil society actors. “We call on all religious leaders to fully engage political leaders in non-partisan ways for the good of the country and offer inter-religious support to national leadership,” said Mutahi. “Politicians should immediately stop aggressive political mobilisation aimed at destabilising national peace and security.”

Describing the arson attacks on the mosque and church as criminal acts, the clerics urged perpetrators to repent.  “We know that the government has its ways of apprehending perpetrators of a crime but for us, we want to hand them over to God for forgiveness. Even though we have recorded a huge loss, we do not have any revenge. The church belongs to God and one day they will repent and defend religion,” Mutahi said.

National Muslim Leaders Forum (NAMLEF) Chairperson Abdullahi Abdi called on leaders from both sides of the political divide to save the country from a looming catastrophe. “This particular moment, in this disturbed Kibra grounds, we call on all politicians to rise to higher grounds of sobriety and put the country first. We urge President Ruto to inclusively steady the ship of the State, he is the leader of this nation,” said Abdi.

Inflammatory language

He also called on Raila to rein in his supporters. “We urge him to refrain from making calls to his supporters about possible storming of State House. We are calling on politicians to refrain, cease and desist from using inflammatory language in political meetings and social media,” he said.

He blamed careless statements for the arson attacks on the religious institutions.

Sheikh Al Haji Hassan ole Nado, chairperson of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), said Kibra constituents had for long lived peacefully together and politics should not be allowed to cause a rift between them. “It is unfortunate that the incident (burning of a mosque and a church) is taking place during the Holy Month of Ramadhan. The people of Kibra should not be misled and used as tools for political fights,” he said.

Despite the pleas for a cooling of rhetoric, an unrelenting Raila blamed President Ruto and his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua for the escalation of the protests.

“All along, we saw it coming. When we launched Azimio la Umoja in the city of Nakuru in August 2021, we warned against pitting people against each other,” he said. “We warned against the seeds of a class war that were being planted pitting the poor against the rich, the young against the old, one faith against the other, tribe against tribe.

“But Ruto must make no mistake. This struggle will march on, stronger and mightier with his every response until our demands are met, including the cost of goods must come down, the (electoral) servers must be opened and that the reconstitution of the IEBC must be above board, consultative and bipartisan,” he said.

– Reports by George Kebaso, Edna Stanley, Irene Githinji and Alvin Mwangi

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