Vote wisely, seek peace, bishops say ahead of Kenya's elections

Religious and clergy at meeting with Pope Francis at St Marys School in Nairobi Kenya on Nov 26 2015 Credit Martha Calderon CNA 11 26 15 Bishops attending a meeting of religious and clerics with Pope Francis at St. Mary's School in Nairobi, Nov. 26, 2015. | Martha Calderon/CNA.

With Kenya's elections fast approaching, the country's Catholic bishops are asking voters to choose wisely and encouraging all Kenyans to pray for peace.

"We are calling upon all Kenyans to seize this opportunity to exercise our constitutional right and give ourselves leaders of integrity," Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chairman of the Kenyan bishops' conference, said on behalf of Kenya's bishops July 28.

"We need to create a peaceful environment, to demonstrate our patriotism for our wonderful country, and ensure that all parts of Kenya are in peace," he added.

The bishops' letter ahead of the Aug. 8 elections takes its title from Jeremiah 29:7, "Seek Peace and Prosperity." They called on all Kenyans to join in prayer for their country, and a novena for peaceful elections will take place July 30-Aug. 7.

"Peace, Peace, Peace," the bishops repeated.

Voicing appreciation for the relatively peaceful manner of the political campaigns, the bishops urged candidates to continue to conduct themselves "with decorum and sobriety" in the interests of national unity.

Kenya's 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced 700,000.

The bishops appealed to young people "to restrain themselves from violence and instead be the agents of peace."

"We exhort them to uphold to the culture of peace and engage in activities of peace-building," they said.

The bishops pledged to work closely with election observers, state agencies, and non-state actors involved in the election.

The bishops praised the achievements of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and encouraged it to secure just, fair, credible and peaceful elections.

The run-up to the election has been marred by the apparent torture and killing of Chris Msando, a systems development manager at the elections commission, the Catholic News Agency for Africa reports. He had been scheduled to test the technology involved in voting and tallying the election results on July 31. His body was found on the outskirts of Nairobi.

The killing was denounced as "barbaric" by the bishops.
"Life is sacred and only God who gives it freely should take it away when He so desires," they said.

The bishops also addressed the media, calling them a "very crucial actor" in the electoral process, and encouraging the media to show continued professionalism and commitment to fulfilling its duties.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta is seeking re-election.

In his 2013 race for the presidency, he and his deputy William Ruto had been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. His campaign prompted warnings from the U.S. and U.K. governments if he were elected, BBC News reports.

However, the warnings did not have much consequence. He mobilized many African leaders to pressure the international court. Both cases were dropped due to a lack of evidence, with the International Criminal Court saying prosecution witnesses were intimidated and the cases could resume.

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Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first president, has portrayed his 72-year-old opponent Raila Odinga as an agent of foreign governments who works to serve former colonial powers. He has also portrayed Odinga as an "analog generation" of politicians who must make way for the younger "digital generation." His family owns a TV channel, a newspaper, and a number of radio stations, among many other business interests.

Odinga, a son of Kenya's first vice-president, is making his fourth bid for the presidency. He has had different policies alliances in his career and is now running under the National Super Alliance, a coalition of Kenya's main opposition groups. He aims to win drawing from his ethnic community, the Luo, as well as the Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba groups.

Odinga studied to be a mechanical engineer in former East Germany, and was MP for Africa's biggest slum, Kibera. He was imprisoned for attempting to stage a coup in 1982 against a one-party dictatorship. Though he initially denied the claim, he admitted his central role in a 2006 book. He was imprisoned from 1982-1988 and 1989-1991.

He has promised to serve only one term in office and has convinced many potential rivals to back his candidacy instead.

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