Church leaders warn of violence in Kenya


NAIROBI - Tensions are running high in parts of Rift Valley and Northern Kenya as the government rolls out a massive security operation to ensure peace ahead of the August 4th constitutional referendum.

As citizens have chosen sides on the proposed constitution, the country has once again split along sectarian, ethnic and political lines, setting the stage for a violent disaster like what occurred after the disputed 2007 presidential elections. 

During the post-election violence in 2007, armed gangs and youth engaged in violent acts where more that 1,300 people were killed and about 500-thousand uprooted from their homes in these “hot spots”.

The new consitution is controversial in part because it would, for the first time ever in Kenya, allow abortions to save the life of a mother.  The abortion clause has mobilized the religious community, even as it has polarized voters. 

Head of Deliverance Church Bishop Mark Kariuki has already raised the red flag on potentially violent “hot spots” in the Rift Valley province, prompting residents of the Rift Valley to start moving to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.

A survey conducted recently by Peace and Development Network Trust (PeaceNet Kenya) on behalf of National Cohesion Commission, identified 29 hot spots, including Mathare and Kibera in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, and a host of cities scattered through the Rift Valley.

The leaders opposed to the proposed constitution say tension in the volatile Rift Valley province follows the familiar pattern of intimidation witnessed in 2007, with the distribution of leaflets threatening eviction of people considered “outsiders”.

Kenya’s National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) believes that religious leaders are correct. NSIS is concerned about the early signs of possible outbreak of violence, and security forces have begun deploying in the most volatile regions.

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), led by Secretary General Rev. Peter Karanja is publicly opposed to the proposed new constitution on moral grounds.

The Council has called on political leaders supporting the draft laws - especially Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Premier Raila Odinga - to recognize that there are contentious issues in the document that should be addressed before the referendum.  

According to the Police spokesman Eric Kiraither, the government learned its lessons from 2007.  Kiraither said the government has deployed intelligence officers from the regular and administration police forces.

Commentators say the impending conflict is likely to revolve around land and militias in those areas, as well as opposing views on the proposed constitution.

[Photo is of an Internally Displaced Persons Camp.]

Africa, ConflictChris Khisa