Kenyan church leaders urge peace ahead of elections

(Photo: American Anglican Council)The Rev. Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya is seen in a file photo.

Kenyan church leaders have called for peaceful March elections that will stress unity and tolrance, urging an avoidance of the post-poll violence that blighted the voting in 2007.

The head of Kenya's Anglican church urged all Kenyan's to pray for peace, unity and tolerance ahead of the nation's March 4 elections, calling on them to 'overcome the lingering bitterness' from violence that has marked previous elections.

The Rev. Eliud Wabukala called for prayer for "healing and reconciliation" among Kenyans in a statement on Friday. More than 1,300 people died in 2007 following elections and as many as 250,000 were displaced, the Anglican Communion News Service reported.

"Kenyans need to pray for healing and reconciliation in order to overcome the lingering bitterness from past violence," he said. "Let all Kenyans pray for peace, unity and tolerance. This is a call to fervent, concerted prayer for our nation, her potential leaders and citizens."

Earlier, Kenya's Roman Catholic leader Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, the archbishop of Kisumu said, "The entire leadership of the Catholic Church shall remain non-partisan in the forthcoming general elections because as a church we are interested in the unity of all Kenyans."

Okoth is the president of the Episcopal Commission 'Justice and Peace', and was speaking at the launch of a Lenten campaign: "United and peaceful Kenya - The change I want to see".

After the last parliamentary and presidential elections held late December 2007, some churches were accused of playing a divisive roe.

"To achieve this goal of unity, as Kenyans we have to accept, appreciate and respect the social, cultural and religious differences of individuals, group and peoples," said Archbishop Okoth.

 Wabukala noted the elections in 2007 were marked by "animosity, tensions and violence."

"We exhort Kenyans to seize the moment and do it differently this time by shunning violence," he said.

He also called on Kenyans to examine candidates for office to ensure that the country "is led at all levels by men and women who have humility and lead with integrity, transparency, and accountability."

At a recent presidential debate, a pair of top candidates condemned ethnically charged politics in the country.

Current Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in the televised event that "ethnicity is a disease of the elite," according to the New York Times. He said he stood for a "Kenya for all, not just for a few elite."

Uhuro Kenyatta, another leading candidate, had similar thoughts. "Tribalism is a cancer that has afflicted this country for a very long time," he said. "It has been a source of conflict and death."

Protestants account for about 45 percent of Kenya's 43 million people while some 33 percent are Catholics. About 10 percent of  Kenya's population are Muslims.

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