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Tutu joins church-backed bid to end Kenya’s violence

Peacemaker Desmond Tutu is visiting Kenya

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu has arrived in Kenya to assist in a church-backed bid aimed at stemming the violent reaction to the country’s presidential election results and reaching a peaceful outcome to the political crisis.

"I appeal to both leaders to meet and talk about points of disagreement," said Tutu on his arrival in Nairobi from South Africa on 3 February.

The former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town had said he was responding to a call by Mvume Dandala, a former leader of South Africa’s Methodist Church and now general secretary of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches who is among church leaders seeking to play a peacemaking role. Violence erupted after it was announced that President Mwai Kibaki had won in what was seen as a close vote in the election for president held on 27 December.

Global church leaders on 2 January said they were appalled at the violence in Kenya following elections. The general secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, himself a Kenyan, called for an immediate independent investigation of the electoral dispute that must be monitored by international observers.

"Now is the time to put the interests of the nation and the surrounding region above other concerns," said Kobia.

The general secretary of the 66-million strong Lutheran World Federation, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, in a statement from Geneva urged the leaders of Kenya’s major political parties to "urgently pursue constructive dialogue to end the impasse." Noko, a Zimbabwean, said, "There can be no political justification for the loss of life, senseless destruction of homes and property, and insecurity that have resulted from this violence," which has resulted in as many as 100 000 people being displaced.

"The democratic political transition that Kenya has undergone during its recent history offered a concrete expression of the long-proclaimed Africa renaissance," said Noko. "Today, tragically, the light of this beacon of hope is being extinguished by the post-election violence targeting certain ethnic communities."

Kenyan Muslim leaders also called for restraint, urging those affected to seek redress in the courts.

"What we need now is peace as no development can be achieved at times of chaos. Kenyans should know that acts of violence would impact negatively on our economy," said Muhdhar Khitamy of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

Christians account for about 77 percent of Kenya’s 37 million people, while about 10 percent of the population are Muslims.

Dandala, who played a peace-making role during South Africa’s transition to democracy in the early 1990s, told journalists that Tutu had been invited to head the delegation because of his international reputation as a peacemaker. "He could assist us to find a peaceful solution. It is not so much as mediating as encouraging people to talk," said Dandala.

Nairobi’s recently appointed cardinal, Archbishop John Njue, added his voice to those urging a halt to the violence in which more than 300 have reportedly been killed in the five days since Kenya’s Electoral Commission, a supervisory body, announced that Kibaki had won.

"We have witnessed with deep concern the outbreak of violence and the breakdown of law and order that has led to numerous deaths, injuries and destruction of property," said Kenya’s Catholic bishops in a statement read by Njue on 2 January in Nairobi.

Calm was returning to Nairobi and most major towns in the country, but the bishops said they want Kibaki and his Party of National Unity and his main challenger, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement, to talk peace.

"Our dear people, Kenya is ours, together. It is time to stop and reflect on the consequences of our actions," said the bishops. "We appeal to political leaders [Kibaki and Odinga] to reach out to one another through dialogue in order to seek a solution to the present situation."

The bishops also suggested the establishment of an independent commission to audit and review the tallying of presidential and parliamentary polls, in which Odinga says he won and that Kibaki rigged to win. Kibaki backers have also said Odinga had been involved in instances of electoral malpractice.

One incident that has particularly shocked Kenyans is the burning to death of at least 30 people who were seeking refuge in a church near Eldoret in the Rift Valley Province when a mob set fire to the building. The Assemblies of God Church was razed to ashes, and those who tried to flee were chased and hacked to death in an area known for its history of ethnic violence.

"They said we must pay for our decision to vote for Kibaki," the Daily Nation newspaper quoted Joseph Kamande, a survivor, as saying.

Ecumenical News International

Photo : Peacemaker Desmond Tutu is visiting Kenya