A crowd cheered loudly on Thursday as President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga endured a blistering attack from Kenya’s key religious leaders during national prayers for Nakumatt and Molo fire victims.
In some of their strongest public attacks against the country’s leadership, religious leaders from all the major faiths took turns to dress down President Kibaki and Mr Odinga over the failure to punish corruption in high places, to deal with extra judicial killings by the police and to resettle thousands made homeless by election violence.
The religious leaders, who shared the stage in Nairobi with the two Grand Coalition principals and addressed them directly also complained about tribalism and lack of national reconciliation.
Even as the President and Prime Minister appeared uncomfortable, the religious leaders, through the Inter-Religious Forum, railed against impunity, food shortages and the slow pace of reforms since the two leaders signed a deal that resulted in the formation of a Grand Coalition Government in February 2008.
“When you joined hands to sign the National Accord, Kenyans expected the best leadership ever. However, Kenyans are concerned that they are witnessing the opposite,” Bishop Boniface Adoyo of Evangelical Alliance of Kenya said. “They are discouraged, ashamed, disillusioned and angry.”
When he stood up to address the gathering during the national prayers, President Kibaki only told the religious leaders that they had chosen the wrong forum to direct their criticism. The stinging indictment mirrors closely a damning report of government performance released recently.
The report by South Consulting urged President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to take charge of the affairs of government and push through wide-ranging reforms to avoid a repeat of the 2007 elections crisis. The “Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Monitoring Project” report also says most Kenyans want poll chaos suspects to be prosecuted either by a local tribunal or the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
In the lead-up to the 2008 General Election, religious leaders were divided between those supporting President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.
On Thursday, they said that after much soul searching and self-reflection, they had come together to push for stronger and more focused leadership to save the country.
The statement by religious leaders came out of a series of meetings over the past month. They met on Thursday morning at KICC to agree on the contents of the statement.
It was a reminder of the criticism former President Daniel arap Moi faced from religious leaders in the last 10 years of his rule, but even then, the attacks were not captured publicly on live television. Amid wild applause, the religious leaders tore into the two principals, for failing to meet the expectations of Kenyans.
Others who read the hard-hitting “Message from the religious leaders” during the function at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi were Prof Abdulghafur El-Busaidy of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, National Council of Churches of Kenya secretary general Peter Karanja and Mr Rashmin Chitnis of the Hindu Council.
The statement also had the support of the Anglican Church of Kenya whose Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi was present, the Catholic Church, whose John Cardinal Njue was listed in the programme but did not attend and Seventh Day Adventist, among others.
“You have been reluctant to punish your friends who are greedy; you have neglected the internally displaced persons; you have not acted decisively on insecurity and extra-judicial killings,” the groups told President Kibaki and Mr Odinga.
Kenyans had hoped, they said, the two “would unite the diverse ethnic communities into one united nation of Kenya; that they would punish those who break the law even if they are your friends; that you would turn your faces from corruption and greed; that you would resettle the internally displaced persons back to their homes; that you would facilitate the creation of jobs for the unemployed especially the youth.”
Kenyans, they added, were witnessing disagreements within the Grand Coalition instead of cohesion and that there have been little or no effort towards healing and reconciliation.
In a show of their anger to President Kibaki and Mr Odinga, the religious leaders said Kenyans were disillusioned with their leadership and that they should now take responsibility for the status of the nation.
“We urge you to take charge and restore the dignity and unity, equity and justice for all the people of Kenya. We pray that God will help you to lead Kenya to overcome the challenges facing our nation with courage and devotion,” they added.
Unlike Mr Odinga, who in his two-minute speech only said the blame game would always be there when the country was in a crisis, President Kibaki chose to hit back at the religious leaders saying they were part of the problems facing Kenya. “Stop looking for someone to blame,” he told them. “It’s not that you are holy and you are not guilty at all.”
The Grand Coalition Government has been on the spot over the controversial sale of Grand Regency (now Laico Regency) Hotel, the vanishing of millions of litres of fuel from a Nairobi depot and the mishandling of maize stocks.
Religious leaders accused political leaders of dividing Kenyans on tribal lines, leading them to conflict and bribing, intimidating, manipulating and forcing their followers into submission and servitude.
MPs were accused of increasing their salaries and allowances and refusing to pay taxes. Although the religious leaders applauded the “great work done” by the media in exposing corruption scandals, they criticised them for “oppressing their staff” and “employing non-professionals who have no sense of ethics.”
The event raised more than Sh80 million for victims of the Nakumatt and Molo fire tragedies in one of the biggest fundraisers in Kenya’s recent history.
Public institutions donated a huge portion of the Sh80,771,101.25. The organising committee had hoped to raise at least Sh150 million but chairman Naushad Merali described the result as excellent and appealed to the private sector to help meet the target.