Kenya’s political leaders prayed and preached peace and tolerance amid rising political temperatures ahead of Saturday’s home-coming rally that Cord has organised for its leader, Mr Raila Odinga, and the rift in the Jubilee Coalition over the sharing of top civil service jobs.
The organisers of the annual National Prayer Breakfast, stressed the need to “do things right” and stop the greed, corruption, negative ethnicity and terrorism that have cast a pall over the nation.
The breakfast meeting at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi was an occasion for sombre reflection but also offered light moments.
President Uhuru Kenyatta criticised the political class, of which he is a member, for hypocrisy.
“If only half the people in this room, just half, just took up the messages we have been given today, this country would change within one year,” said President Kenyatta.
“If we left this room today and just committed ourselves to go out and practise what has been preached here by ourselves as leaders, then we’ll have a great country and great prosperity and a great future for the people of this country,” he said.
President Kenyatta set aside his prepared remarks and delivered a short speech at the end of the annual breakfast meeting.
“Let it not be that we stand here, we say great things but what we read, what we hear coming from the same leadership in our dailies, on radio stations, in public rallies…is completely contrary from what we have preached here,” he said.
Before giving his speech, the President led the gathering in singing Blessed Assurance at the insistence of Deputy President William Ruto.
The President’s statements came two days before a rally organised by the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy at Uhuru Park to welcome Mr Odinga home from his two-month stay in the US.
President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition has accused Cord leaders of incitement and hate speech at opposition rallies held in the past two weeks at Kibera, Mlolongo and Baba Dogo.
Cord has criticised the government’s handling of the security situation, payments for Anglo Leasing contracts and public appointments.
Notable absentees were opposition leaders Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula.
Mr Ruto preached against hate, negative ethnicity, mismanagement and corruption.
“We’ve travelled that road and we know where it takes us; to division and to anarchy and to backwardness. We committed ourselves that we’ll never travel that road again and we meant it. We will not travel that road again so that all of us must be responsible, must be careful in what they say and in what they do,” he said.
“Those of us in government leadership must govern with fairness and equity and those entrusted with the leadership of the Opposition must do so with responsibility, knowing very well that we are doing this for our country.”
Kenyans, he said, should pursue unity, integrity, sacrifice and working together, which would lead to a shared prosperity.
“As we talk about my village, my religion, my community, just know that those who don’t belong to your village, your community or your religion, belong to your country and they are children of one God,” he said.
Former United States ambassador Scott Gration, now the vice-president of The Ibex Group Ltd, said Kenya had a lot of potential because of its strategic geographic location and its hardworking citizens.
“East Africa’s future is very bright and I truly believe now is the time to be flocking to Kenya and not fleeing its borders,” said the guest speaker.
“We know that terrorism is a terrible scourge and it must be defeated but we must shun the political finger-pointing and become part of the solution. We must all work and unite. We must make it too hard for terrorists to operate in our spaces,” he said. “A safer and more secure nation is everyone’s responsibility, not just the job of the security forces.”
Mr Ekwee Ethuro, the Senate Speaker, said the prayers “are not something we’re doing just to feel good.”
“We want our leadership to know that what breaks God’s own heart breaks our hearts. We have come here to plead for those favours from God,” he said.
Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama said all leaders should be on a mission to do things right.
“Let us not ask what is it that is in it for me but what is it that will help our people. Our aim is the delivery of services to the people,” he said.
Kenyans on Twitter started two trending topics #Nationalprayerbreakfast and #BreakfastOfHyenas, to comment on the prayers but opinions were sharply divided.
While some of the people who posted their comments were highly critical of the leadership, others were more tolerant while some were simply sarcastic.
The Prayer Breakfast is aimed at seeking spiritual national healing and reconciliation through prayers and social interaction.