NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan Catholic bishops said they fear widespread violence in the next general elections.
"If the violence, the allegation of bribery, suspicions, accusations and counter-accusations, rejection of results and general acrimony ... are anything to go by, then (we) have a reason to be very worried over the forthcoming general elections," Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a news conference at the end of the bishops' general meeting in late April.
The bishops said the nominations — announced in late April for Aug. 8 elections — had sounded the alarm, while sending worrying signs of another violent election in the making.
Anyolo urged Kenyans to pay attention and address the situation as a matter of urgency and concern. He also delivered parts of the bishops' final statement, which addressed peaceful and credible elections, leaders' integrity, insecurity and drought. It cautioned youth against being used by aspirants to kill, maim or cause violence.
The August elections come nearly a decade after the violence that followed the disputed December 2007 elections. More than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced.
"The fear of widespread violence erupting cannot be ignored. We are witnessing that communities are beginning to be suspicious of another," said Anyolo.
The bishops outlined characteristics of people to vote for, including "God-fearing" leaders with integrity who look out for the good of all. They said people should not vote for candidates who promote violence and hate speech and take bribes.
At the same time, the bishops said they were disturbed by insecurity in several parts of the country, including Baringo, Laikipia, Marsabit and Turkana regions, where farmers have clashed over drought-reduced resources.
In Laikipia, armed herders have been storming privately owned ranches in search of grass and water for their livestock.
On April 23, Kuki Gallmann, a famous 73-year-old Italian-born Kenyan conservationist and author, was shot by armed raiders as she patrolled her ranch.
"There is a lot of animosity between the ranchers and the herders in the area. It is based on competition for resources. We hope once the rains come, things will calm down," said Father Martin Ndegwa, a priest in Nanyuki parish.
While the current drought is blamed for the violence, its sustained occurrence during the elections gives an impression that the violence is politically instigated, said the bishops.
Although calm has returned in Baringo County, where hundreds were displaced recently in a conflict between farmers and herders, many are yet to go back to their homes.
"There is still much fear. Small numbers are still camping in churches. Others have moved in with relatives," said Father Augustine Kipkemei, the priest in charge of Kipsarman parish in Baringo. "The relatives are coming to church asking for help to feed (extended family)."