Religious Leaders’ Role in Election Preparedness in Kenya

With less than four months to the August 2022 General Election, politics in Kenya is at its fever pitch. While competitive elections are a symbol of democracy, Kenya’s elections have always been a flashpoint for conflict and violence. The country’s post-independence history is replete with recurring episodes of election-related violence in which thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands, more have been internally displaced.

The religious sector has a 73% trust and confidence of the people of Kenya and can consolidate this goodwill into a big resource for guiding the country towards redemptive actions that are needed in this period before, during and after the 2022 General Election.

Religious Leaders play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, opinions, and behaviors, due to the trust that their congregations and other members of the society give them and have played a key role in addressing Kenya’s history of violent elections which dates back to 1992 when the country adopted multi-party politics. The worst crisis was witnessed in the 2007 election, in which people lost their lives, and others were displaced across the country, with this in mind faith leaders can play a critical role in raising awareness and influencing attitudes, behaviors, and practices in the communities. During electioneering periods, ethnic divisions escalate, fueled by political rhetoric by politicians aiming to influence voting patterns that favour such politicians. Many issues that led to the outbreak of violence in the 2007 elections remain thorny. These include historical injustices such as ancestral land rights, inequitable distribution of wealth (economic inequalities), skewed allocation of national resources, lack of political inclusivity (lack of involvement of masses in decision making on national matters) and perceived dominance of certain ethnic communities (in the political and economic arena). Other existing underlying issues which could fuel violence include perceived impunity in the two levels of government, perceived high-level corruption and mismanagement of national resources, nepotism and eroded trust in the system of justice. Using their position, ability and credibility the men of God can shape social values in line with faith-based teachings to curb hate and political intolerance among the people.

Faith-Based Organizations possess certain aspects that make them effective in being involved in processes that improve voter participation and civic education, which creates a stronger democracy and aids in electing leaders with values that enhance this democracy. There is an increasing perception that institutions are inadequately prepared to manage the elections in a credible way. A similar scenario was observed in 2007, when the election body was perceived as incompetent, leading to a loss of confidence in presidential election results, a total collapse of the process and an outbreak of violence. Faith leaders should capitalize on their trustworthiness and credibleness, and their shared and respected set of values, to leverage and enhance democracy in Kenya and confidence in the election bodies. Due to their grassroots reach, faith leaders have a better and clear understanding of the local context, presence in local communities and local legitimacy therefore should cascade these messages to the grassroots. 

The religious sector has a 73% trust and confidence of the people of Kenya and can consolidate this goodwill into a big resource for guiding the country towards redemptive actions that are needed in this period before, during and after the 2022 General Election.

“Carefully assess and vet the persons aspiring to be elected to different positions. Purpose to only vote for persons who have high moral standards and have clear plans of action.”- Archbishop Martin Kivuva, DRG Chair

The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) through its state and non-state actors has collaborated to ensure that the country has fair, free, credible and peaceful elections. Through religious leaders, they have met various stakeholders to ensure that there is political tolerance and that communities are existing peacefully before, during and even after the elections. Kenyan politics almost always have an ethnic dimension and various parties are likely to manipulate their support bases before, during, and after election day, this combined with low levels of access to reliable information sources, the political landscape is likely to become all the more unsafe. In this regard, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya has collaborated in the election and peace-related activities, particularly civic education for Religious leaders. During this period there will also be an increase in harmful rumours and misinformation thus religious leaders have committed and resulted in using different platforms including congregational platforms to spread peace and hope messages. In 2017, IRCK prepared a guide on electing leaders with values and plans to develop products and disseminate the booklet including messages of peace to explain the role of religious leaders in promoting peace and cohesion. This will help in creating awareness among religious leaders and their congregants about the role they play in keeping the peace.

“We all have an opportunity to prevent violence and contribute to a peaceful election by engaging citizens in monitoring, verifying, and countering the spread of harmful rumours and misinformation. We should stand as one nation and aim to expand Kenya while setting up an early warning system to help people navigate dangerous situations and survive violence if it does happen. Being an election year, everyone is fighting for peace and unity so that we can have credible elections that every Kenyan can agree with.” – Fr. Joseph Mutie, IRCK Chair. 

Religious Leaders and faith institutions have stayed and should stay committed to engagements and active participation in guiding Kenyans in line with our moral and spiritual obligations. We all have a duty and role to play in ensuring the sanctity of life is protected and giving hope to Kenyans.

By Mwende Nzau

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