Kenyans relieved as opposition suspends deadly anti-government protests on Palm Sunday, following bishops’ appeal for truce

By Fredrick Nzwili | OSV News

NAIROBI, Kenya (OSV News) — Catholics in Kenya began Holy Week with a sigh of relief after the opposition called off violent anti-government protests. Protests that started March 20 left at least three people dead, property destroyed and places of worship torched.

On April 2, amid Catholic bishops’ and other religious leaders’ relentless push for dialogue, President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga agreed to talk. Ruto had offered an “olive branch” and proposed a bipartisan parliamentary process. Odinga had agreed to the process, but warned of further protests if this failed.

“We welcome the leaders’ agreement to talks. It is very necessary at the moment,” Bishop Wilybard Kitogho Lagho of Malindi told OSV News April 3. “The protests were starting to negatively impact the economy. Moreover, not all Kenyans can differentiate between peaceful protests and looting.”

Earlier, Catholics across the country had held Palm Sunday processions peacefully, but a cloud of fear hung low over the next day’s protests. Three previous mass protests had turned violent, leaving at least three people killed, 400 wounded and some businesses looted.

On April 2, Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, warned in a statement that Christians were entering the most sacred time in their calendar and that it should be respected.

Riot police officers detain a supporter of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Azimio la Umoja Kenya coalition, as they participate in a nationwide protest over cost of living and President William Ruto’s government in the Mathare settlement of Nairobi March 27, 2023. (OSV News photo/John Muchucha, Reuters)

Referring to previous calls by the bishops for a truce, he said, “We are greatly disappointed that our ardent plea to our leaders to respect this holy time by suspending demonstrations for respect of God … has been totally ignored and even mocked.”

“Many people have been hurt, others have lost their lives. People’s property has been destroyed and goods looted. Goons seemed to roam freely. People have lost their livelihoods,” Archbishop Kivuva Musondesaid.

“Innocent children have found themselves in the middle of the mayhem and suffered injuries. And still more, some places of worship have been set ablaze by arsonists,” the statement read.

Odinga, a former prime minister, started leading nationwide mass protests March 20 under the Azimio la Umoja Kenya coalition.

Initially set for every Monday, opposition leaders had escalated the protests to Mondays and Thursdays. They demanded Ruto’s government reduce the cost of living, push for electoral justice by verifying accuracy of the last election, and form an all-inclusive government, among other demands.

With tensions rising, Ruto offered an olive branch to Odinga, regardless of who was right or wrong. He proposed a parliamentary process, to which Odinga agreed but warned that if it fails, they will return to the streets.

On March 27, a Presbyterian church and the Masjid Al-Aqsa Islamic mosque in Kibera, Africa’s largest informal settlement in the Nairobi area, were set ablaze on the second day of the demonstrations.

A massive fire, blamed on unknown arsonists, destroyed the church’s podium, its floor and a kindergarten school. Part of the mosque, trading stalls and homes also were burned down. Earlier in the day, the area was a battle zone between the riot police and stone throwing protesters.

Father Joseph Mutie, an Orthodox Church priest who chairs the Interreligious Council of Kenya told journalists that it was “sad” that the Kibera community was being “dismembered” along perceived religious and political differences that in fact “do not exist.”

“Our unity is always the strength upon which we have always faced challenges and tribulations in our long years of brotherly coexistence,” he said March 28.

The priest said Christians and Muslims in Kenya have never been enemies and live side by side, their children play together and attend the same schools, and get treatment in the same hospitals.

“It is for these reasons that as religious leaders, we are deeply pained and regret the unfolding and spiraling incidences of violence linked to nationwide protests,” Mutie said.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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