Messages of peace, especially during elections, dominated speeches by religious and political leaders as the country welcomed the new year.
Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit, who led a service at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi, urged political leaders to lower the rising political temperatures.
“We need a prosperous nation not a divided nation after elections. We need a team of leaders who will take Kenya to the next level. We will have a peaceful General Election only when the political class approaches it with dialogue, decorum, and follows the rule of law,” he said.
Mr Sapit cautioned Kenyans to be wary of political leaders who were out to divide the country.
He advised Kenyans to vote for leaders who were committed to serving the nation, adding that their choices should not be based on tribe.
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“Let us listen to all those who have offered themselves to be elected. (They should not) be examined based on where they come from and what languages they speak.”
He told the electorate to examine politicians based on the promises they made.
On New Year’s eve, Nyanza Council of Church Leaders chairman Ogonyo Ngede urged politicians to embrace dialogue to avoid plunging the country into chaos.
“It is evident that the country is charged politically and talking at one another will not solve the situation. We must all calm down and embrace dialogue,” said Rev Ngede who led the New Year mass at Power of Jesus Around the World in Kisumu town.
According to Ngede, leaders’ actions in public forums would have a great impact on public reaction hence leaders must exercise restraint.
“God has been faithful to us and our prayer is that he continues to nourish our souls as we seek refuge in him. I pray for the country’s leadership, both the Government and the Opposition, so that they know God the provider of peace and all that we need as humans,” he added.
Nominated MP Oburu Odinga expressed optimism that the country would continue to be peaceful.
“This country is going through tempting times because polarisation in the political atmosphere is sharper than before. The leadership of this country must create a level playing ground and live up to the expectations of Kenyans by conducting free and fair elections,” he said.
He said peace without justice was unsustainable.
“Without justice, any talk of peace is just hypocrisy. We will be cheating ourselves that we want peace, yet we are breeding conditions that could explode into violence because people cannot be oppressed forever,” he said.
His Nyando counterpart, Fred Outa, said he hoped 2017 would be a year full of good tidings.
“My belief is that Kenya should have a peaceful election. We should agree to stand against violence and the elections must be free and fair. This is what we want to achieve in 2017,” he said.
At the Holy Spirit Power and Healing Gospel Church-Roho in Nyalenda slums, residents began streaming into church as early as 8pm.
“I pray for peace given that we are getting into the busiest year on the country’s calendar. Elections are vital in our country and that is our main prayer agenda tonight,” said Bishop Michael Ochieng.
At the Siri Guru Singh Saba Temple along Mosque Road in Kisumu, the Hindu community prayed for peace and prosperity.
And a Catholic priest in Kitui County urged local politicians to hold peaceful campaigns and preach unity.
Kitui Catholic Diocese Vicar General Joseph Mwongela said politicians should not incite their supporters to violence or involve themselves in acts that could breach the peace.
“Good leaders are those who cherish peace and tranquillity in society. Those who incite people to chaos should be tamed. We pray for a harmonious General Election,” Fr Mwongela said.
Giving a sermon at the Cathedral Boma church, the priest said politicians should uphold dignity and respect each other’s right of choice and association.
At Kitui Township Africa Inland Church, Titus Masya warned the congregation against involving themselves in any form of demonstrations.
Rev Masya said Christians should not join the Opposition in the protests against electoral laws.
“This year should be for completion and perfection of God’s promises to His people. Let us not indulge in foul acts like demonstrations to changes in our electoral laws,” he said.
Joseph Obanyi of Catholic Kakamega Diocese asked Kenyans to focus on preaching peace and unity.
In his New Year message, Bishop Obanyi said Kenyans should embrace a non-violent style of conducting campaigns and elections.
“This is a new year and we expect elections in August. I request Kenyans to embrace peace throughout the year and have a peaceful election,” he said.
The bishop, who was speaking at St Joseph Cathedral in Kakamega town, asked youths not to be used by politicians to cause chaos.
“Youths should stop being misused. Let them not be bought cheaply to cause war or retaliate on behalf of political leaders,” he said.
The cleric also warned political leaders against using dubious means to ascend to power and urged current leaders to be ready to hand over power in case of defeat.
He asked relevant Government institutions, including the Judiciary, security agencies and the electoral commission, to ensure free, fair and transparent elections to avoid violence.
“We do not want to witness any kind of violence even during nominations and campaigns. Our people will suffer if we resort to violent means to handle serious issues,” he said.
“IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission), Judiciary and other institutions should be independent and fair to all sides.”
Bishop Obanyi also asked Kenyans aged 18 years and above to register as voters, saying it was their duty and responsibility.
“They should not wait for politicians to lure them to register as they are targeting their votes,” he said.