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ke FORTHRIGHT LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED TO EASE SECTARIAN TENSIONS IN THE COUNTRY By Hassan Ole Naado That Kenyans are a resilient people is not in doubt. Even in the face of extreme social strife enough to hurtle a country to the brink of the precipice, Kenyans have always had the capacity to reflect on themselves and make conscious decisions that prevent them from going over the cliff. The 2008 post-election violence is testimony to the unique ability of Kenyans to pull themselves together, their differences notwithstanding, and chooses to defuse tense situations in order to preserve their country. The dispute over results of the 2007 presidential elections had provided sufficient ammunition for a civil war or military takeover. But Kenyans surprised many when they decided to listen to the voice of reason provided by former United Nations Secretary General Dr Kofi Annan they agreed to form a coalition government for the sake of ending the bloodbath that was threatening to get out of hand. However, today the country faces a new challenge threat of sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians. Since Kenya deployed its troops into Somalia in response to the security threat posed by AlShabaab militants, there have been a number of reprisal attacks on Kenyan soil orchestrated by both local Al-Shabaab sympathizers and militants deployed from Somalia itself. Most of these attacks have targeted churches thus creating the impression that Muslims have waged a war against Christians. The worst case was the attack on two churches in Garissa where at least 17 worshipers were killed under a hail of machine gun fire as they attended Sunday mass. And all this stems from the propaganda spread by Al-Shabaab media strategists to the effect that Kenyan troops in Somalia are a Christian force that has invaded a Muslim country. Things got worse recently after the unfortunate killing of Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo, leading to angry protests by Muslim youth in Mombasa who responded by attacking security officers and Christian worship centers. Although the situation now seems to be under control after a policy was adopted to enhance security around all worship centres across the country, there is still palpable tension between Christians and Muslims. Many are asking; for how long shall we continue to deploy armed officers to guarantee security at worship centres? This is when the countrys leadership credentials face a litmus test. As Kenya gets closer to the 2013 general election, the countrys leadership should take the issue of sectarian tensions very seriously.
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www.uongozi.co.ke Since the signing of the National Accord that ended the post-election violence, a lot of commendable effort has been directed at easing the inter-ethnic tensions that hurtled the country to the brink of civil war. Similar efforts should also be directed at easing the present inter-religious tensions. For example, events of the past couple of weeks have seen violent protests across the Muslim world against a U.S.-made film that disparages Islam and insults Prophet Muhammad. In view of the anger over this film, there were fears that Kenyan Muslims would also respond angrily leading to fresh attacks on Christian targets by militant extremist groups that are now known to have a presence in Kenya. However, thanks to efforts by some well-meaning Muslim scholars, the rage of local Muslim youths was somehow contained through an open dialogue that appealed to reason rather than emotion. We must, therefore, appreciate and commend the efforts of the Muslim scholars who came out openly on various FM Radio stations to call upon Kenyan Muslims not to respond violently to the latest film that disparages Islam and insults the Holy Prophet. And this is the kind of leadership that Kenyans must demand from all those aspiring for public office in the next general election a leadership that seeks to unite Kenyans by defusing all kinds of social tensions. In view of the simmering inter-religious tensions between Muslims and Christians, it is important for Kenyans to remind themselves that such sectarian differences have never been part of their culture hence there is no reason whatsoever for Christians and Muslims to start seeing each other as enemies merely because Kenyan troops have been deployed in Somalia. History teaches Kenyans that military engagement in Somalia should never been a reason for sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians. For example, the Shifta war (19631967) was a secessionist conflict in which ethnic Somalis in the then Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya (a region that is and has historically been almost exclusively inhabited by ethnic Somalis) attempted to join with their fellow Somalis in a Greater Somalia. The Kenyan government named the conflict shifta, after the Somali word for "bandit", as part of a propaganda effort. In response to the secessionist agenda that the people of NFD had exhibited, the government imposed martial law in the region and deployed the counter-insurgency General Service Units which forced civilians into protected villages (essentially concentration camps) as well as killing a large number of livestock kept by the pastoralist Somalis.

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www.uongozi.co.ke The war ended in late 1967 when Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, the Prime Minister of the Somali Republic, signed a ceasefire with Kenya. However, the violence in Kenya deteriorated into disorganized banditry, with occasional episodes of secessionist agitation, for the next several decades. The violent clampdowns by the Kenyan government caused large-scale disruption to the way of life in the district, but at no time did it degenerate into a sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians. In this regard, there should be no reason why the latest incursion by Kenyan soldiers into Somalia could result in sectarian conflict. The countrys religious leadership, civil society movement, and political leaders therefore, step up and guide Kenyans away from the current sectarian narrative building up as Kenya approaches 2013 General Elections. Such threats, whether real or perceived, should trouble all of us. We must each strive to uphold the principles of tolerance, pluralism, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence. Communities under assault must not be left alone to defend themselves. Everyone must speak out. The writer is the CEO of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).

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