By Fredrick Nzwili Catholic News Service
NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Kenya's bishops urged Catholics to get out and vote as millions of citizens prepared to cast ballots in the general elections Aug. 9.
"The big message to you all at this time is, 'Come out to vote, come out and vote,'" Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in the bishops' weekly statement known as the "Bishops' Voice."
Archbishop Musonde urged the voters to step away from the noise of campaigns and reflect on the country and the kind of leaders it desires.
"Our message, therefore, is to ask each voter to find quiet time to pray and reflect and to vote wisely," he said.
Archbishop Philip Anyolo of Nairobi asked people "to turn out in large numbers and exercise your democratic right. This is a God-given opportunity to have your voice heard and choose your leaders." He also encouraged people to go home after voting instead of milling around the polling stations.
In churches across the country Aug. 7, Catholics joined in prayers for peaceful elections. The bishops observed that the country had remained largely calm, candidates had carried out their activities peacefully and the voters had remained civil.
In the polls, more than 22 million registered voters have a chance to cast ballots to elect a new president, Parliament, governors and county assemblies.
After two five-year terms, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is not seeking reelection.
The presidential front-runners are Raila Amolo Odinga, 77, former prime minister and long-serving opposition leader; and Deputy President William Samoei Ruto, 55.
George Luchiri Wajackoyah, a lawyer, and David Mwaure Waihiga, a lawyer and an ordained Christian minister, also are running for president.
The candidates campaigned on the promise of free health care, free education, a better economy and zero tolerance for corruption.
The bishops warned young people against being manipulated by politicians. They urged young people to ensure peace prevails all the time so that their dreams of job opportunities, access to quality education, microfinance support and human rights can be achieved.
"What we need to do is to elect responsible leaders and actively engage with them to deliver services as required by law," said Archbishop Musonde.
"Do not let yourselves be cheated by high-sounding promises without foundation. It is possible to transform our country for the better," he said.
Bishops reminded Kenyans that only one candidate will win the presidency, and the country must be ready to accept the result as a choice of the people. They also warned the candidates against excess emotions whether in victory or defeat and to avoid making provocative statements.
Bishop Willybard Kitogho Lagho of Malindi said the 2022 campaign has united Kenyans, unlike in previous years, when communities split along tribal lines over presidential candidates.
"The main political formations have a wide political base across the country, cutting across religions and regions. And therefore, it unlikely that there is one community that feels automatically excluded at least during this preparation for elections," Bishop Lagho told Catholic News Service. "Another difference is that we have a lot of independent candidates. This is a shift from the past. People will be voting more for individuals, rather than parties."
"Generally speaking, we are not expecting any violence, and that indicates some growing political maturity in Kenya," he added.