The Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya — Clerics across Kenya gave sermons dedicated to peace on Sunday, the day before a national election that some fear could spark the same kind of violence that engulfed the East African country after its disputed 2007 vote.
Many in this heavily Christian nation went to their parishes to pray that the Monday election does not become too polarized along ethnic lines.
More than 1,000 people were killed after Kenya's December 2007 election, making Monday's vote the most important in the country's 50-year history. It's also one of its most complicated: A secessionist group on the coast is threatening violence; Somali militants could launch attacks; and the tribes of the top two presidential candidates have a long history of tense relations.
In addition, 47 new governor races are being held, increasing the chances of electoral tensions at the local level.
Perhaps most importantly, Uhuru Kenyatta, one of two top candidates for president, faces charges at the International Criminal Court for orchestrating the 2007-08 postelection violence. If he wins, the U.S. and Europe could scale back relations with Kenya, and Kenyatta may have to spend a significant portion of his presidency at The Hague.
Kenyatta's running mate, William Ruto, also faces charges at the ICC.
Kenyatta, a Kikuyu who is the son of Kenya's founding president, faces Raila Odinga, a Luo whose father was the country's first vice president. Polls show the two in a close race, with support for each in the mid-40-percent range. Eight candidates are running for president, making it likely Odinga and Kenyatta will be matched up in an April run-off, when tensions could be even higher.
At the Nairobi Chapel, an evangelical church in the capital, three pastors took turns Sunday praising the attributes of some tribes, drawing cheers from the congregation. The Kikuyus were praised for being entrepreneurial, the Luos for valuing education, and the Kalenjins — Ruto's tribe — for their loyalty.
"Tomorrow we celebrate our cultural diversity as a nation," Nick Korir said in his sermon. "A lot of things unite us as a church. A lot of things unite us as a country."
In the weeks leading up to Monday's vote, described by Odinga as the most consequential since independence from the British in 1963, peace activists and clerics have been praying that this time the election is peaceful despite lingering tensions.
Odinga's acrimonious loss to President Mwai Kibaki in 2007 triggered violence that ended only after the international community stepped in to mediate. Odinga was named prime minister in a coalition government led by Kibaki, with Kenyatta named deputy prime minister.
The candidates held their final rallies Saturday, a day of political attacks and denials following published comments attributed to Odinga that election violence could be worse than 2007-08 if the vote is rigged. On Sunday church leaders asked their congregations to disappoint those who suspect there will be violence.
"We ask you to shame all prophets of doom," a cleric at an evangelical church in Nairobi called Mavuno told a packed congregation. "This is a country we are all proud of despite the divisions that people talk about. There is a Kenya after tomorrow."
Some 99,000 police officers will be on duty during an election in which some 14 million people are expected to vote. Kenyans will also be electing new lawmakers, governors and other officials.
Kenyatta, 51, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the country's founding president, is one of the country's wealthiest men. He studied at Amherst College in the U.S. before returning home to become a businessman and later his father's political heir.
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