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Letters To God: Kenyans appeal for peaceful election

Thousands of Kenyans are taking up pen and keyboars to write letters praying for a peaceful March presidential election. US President Obama's step-grandmother is joining the effort, aimed at avoiding the violence that followed the 2007 vote.

By Frederick NzwiliCorrespondent / December 24, 2012



Nairobi, Kenya

Five years after a disputed presidential election unleashed interethnic violence that scarred this East African nation, Kenyans are bracing for a new election amid fears of a fresh outbreak of bloodletting.

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But a growing number of Kenyans are challenging that fear with hope, with thousands taking up the call to “Write to God” with prayers that upcoming March 4 elections will be peaceful.

One of the best known Kenyans to join the effort is Sarah Onyango Obama, the US president’s step-grandmother. From her home in the western village of Nyang’oma Kogelo, Mrs. Obama wrote that Kenya had to take a path much different than that of Rwanda and its horrific 1994 genocide.

"But when I see conflicts on TV, I keep wondering if Kenyans value peace," she said in her letter which was posted in English and a local dialect on a Facebook page created for the letter drive.

The participation of the 90-year-old Mrs. Obama, who is Muslim and is the third wife of President Obama’s grandfather, is seen as important for the effort, according to organizers, who include business leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and interfaith groups. Mrs. Obama is regarded as a minor celebrity in her home district for her relationship to the American president and for her charity work: a foundation to help children orphaned by AIDS has been started in her name.

As the elections approach, Kenyans face serious social and economic hardship. Unemployment in the country of 42 million is about 40 percent, up from 12.7 percent in 2006, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Prices for food and other staple commodities have skyrocketed: corn, for example, has doubled in price in recent years, rising to about 60 Kenyan shillings (about 70 cents) a kilogram.

As many as 55 percent of Kenyans are worried about the political environment and potential violence, according to a poll by Strategic Research and Communication Consultants for Africa. The Dec. 17-19 poll surveyed 1,500 Kenyans in face-to-face interviews. No margin of error was given.

Hence the letter-writing campaign.

“Social studies show that writing is therapeutic, and when one writes to a higher power, a natural sense of peace is created in the person,” said Sr. Brahma Kumaris Vedanti, the regional director of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, which is helping to organize the campaign. She spoke to reporters in Nairobi on Dec. 1 at a news conference to launch the initiative.

The campaign is considered unusual for Kenya, where about 82 percent of the country considers itself Christian, while about 11 percent are Muslim: most church-going Kenyans make their appeals to God in prayer, not in written form. But organizers say this is a peace initiative for all religions and ethnic groups.

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