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Africa

Kenya’s ‘prophet’ unites archrivals in peace bid

© Photo courtesy Denis Bouclon

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-02-25

Amid mounting fears of post-electoral violence, Kenya’s self-styled prophet David Owuor managed what the second presidential debate failed to achieve: bringing the two leading candidates together to work for peace.

Kenyan presidential rivals Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta hail from different regions, tribes and political parties. They may have worked together in the past, but as the hotly-contested presidential campaign enters its final week, that seems like another era.

The deputy prime minister and son of Kenya’s founding father, Kenyatta faces crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in instigating violence after the 2007 elections.

He could well be the first sitting head of state to commute back and forth from The Hague. But his campaign bristled when this was brought up at the first debate and announced that Kenyatta was pulling out of the final debate before retracting at the last minute and confirming that Kenyatta would indeed be participating in Monday’s face-off.

With the two candidates running neck and neck in the opinion polls, and election stakes rising to fever pitch, Kenyatta and Odinga are rarely seen together in public these days.

It would take a prophet to bring the two men together on seemingly amicable terms – and that’s just what happened on a Sunday afternoon.

Before a crowd of thousands of worshippers at a Nairobi park, Kenya’s self-styled “prophet” – David Owuor – got the two men to shake hands, smiling, and offer peace pledges as the vuvuzelas reached a crescendo and a sea of white kerchiefs swayed under the noonday sun.

With his long, forked and dreadlocked beard, Owuor is not an easily overlooked figure. Over the past few years, the resplendently attired evangelical preacher has been drawing hundreds, if not thousands, of worshippers to his prayer rallies across Kenya.

But while the pastor, or “prophet”, has been reaching out to throngs of ordinary Kenyans, the establishment – and the mainstream press – has mostly steered clear of this controversial, colorful figure.

“He’s been having these rallies across the country that are so big, it’s the envy of any politician and yet there’s no word of it in the media,” said Parselelo Kantai, East Africa editor of The Africa Report. “It’s one of the country’s best-kept secrets.”

But that was before Sunday, when Owuor’s managed to pull off a spectacular display of accord and amity in a country desperate for peace and haunted by the prospect of a return to the violence of the previous elections.

For three days, thousands of worshippers had camped at Uhuru (Freedom) Park in downtown Nairobi, heeding Owuor’s call for a peace prayer rally organized by his Repentance and Holiness church.

Sunday was the final day of the three-day prayer rally and though the official campaign schedules showed the presidential candidates in various parts of the country, there were rumors that they would both show up for the peace prayer rally.

From the US to Kenya, answering ‘God’s call’

With just a week to go to the March 4 presidential, parliamentary and regional elections, fears of a repeat of the disastrous 2007 poll have been mounting. More than a 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced in the post-electoral ethnic violence, which ended with a power-sharing agreement that saw Mwai Kibaki take on the presidency and his rival, Odinga, made prime minister. Kibaki steps down this year after two terms in office.

Prayers for peace – some silently muttered, some loudly proclaimed - have been taking place across this deeply religious nation with most Kenyans eager to avoid the tribal rifts and land-grabbing that underlined the 2007-2008 post-electoral carnage.

But nobody quite manages to prayer for peace with the aplomb of Kenya’s self-declared prophet.

In a country where more than 82% of the 43-million strong population is Christian, the church plays an important role in Kenyan spiritual and social life. Most Kenyan Christians are Protestant, and the past two decades have seen a sensational rise of evangelical missions.

What makes Owuor special, according to Kantai, is that “he’s come into this arena as somebody who did not need to be there”.

A biophysicist by training, Owuor was in the oncology department at a New Jersey medical school when he quit to “answer God’s call” in his native Kenya. Over the past few years, he gained attention by what he calls his prophesies, many of them expressed in biblical tones, of upcoming natural disasters.

His website features a list of “fully accurate prophesies” – including the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption and Australian floods. Cynics, on the other hand, remember the prophesies that did not come true – such as an October 2005 earthquake predicted to bring down Nairobi’s tallest buildings. That did not come to pass. 

‘Rivers of blood’ prophesy jolts Kenyans

Kenyans, however, best remember the bearded prophet’s warning of “rivers of blood” ahead of the December 2007 elections. That prediction, sadly, did prove true.

So this time, when the colorful preacher proclaimed that there would be violence after the 2013 election unless Kenyans repented, his word was taken very seriously by followers as well as some of Kenya’s politicians.

Owuro’s more controversial exploits have been his claims of curing HIV/AIDS through faith healing, with the Kenyan press not quite knowing what to make of testimonies of former HIV victims who proclaim have been healed.

Nevertheless, with regard to Kenyan politics, his ‘foresight’ is often believed to be spot-on, and over the past few years, Owuro has been slowly wooing some of the country’s key politicians.

Odinga is known to be a follower of Owuro after the biophysicist-turned-prophet baptized the Kenyan politician in May 2009 in a swimming pool in an upscale Nairobi neighborhood.

The candidates line up and repent

The message at Sunday’s rally was “Repent and renounce violence,” a slogan borne on banners across the park. After the prayer service, Owuro got all the six presidential candidates attending the rally to line up and vouch for a peaceful election.

Taking the mike, Odinga solemnly intoned, “I, Raila Amollo Odinga, repent for all my sins,” as the crowd roared.

Then it was his arch rival Kenyatta’s turn. Speaking in his native Kiswahili, Kenyatta maintained that “2007 is now behind us” before breaking out in English to proclaim, “the future is bright as long as we have peace”.

Hours later, with a park full of proclaimed repentance and renunciations still ringing through the air, Owuro’s followers fanned out across downtown Nairobi, flush with the certainty that their preacher had paved the way for a peaceful election.

“The politicians are here,” said a beaming Nancy Omuronji, a university lecturer from the Rift Valley - a region that witnessed some of the most gruesome violence and land-grabbing following the 2007 poll.

“These political figures are our leaders. If they embrace peace then surely the country will be peaceful. Kenya was peaceful for so long, I actually took peace for granted,” explained Omuronji. “I never knew that peace is something we have to actively embrace. But the prophet has taught me that, and now we all embrace peace.”

It is not known if this latest prophecy will come true. For that, Kenyans will have to wait until after the March 4 poll.

 

Date created : 2013-02-25

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