Kenya: Crisis Security Meeting Held Following Legio Maria Clashes

County leaders after signing a peace accord to end incessant boundary disputes.
17 September 2020

Top security officials in Nyanza region held a crisis security meeting in Migori on Wednesday following the violent confrontations at the Legio Maria shrine in Got Kwer that left eight people dead.

The day-long closed-door meeting was chaired by Nyanza Regional Commissioner Magu Mutindika.

Two minors are still missing following the violence that drew condemnation from religious quarters and the political class.

This even with some accused the police of taking sides with one of the two factions embroiled in a leadership tussle in the church.

Migori County Inter-faith Council also faulted law enforcers for using excessive force in quelling the skirmishes. They also condemned the church's leadership for failing to pacify their followers.

The council chairman, Pastor John Okinda, said they are ready to arbitrate and end the long-standing wrangles within the Legio Maria Church, if only the leaders can cede their hardline positions for the sake of peace.

"It is unfortunate that the constant leadership wrangles are turning to an annual deathtrap in the full glare of the church leadership. We are ready to arbitrate and bring to an end the supremacy battles, only if the warring parties are willing," Mr Okinda told the Nation.

On Tuesday, Legio Maria followers made their way out of the shrine where they had gone to observe the annual pilgrimage on Monday, before the deadly confrontations erupted.

Those who could not get public transport walked back after word went round that there was an impending attack.

Pope Lawrence Kalul, whose faction is headquartered at the shrine, accused police of brutalising unarmed church members, who were reacting to provocation from intruders.

Migori County Commissioner Boaz Cherotich has remained silent on the matter, despite police confirming that five people died of gunshot wounds.

Tension started when members of a faction led by Pope Raphael Adika went for prayers, sparking violent protest from a rival faction who accused him of planning to cart away the remains of church founder Melkio Simeo Ondetto.

Chanting "Legio opogore" (Legio Maria church is divided), the faction led by Pope Kalul made its way from Jerusalem Amoyo to Got Kwer.

Unleashed violence

Unknown to Mr Adika and his entourage comprising armed police officers, Mr Kalul's group was armed and lying in wait.

Police had to use tear gas and fire live bullets to repulse the surging crowd that pelted the convoy with stones. A car was burnt to a shell while several other vehicles, including a police van, were smashed.

Church cardinal Chamalengo Ong'aw had accused Adika's faction of planning to relocate the remains of Ondetto to an unknown location.

On the other hand, Mr Adika accused his rivals of orchestrating the scuffles and branding him a warmonger.

"We went there for prayers but my team was met with violence. This is the third time they have unleashed violence us and then shifting the blame on me," Mr Adika said at Jerusalem Amoyo, where he retreated with his followers.

Mr Kalul termed Monday's incident an attempt on his life by "political hirelings out to derail the church's progress".

"Those claiming legitimate leadership while sheltered in other camps are misleading the faithful," he said.

Hostility within the church dates back to 1990 after the death of Ondetto. In 1992, Timotheo Blassio Atila became pope until his death in 1998.

The third pope, Mr Lawrence Chiaji, took over until 2004, when he died and Mr Adika took over until 2009, when the battles for control of the church began, pitting Mr Adika against Mr Romanus Ong'ombe, who died in April.

In May 2019, the two leaders briefly ended their antagonism before it erupted again after their supporters failed to find common ground.

Last month, Mr Adika went to court to challenge the legitimacy of Mr Kalul as the church's pope.

The Kisumu-based cleric, through his lawyer Mr Thomas Kwaga, sought to terminate the appointment of Mr Kalul as successor and legitimate leader of the church whose headquarters is in Got Kwer in Suna West Constituency.

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