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A Jesuit's prophetic dimension

unnamed 12...adding "a still, small, ardent voice of calm in election monitoring"

Fr. Leonard Chiti, Director of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) and incoming Provincial of Zambia-Malawi province (ZAM), arrived yesterday August 3, 2017, to Kenya to join a team of election observers in the upcoming general election on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is running for a second term against seven opponents, most prominently former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Thousands of other contenders are vying for posts as senators, governors, members of parliament, members of county assemblies and women representatives. JESAM Communication Officer sat down with him for an interview.


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JCO: Welcome to Nairobi, Fr. Chiti. What's the role of an elections observer; in this case the upcoming Kenyan elections?

LC: Thank you. As you know, Kenya goes to the polls on Tuesday, August 8, 2017. These elections have generated a lot of interest from around the world in the context of Africa election monitoring has become standard practice. As you can expect there is a whole team of international election observers descending on Kenya.
The basic idea is to observe and monitor the elections in order to contribute to an outcome that will be acceptable by all. Any observer will be looking to see that the preparations are adequate; all concerns from all stakeholders ranging from political players to ordinary citizens are taken into account so that at the end of the day the results will be owned by all. So advance preparations, monitoring on the day of the election the voting itself, starting from when the polling stations open to when they close, in some instances where possible also observing the counting of the votes at the tallying centers and also the declaration of the results is part of the remit of election observers.

JCO: It sounds very engaging. Are you observing as an individual or part of a team?

LC: Well, I'm part of a team sponsored by the National Democratic Institute of the United States of America (NDI), a renowned, non-governmental organization that has been involved in promoting good governance around the world. From this perspective the NDI chose me to be one of the 30 people from different countries to be part of the elections observer team here in Kenya. The NDI also supported the election observation in Zambia.

JCO: Why did the NDI consider you for this process?

LC: The reason why I was included in this team is because I was one of the key people doing a similar thing from a domestic point of view in Zambia last year, we were observing our own elections and I was part of two civil society groups, heading one of those and also part of the team of the second. As I had mentioned, I was part of one faith based organization that was doing the monitoring of the election in Zambia last year and the NDI was one of our key partners. So they brought me here.

JCO: What role will you play?

LC: In general terms, I will be looking at the pre-elections, during and the post-election process. I will be expected to draw up a report as well. The other aspect to the exercise is that we will be deployed to other parts of the country...I'm yet to know where I will be, but we will be informed as to where in due course. As a team we will also meet tomorrow a number of stakeholders from civil society groups, government, and other interest parties.

JCO: Who forms the NDI observer team?

LC: The NDI team is headed by a former Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union. Other prominent members of the group include a US congresswoman and officials from the NDI. We also have a number of prominent Civil Society leaders from around the continent. It's a very high powered delegation that has already started arriving here in Kenya as from yesterday.

JCO: From a Jesuit perspective, how does it feel being part of such a vigorous process?

LC: I think for me as a Jesuit, it's another opportunity to contribute to our mission, as you know the last 40 years or so, as Jesuits we've seen our mission as the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an integral aspect of that. In this case, we are talking about ensuring that Kenyans are organized and participate in an exercise that will advance peace, improve governance systems and practices and that will culminate in them choosing leaders that they believe will move this country forward. I understand even before arriving here and also from what I've picked up already that this will be a very competitive election. I think all the more reason anyone who has a role to play to enhance the integrity, credibility, transparency, the free and fairness of the elections should do their level best. That's why one of my roles here is to try and add my voice and the voice of others from outside Kenya towards declaring the elections free and fair transparent and credible, because ultimately the destiny of this country in the next five years or so will rest on whether or not Kenyans themselves deliver an election that they believe will express the will of the people. The will of the people is cardinal, as you've heard sometimes the voice of the people can be the voice of God. As a Christian, as a Jesuit I'm hoping that we can add a prophetic dimension to this exercise by hopefully, trying to discern which way God wants the people of Kenya to move.

JCO: How is this significant to the Society of Jesus as a whole?

LC: As the society of Jesus in Africa, we should be grateful to have an opportunity like this because the organization that brought me here has nothing to do with the Jesuits at all, it's a secular, non-governmental organization that recognizes the important work the Jesuits have been doing in Zambia through the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR) and I think we can extend this recognition to the work of the Society of Jesus in Africa through the Conference of Jesuit Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (JESAM) so we should welcome this opportunity because I think it vindicates, confirms our mission as Jesuits, that we are not just confined to the sacramental and liturgical realm but relate to other important national and international matters.

JCO: Any final remarks for the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar?

LC: I think we can make contribution and add value to other spheres of our lives notably the governance and political spheres. So in that sense I think I'm quite humbled as a Jesuit that I'm as it were, carrying the flag...the Jesuit flag in this election. So I'm truly looking forward to participating in this exercise and I hope that as Jesuits we will look back at this exercise and say we made a very modest and humble contribution by being part of an international community that has been in Kenya to be able to certify that the will of the people has prevailed at the end of the exercise.

JCO: Thank you very much for your time.

LC: You're welcome.

 

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