Kenya prays for relief after string of disasters

Nairobi, Kenya - President Mwai Kibaki led Kenyans in prayer, seeking divine intervention for a host of woes facing their country, but the call was clouded by apathy and anger over graft scandals dogging his government.

As thousands of Kenyans gathered around the country to pray and reflect on a string of recent deadly natural and manmade disasters, Kibaki urged a crowd of more then 1,000 in the capital to seek God's forgiveness.

Yet neither his message nor the public holiday he declared to encourage participation in the National Prayer Day appeared to resonate with large numbers of Kenyans, many of whom chose to work as usual and ignore the event.

And, many of the clergy invited to speak at the Nairobi ceremony suggested in their remarks that corruption scandals plaguing Kibaki's government may have contributed to Kenya's current misfortunes.

"On this occasion, let us reflect on sad events and natural calamities that have befallen our country," Kibaki said. "What has happened in the recent past has left us not knowing what we will do."

"As a country we should seek God's forgiveness for the many instances that we have sinned by hating one another and even killing one another," he said. "Indeed, our nation faces many challenges that require God's intervention."

Kenya has been hit by numerous crises in recent months, not least of which is a searing drought that has put 3.5 million people at risk and exacerbated tribal violence and floods from heavy rains that have displaced thousands.

It has also seen the collapse of a Nairobi office building, a plane crash that killed several senior officials en route to a peace conference and graft scandals that have rocked the government and led to the resignations of three ministers.

Although Kibaki mentioned corruption and tribalism, along with violence against women and children and poverty, in his remarks, several speakers at the ecumenical service in the capital took aim at his administration.

In a series of gloves-off speeches, they denounced the government for its inaction thus far in dealing with two of Kenya's biggest-ever graft scandals, the so-called "Goldenberg" and "Anglo Leasing" affairs that cost the country billions.

"In Goldenberg in the early 1990s and Anglo Leasing, we disinherited the poor so that some of us could be rich," said Pastor John Gichinga of Nairobi Baptist Church. "God needs us to do something, we are guilty of his judgement."

"We have rebelled against your commands, oh Lord, we have sinned," said Reverend Dan Musa of Seventh Day Adventist Church. "The twin scandals of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg have a terrible curse on the road ahead of us."

Others made similar comments, calling on Kenyans in general and politicians in particular to repent for their misdeeds.

The prayers were offered as police said the death toll from fighting between rival herders in three provinces in northern Kenya and along the border with southern Ethiopia had risen to at least 14 since last month.

More than 10,000 people have been displaced by the clashes in areas badly stricken by the drought where recent heavy rains have inunundated the parched soil, forcing thousands more from their homes, raising the risk of disease and cutting off access to vulnerable communities.

At least 50 people, mainly children in northern Kenya, have died of drought-related malnutrition and associated disease since December and tens of thousands of livestock have perished.