A meeting between gubernatorial aspirant Simba Arati and Catholic Bishop Joseph Mairura has sparked a furore in the county, dragging the church into a vicious political tug of war involving two rival factions in the ODM party.
Mr Arati reportedly met Bishop Mairura to bury the hatchet after the politician fell out with the clergyman last year amid claims of disrespect and disrupting a church service, with the latter issuing a stern warning to political leaders to watch their behaviour in church.
Following the disagreement, the five-hour meeting on Thursday morning, pushed by Mr Arati, was meant to smooth things over with the church that is emerging as one of the influential players in determining voting patterns in the county ahead of the August 9 General Election.
The Catholic Church enjoys a huge following, a factor that has attracted the attention of politicians keen to endear themselves to voters. The 2019 census showed that more than 400,000 of the 1.2 million residents identified themselves as Catholics.
A disagreement has now erupted among Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leaders in the region, with two rival groups clashing amid speculation about what was discussed.
Mr Arati’s delegation included his running mate Robert Monda, Senate candidate Richard Onyonka and the team’s “adopted” Woman Representative aspirant Donya Aburi, who is however not an ODM nominee.
“Yes, it is true we met with the bishop. We’ve been meeting religious leaders because we are a people who respect them and above all fear God,” Mr Arati said.
“What is regrettable, however, is the politics being peddled around by our critics. Dragging religious leaders into petty politics is wrong.” A row between the Dagoretti North MP and church leaders prompted them to return his Sh100,000 donation.
Bishop Mairura, without mentioning names, said he was offended by one politician, whom he accused of attempting to interfere with a church programme officiated by a representative of the Pope in Kenya.
“Let me warn our politicians that you cannot succeed by fighting God and the Church, those who do that stand cursed,” he said at the time.
After the Thursday meeting, a pseudo account on social media suspected to have been created by bloggers associated with some leaders emerged,alleging that the visit was meant to compromise the bishop.
Mr Arati’s team was quick to denounce the allegations, accusing some leaders of sponsoring bloggers to create hostility between him and the Catholic Church.
Mr Arati, Mr Onyonka and Bonchari parliamentary aspirant Jonah Onkendi (ODM) accused some leaders in the county of using the disagreement to undermine the party’s chances of winning the elections.
“We’re concerned about the emergence of dirty politics that is now spilling over to tarnish the good image of the church. We’ve had a very cordial relationship with all the churches in Kisii County, particularly the Catholic Church,” Mr Arati said.
Some members of his family, he said, belong to the Catholic Church, others are Lutherans, while others are Seventh Day Adventists.
“We’ve always interacted with the bishop, vicar-general, fathers, priests and all the other religious leaders including imams specifically to pray for peaceful campaigns,” he said, and threatened to take legal action against the bloggers for tarnishing his name and that of the bishop.
Mr Arati said they had reported the fake accounts used by bloggers to officers at Kisii Central Police Station. He singled out unnamed leaders in the county as the sponsors of malicious propaganda, which, he said, was aimed at tainting the image of his team and the church leaders.
Mr Onyonka said that, as a Catholic faithful, he had every right to interact with the bishop, whom he described as a person of faith and impeccable standing in the society.