In Summary
  • Bishop Korir was, in equal measure, critical of Nasa's repeated calls for anti-establishment demonstrations.
  • Bishop Joseph Obanyi, Kenya's youngest Catholic Bishop, described Bishop Korir as an "elder and counsellor".
  • Bishop Korir was instrumental in the distribution of relief food to families affected by the 1991-92 clashes.
  • Bishop Korir’s 27 years of episcopal ministry in Eldoret stand out for his efforts aimed at keeping peace among the warring pastoralist communities of the north.

Two weeks before last Thursday's repeat presidential election, Eldoret Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir implored the rival Jubilee and Nasa alliances to soften their hard-line stands to help ease the political tensions that were rising to a deafening crescendo.

While he was against the timing of the proposed changes in electoral laws championed by Jubilee, Bishop Korir was, in equal measure, critical of Nasa's repeated calls for anti-establishment demonstrations.

The hallmark of a truly neutral arbiter.

Pope Francis and Bishop Korir

Bishop Cornelius Korir (left) with Pope Francis when the Catholic pontiff visited St Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Kangemi slums, Nairobi on November 27, 2015. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

ELECTORAL LAWS

“The laws were not necessary now, but could be changed later so as to reduce tension in the opposition,” he told journalists after celebrating mass at the Majengo Catholic Church in Uasin Gishu County.

“I also appeal to the opposition not to demand so much from the IEBC. They should see what they can take to cool down the nation,” he added, appealing to both parties to allow the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) “to conduct elections in a conducive environment”.

That was vintage Bishop Cornelius Kipng'eno arap Korir who died in the early hours of Monday at the age of 67 and who will be best remembered as “the peace-making bishop”.

Eldoret Cathedral

A faithful is assisted after she is overcome by grief at St John's Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral Catholic Church in Eldoret on learning of the death of Bishop Cornelius Korir. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

ELDER AND COUNSELLOR

"I’m shocked to learn of Bishop Korir’s death," Bishop Joseph Obanyi, Kenya's youngest Catholic Bishop, said from Rome Monday, describing Bishop Korir as an "elder and counsellor".

"We have lost a great shepherd at the time we needed him most,” Bishop Obanyi, 49, said.

"Every Kenyan has come to know him as a humble servant of peace and reconciliation.

"He has been our elder and counsellor. He has helped me as a young Bishop. He earned the respect of all people who worked with him. Above all he worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation. We shall miss him a lot. May God receive him in eternal peace."

Bishop Cornelius Korir

Bishop Cornelius Korir together with Abubakar Bini (left), Chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, (CIPK) North Rift Region, Rev Musa Maina second (left), Bishop Thomas Kogo and other clergymen from the North Rift on August 10, 2017 when they called on Kenyans to remain clam as they awaited the announcement of election results. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

PEACEKEEPING

Besides his vocal stand against injustice in national politics, the late Bishop Korir’s 27 years of episcopal ministry in Eldoret stand out for his efforts aimed at keeping peace among the warring pastoralist communities of the north.

“Three quarters of my life has been about peace building,” he told me in an interview on the eve of his Silver Jubilee celebrations as Bishop of the Eldoret Catholic Diocese in June, 2015, noting that his first major peace-making role was in the height of the 1992 inter-tribal clashes.

“The 1992 clashes were political violence coupled with ethnicity as the political parties then were rallied along tribal lines,” Bishop Korir reminisced.

“Politics rekindled old enmity in the pastoral areas, and it was a sad situation when you see people killed, property destroyed and people burnt inside their houses.”

Catholic faithful

Catholic faithful pray at St John's Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral Catholic Church in Eldotet Town, following the death of Bishop Korir. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

ETHNIC CLASHES

Bishop Korir was instrumental in the distribution of relief food to families affected by the 1991-92 clashes, but no sooner had peace prevailed than there was another flare-up between the Marakwets and Pokots in 1996.

“It was a war between pastoralists,” he recalled.

“They were all within our diocese, and so I went to them to console them and ask what the church could do for them.

“They told me to help them talk to each other, and that’s how I really got into peace-building.”

Unlike the politically instigated clashes of 1991, the Pokot and Marakwet people were fighting over livestock.

“Some of the Pokot people were armed while the Marakwets really didn’t have firearms but soon started acquiring arms.”

Muslim leaders Eldoret

Muslim leaders speak during a church service at St John's Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral Catholic Church in Eldoret Town following the death of Bishop Korir on October 30, 2017. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

BUILT SCHOOLS

To help ease the tension and stop the fighting, Bishop Korir led the Catholic Church in building schools and cattle dips along the common border between the Pokots and Marakwets.

“We also dug two dams in East Pokot, and donors came in to utilise River Lelan, which is shared by the two tribes.”

The Lelan developments will remain among the biggest legacies of Bishop Korir’s peace-keeping ministry.

“By good luck the foundation run by (American billionaire) Bill Gates helped put up milk cooling plants, which helped both Pokots and Marakwets concentrate on milk production.

Catholic priests Eldoret

Catholic priests during a church service at St John's Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral Catholic Church in Eldoret following the death of Bishop Korir. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

MILK PRODUCTION

“The fighting has since stopped, and Lelan now is a leading producer of milk with up to 20,000 litres of milk daily.

“They have even formed a co-operative society jointly, and members of both communities are sitting on its management board.

“It’s the most successful peace-building initiative that I’ve been involved in. The Pokots and Marakwets are earning as much as Sh20 million a month from milk production.”

A church was also built at the foot of Kapsait Hill following efforts by the bishop who camped in the war-torn region, often risking his life, to secure the much sought-after peace.

Bishop Cornelius Korir

Bishop Cornelius Korir speaks during a meeting between the clergy and opposition leaders in Nairobi on May 17, 2016. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

BOOK

Bishop Korir said through dialogue, a lot was achieved among the warring communities, and this was the subject of a book he wrote in 2014 titled “Amani Mashinani” (Peace at the Grassroots).

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