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In Uganda, Adventist among faith leaders calling for free, fair elections

Effort part of trend toward broader church participation in Africa's political sphere

The leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Uganda joined other faith representatives in the country and heads of the European Union last week to spur "free, fair and peaceful" elections in the central African nation next month.

The event joins a string of such meetings -- with the country's Electoral Commission, presidential candidates and members of the international community -- meant to shield Uganda from an election potentially beset by fraud and followed by political unrest.

Violence in the wake of contested elections has plagued several neighboring countries in recent years.

"We don't want to see what is happening in Ivory Coast or what happened in Kenya happen here," Joshua Kitakule, secretary-general of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, told AllAfrica News.

Reports indicate a disputed presidential election in Ivory Coast may plunge the country into civil war. At least 25,000 Ivoirians have already fled to neighboring Liberia, fearing possible violence, the Associated Press reported last week.

Kenyans endured widespread violence and unrest following 2007 contested elections, crippling the country's economy and igniting ethnic tensions.

"We hope and pray that our efforts will, along with those of many others, yield peace [in Uganda]," said John Kakembo, president of the Adventist Church in Uganda.

There are some 200,000 Adventists in the nation of 33.4 million.

Kakembo said meetings with presidential candidates, which focused on safeguarding the credibility of the electoral process and media coverage of voting, among other things, were largely well received.

While "very receptive" to the council's efforts, the individuals and groups with whom they met expressed frustration over what they perceive as a fundamentally flawed electoral system, Kakembo said.

The council plans to secure meetings with the heads of Uganda's security agencies and the incumbent president next, he said. Council members have also met for a parliamentary prayer session.

Kakembo is among other church leaders in African countries seeking to achieve fairness in the electoral process. Recently, when elections scheduled on Saturday threatened to marginalize the Adventist community in Zambia, church leaders there -- including an Adventist member of parliament -- were instrumental in changing the day of the vote.

Adventists in Nigeria hope their efforts are equally successful. There, the Adventist Church is poised to take legal action unless the government agrees not to hold 2011 general elections on Saturday, Bassey Udoh, secretary of the church there, told Vangaurd News. Adventists have been shut out of elections for several election cycles, the report said.

Citing Adventist contributions to Nigerian society in the areas of education and health, Udoh said the 270,000 church members in the country are valuable citizens who "should not be disenfranchised."