By: DENNIS ODUNGA
Some 10,000 police officers will provide security during Pope Francis’ visit to Kenya, which is two weeks away.
According to State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu, an additional 10,000 National Youth Service (NYS) personnel will assist in crowd control.
He said one million people are expected to arrive in Nairobi and join city residents in welcoming the Pope, who is scheduled to arrive on November 25, for a three-day visit.
“A million people would possibly occupy every space from the University of Nairobi graduation grounds to Uhuru Park.
“They would cover the grounds from the museum roundabout to Haile Selassie roundabout. That explains the huge deployment,” Mr Esipisu said on Sunday during a press briefing at Harambee House in Nairobi.
He said the government was working closely with the Catholic Church to ensure a successful visit by the Pope, who leads 1.2 billion faithful worldwide.
Mr Esipisu said the Inspector-General of Police has assured that security agencies are ready for the task, which will involve the Kenya Police Service, Kenya Prisons and the NYS.
“The IG and his team would continue to discuss the finer details and shall make a statement at an appropriate time,” he said.
Mr Esipisu was accompanied by the Rt Reverend Bishop Alfred Rotich, the chairman of the secretariat handling the Pope’s visit.
Bishop Rotich said that out of the 14 million Catholics in Kenya, at least 1.4 million are expected to attend the Papal High Mass.
He said up to one billion people from 140 countries would be watching and following the events in Kenya during the three days that the Pope will be in Kenya.
COME OUT, COME ALL
Unlike during US President Barack Obama’s visit in July when the government encouraged Kenyans to stay at home, Mr Esipisu urged more people to turn out in large numbers to welcome the Pope during his first visit to Africa since he assumed office in Vatican City in March 2013.
“We are encouraging Kenyans to flock into the city in their numbers to cheer the Pope and celebrate Mass with him.
“As this is a State and pastoral visit, the Pope has expressed the desire for as many people as possible to have access to him. When the routes he would take during the tour are announced, you will see that they reflect this desire,” said Mr Esipisu.
He said the government is still considering declaring November 26 and 27 national holidays to allow Kenyans to attend the Pope’s forums.
“The government is looking at the options and would make a decision based on what works best for the nation,” he said.
One of the options, he said, is whether to ask employees, especially in Nairobi, to look at flexible working hours to attend the forums.
The Pope’s themes will include strengthening the family unit, peace and stability, inter-religious, and inter-ethnic tolerance as well as inclusivity.
The Holy Father will also discuss climate change when he tours the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Gigiri on November 26.
Mr Esipisu said his speech is critical because it will be delivered only a few days before the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, known by the acronym COP21, which will be held in Paris.
The conference’s aim is to conclude a universal, ambitious, and sustainable agreement that contributes to containing average global temperature rises below two degrees celsius, and therefore, lay the ground for a better future for coming generations.
Some 80 journalists are travelling on the Papal flight, including four Kenyans.
At least 100 other journalists from the region are expected to cover the event, including a heavy national presence of about 1,000 journalists.
Bishop Rotich said the Catholic Church is still appealing for financial support, especially towards the realisation of the Papal Legacy Projects targeting underprivileged members of society.
He said that on Friday, during a special fundraiser, Kenyans, from different religious beliefs and backgrounds came together as one and raised Sh120 million toward preparations.
Bishop Rotich also urged volunteers to help in ushering in guest, first-aid services, transportation, accommodation and meals for pilgrims and other visitors during the Papal visit.