Amid political tensions in Kenya, the Catholic Church has provided a voice, sometimes through background efforts to keep the country together, being on the right side of history. “Apart from the letters we have written as Catholic Bishops, we have had background efforts, engaging various parties to end stalemates,” the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), says Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homabay in an exclusive interview. “Through this approach, I dare to say that it is the Church that is keeping the country together, providing a voice apart from that from the politicians”, he adds.
The Supreme Court Ruling
Upon the ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court to annul the Presidential election, an event Fides published on the very day of the ruling on Friday, September 1, Kenya was globally hailed as a unique African country exhibiting signs of democratic growth through properly constituted independent institutions.
International news agencies termed the decision as unprecedented. In the U.S., The New York Times described the ruling as “bold and stunning”, while CNN reported the decision as “the first time in Africa that a court has nullified the re-election of a sitting leader”. In Africa, Africa Confidential confirmed that the ruling had been “praised across Africa as a triumph of judicial independence.”
Jeffrey Atika, a lecturer at Tangaza University College, a Constituency College of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), notes that the court ruling was a double-edged sword: “If the repeat of the (presidential) election is properly prepared and managed, it will imply credibility to the judiciary and serve as a source of encouragement to other judges elsewhere to stand up to the executive”, he explained. “In the event that the election timelines are botched, those who have hailed the decision by the Kenyan Supreme Court will suffer disappointment, with the judges losing the confidence they had gained”, Atika further explained in relation to the reactions of the political class that seem to be threatening the fragile peace in Kenya.
While the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition celebrated with their presidential candidate Raila Odinga describing September 1, 2017 as marking “a historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension for the people of the continent of Africa”, the reaction of President Uhuru Kenyatta whose re-election had been nullified changed from sobriety to anger.
In his television address, President Kenyatta promised to respect the ruling. However, his subsequent utterances at public rallies became combative to the judiciary, criticizing the ruling, the chief justice and the judicial system. He particularly referred to the Chief Justice and his colleagues as “wakora”, a Swahili word that means “crooks”. “Let’s move on,” he said, “But they will know we are also men”, referring to the Supreme Court judges.
The Church in the mass-media
On their part, NASA rejected the timetable of the electoral commission, putting forth conditions termed the “irreducible minimum” to be met before the repeat poll, including the sacking of some top officials at the commission. Since the ruling, the political landscape in Kenya seems poisoned.
Against this background, some Kenyans have made known their disappointment with the Church, claiming through a section of local media that Church leaders are silent on national politics. As Fides news agency confirmed, the public debates on some national television stations and radio phone-ins have broadcast claims these claims, putting Church leaders on the wrong side of history. “Where is the Church these days?” a local radio presenter has queried.
Putting to question the credibility of the Church, these claims seem to be founded on a certain level of misinformation since Catholic Church leaders have regularly spoken about the state of the nation.
In this regard, Bishop Anyolo who chairs KCCB precises: “The Church is speaking at a pace and level never experienced before and is working more than ever before. We are living in different circumstances within a new constitutional dispensation where institutions are key. Unlike the past when we had a single political party and denominations spoke separately with individual voices, our approach now is interreligious. Through this approach, I dare to say that it is the Church that is keeping the country together”.
The Bishop explained what the Church under his leadership is currently doing saying: “Our present background effort, being accomplished together with religious leaders from other denominations, is to bring Jubilee and NASA Presidential candidates to a meeting with IEBC to find a middle way so that elections actually take place as currently scheduled on October 26. In doing this, we are neither in support of changing the electoral laws as being initiated by Jubilee nor the many demands of NASA coalition”.
Bishop Anyolo recalled previous interventions by the Church in Kenya to restore peace and stability in the country: “It is not just about this current problem but even long before this election, we were part of the stakeholders who negotiated for the present commissioners of the Independence Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) after the country was polarized with the previous commissioners. All along, our emphasis has been that our institutions must be sustained because changing them regularly does not seem to help”.
In their message of September 6, the Catholic Bishops called “on all Kenyans to uphold the independence, dignity and integrity of the Supreme Court and Constitutional institutions”.
“While every individual can criticize any institution that he or she disagrees with, attacks that diminish the integrity of the Judiciary and any other public institution should stop”, the Bishops cautioned and stated: “We call upon the Jubilee and other leaders to accept the ruling and stop the threats, intimidation and vendetta against the Supreme Court.”
“The singling out of Chief Justice David Maraga for vilification carries much more weight than criticism,” they added.
They expressed their concerns about “NASA threats to boycott the fresh presidential election” and the tendency of Jubilee leaders to act “as spokespersons of the IEBC” maintaining that “these actions infringe on the independence and authority of IEBC.”
The prophetic stance of the Catholic Bishops has continued amid heightening tension in the country: “We are advocating for bringing all those with different views together at all costs in order to dialogue” Bishop Anyolo said, reccalling the involvement of the Commission for Justice and Peace as well as that of the Association of Sisters in Kenya (AOSK) and the Jesuits.
“The Church is not a political institution. Politics come and go. The Church remains, providing steps for the future, beyond the politics of the day,” Bishop Anyolo clarified.
Meanwhile, Bishop Anyolo informed that the Catholic Church in Kenya had extended invitation for prayer to NASA, Jubilee and IEBC on Saturday, October 7, at the Subukia National Marian Shrine as well as all people of good will aware that through prayer, things shape up.
The change of the date for the repeat Presidential election from the initial October 17 to the current October 26 has caused disruptions in various institutions in Kenya. In a notification to faculty of a Nairobi-based Catholic Institution, the administration has requested for “patience and understanding as the university tries to adjust to the disruption caused by the changing dates of the election,” also saying, “It is my hope that there will be no further disruption.”
The statements from the Catholic Bishops in Kenya seem to have put them on the right side history, a side that seems to be reinforcing the words of Kenya’s Chief Justice David Maraga just before giving the majority 4-to-2 ruling on September 1: “The greatness of a nation lies in its fidelity to the constitution and the strict adherence to the rule of law, and above all, the fear of God”.
Source : omnisterra.fides.org