Between Christian Organisations And Kenyan Politics

June 16, 2010
5 mins read

Last weekend, a group of Kenyan anti-abortion churches and Christian groups accused the Kenyan government of involvement in two explosions which ripped through a packed rally called by evangelical groups to protest the proposed Kenyan constitutional referendum. The accusation from the Christian groups had come in the wake of the death of six people at the rally and injuries to over 100 others. Although there were no claims of responsibility for the blasts, sections of the Kenyan media believed that the attack was likely to set a contentious tone between groups supporting or opposing the draft Kenyan constitution, which is expected to be voted on early in August.

The Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga both support the new constitution, but Kenyan churches in the main want the draft defeated, because of what they see as two very controversial clauses, namely the allowance of abortion to save a mother’s life and the clause that will recognize informal courts used by the Kenyan Muslim community. A statement signed by the National Council of Churches of Kenya and 14 other churches and group, said “having been informed over and over that the passage of the new constitution during the referendum is a government project, we are left in no doubt that the government, either directly or indirectly, had a hand in this attack”. The statement went further to ask, almost rhetorically, “who else in this country holds explosive devises?”

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR (CSM) newspaper of June 14, 2010, reported in the wake of the explosions “allegations and conspiracies bordering on the bizarre”, with constitutional reforms supporters blaming opponents and vice versa and even a minister in government blaming the president and prime minister while analysts blame those who want to retain the status quo in Kenya. Mwalimu Mati, director of an anti-corruption body, Mars Group Kenya, was quoted as saying “I suspect instead that this is an agent provocateur action designed to set up a scenario where people might be afraid to vote. It was clearly not intended to be a massacre. It is a scare tactic”, Mati argued. There are fears that the Sunday attack might very well not be the last and Mati concurred saying “Of course there can be more”. The Higher Education Minister, William Ruto, described as the “de-facto torch-bearer of opposition to the draft” argued that the blast came from the ‘Yes’ campaign in an effort to intimidate or bully opponents of the draft constitution from voting. Ruto told reporters who toured the scene of the blast, the Uhuru Park in Nairobi, that “this is a sign some people want to force the constitution on Kenyans”, apparently referring to the president and prime minister; Kibaki and Odinga had been rivals in the bitterly fought elections of 2007, but have become united in support of the draft constitution. Furthermore, William Ruto was Raila Odinga’s very close ally in 2007 but later fell out with the prime minister and is now leading the ‘No’ campaign, to be able to build support for his own presidential campaign in 2012.


Given the deep political divisions in the country, it was no surprise that Ruto has also been accused by the people in the ‘Yes’ campaign of probably being behind the bombing too as an effort to beef up his political profile in the run up to 2012. Anyang Nyong’o, a leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign was quoted by CSM, as suggesting that Ruto’s group bombed their own rally to “attract sympathy”. It is the posturing for political advantage in the run up to the elections of 2012 that has led to skepticisms that greeted the finger pointing from the different factions. Hassan Omar Hassan of Kenya’s National Human Rights Commission pointed out that “suggestions that the government is behind the bombing of its own people, when their side is so far ahead in terms of referendum support, borders on desperation”. The reason is that opinion polls in Kenya say that 58% of Kenyans support the draft constitution, meaning that the opponents of the draft must find the arguments to sway people from support of the constitution. Hassan added further on the basis of these poll figures that “clearly someone was out deliberately to escalate tensions, to try to create a crisis, so that the environment for a peaceful referendum is not there”.

Yet other observers say that the bombings could represent a turning point winning sympathy for the ‘No’ campaign and then finally tipping the votes in their favour in August. Nevertheless, the draft constitution is expected to “upend” the status quo reducing sweeping presidential powers; strengthen the courts system and overhaul policies that are seen to protect powerful politicians in Kenya, alleged to have alienated huge swathes of fertile land, in a country where land has historically been at the heart of the anti-colonial uprising of the 1950s and 1960s. Approval of the draft constitution is then expected to create the basis for the gradual dismantling of the “decades of privilege and loot which has flowed to Kenyan leaders”, according to Yahoo News. Similarly, a land reform regime is expected to follow the approval of the constitution, restricting the total area of property any one person can hold, while idle land will be seized by the state.


Yahoo News then quoted a foreign diplomat in Nairobi who said that “clearly those with the greatest vested interest in keeping the status quo are the guys who have benefitted most from the status quo over the years” Furthermore, the diplomat said “there’s been lots of chatter today that these bombs were planted on behalf of the elite, on both sides of the argument, to try to scupper the whole thing under the provisos of a national security crisis or whatever”. Mati of the Mars Group of Kenya argued that the analysis was not farfetched, because in truth, “there are all manner of people who would want to see [the referendum] stopped”. However, observers also argue that there is a comforting fact that the referendum campaign has seen both sides of the debate drawing support from leadership and grassroots groups from all over Kenya, cutting across the country’s 42 ethnic groups. This was unlike the 2005 referendum which became an ethnically-based dispute.

What is however incontrovertible is that Kenya’s post-independence politics has always seen entrenched interests with access to a lot of money being able “to buy loyalties and sow division” whenever the country goes to the polls, according to Yahoo. Related to that is the volatility of the electoral period in Kenya, and none more so than the aftermath of the 2007 polls, during which widespread violence left 1,500 people dead and 300,000 displaced. Visiting Nairobi last week, US vice president, Joe Biden expressed American support for the draft constitution. “As you prepare to write a new history for your nation”, Joe Biden said, “resist those who try to divide you based on ethnicity or religion or region-and above all, fear, it is a tool as old as mankind, and it’s been used with great effect in this country in the past”. But in truth, the use of fear remains very central in Kenyan politics and the events of the past week have shown that along with a calculated use of violence, it remains a weapon to achieve set political objectives. It is also interesting that Christian groups have also attempted to mobilize their membership in a very significant effort to sway the results of the Kenyan referendum. The weeks ahead in Kenya promise to be politically interesting indeed.

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