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Seven Issues of Concern Bishops in Kenya Want Addressed amid Search for Peace, Unity

Members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB).

Members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) have, in a collective statement, highlighted seven issues, which they want attended to urgently amid a search for lasting peace and unity in the East African nation.

In their Wednesday, December 9 statement, KCCB members outline the need to build consensus on the way to go about the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the accompanying Constitutional Amendment Bill, civic education for the proposed referendum, peace and cohesion during the referendum process, the doctors’ strike, the COVID-19 pandemic, the reopening of schools in January 2021, and corruption.

Regarding the debates around BBI’s Constitutional Amendment Bill, Catholic Bishops in Kenya want “a continued focus on consensus building to bring everyone on board.”

Building consensus around the Constitutional Amendment Bill of BBI before a referendum can take place is important for the “citizens of one country who want to approach the referendum united and soberly even though we might have different positions,” the Bishops underscore.

They invite Kenyans to reflect on the origins of BBI, particularly when, after the disputed presidential elections of 2017, “the main actors, President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Rt Hon Raila Odinga put the interest of the country before their own interests” through what was dubbed the “handshake.”

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KCCB members however regret that the interpretation of the Constitutional Amendment Bill seems to be “diverting from the original spirit of the Handshake.”

“In particular, we should not forget that the initial issues to be addressed were nine. Of which, only two – the expanded legislature and executive - are dominating the national discourse,” the Catholic Bishops say in their collective statement signed by KCCB Chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo.

In the statement titled, “Discerning Kenya Beyond the BBI Referendum and the Year 2022 General Elections,” the Catholic Bishops also emphasize the need for civic education in view of a possible referendum whose process “has fast evolved.”

“The referendum outcome is too important for the future of our country. Consequently, every Kenyan needs to be well aware of the Amendment Bill content so as to make an informed decision at the ballot,” KCCB members say in their December 9 statement availed to ACI Africa.

They add, “The question we all should ask is this: how best do we carry forward the referendum process without injuring the reputation of our country as a democratic state where the difference in political orientation does not result into ethnic hatred, hate speech and all forms of discrimination?”

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The Catholic Bishops in Kenya “categorically state that the Church will not be a spectator if peace is disturbed during the referendum and general election campaigns.”

Reflecting on Kenya’s political history, the members of KCCB acknowledge that at times, the constitutional right to enjoy the freedom of expression and association has been abused leading to the loss of lives and displacements of people. 

They go on to call on President Kenyatta-led government to “move in swiftly to preempt any form of mobilization threatening our peace and security.”

The Bishops also express their concerns about the doctors’ strike that has seen medical practitioners in Kenya protest against “poor support from the government as they step up in the frontline to fight the spread of Covid-19.”

KCCB members underscore the need for “constructive dialogue” between the government and medics to resolve the differences saying, “The tension between the government and the doctors will not be resolved through arm twisting from both parties.”

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“Doctors in part peg their demands on the fact that the government seems to have ready packages for the legislature but not for them,” the Bishops say adding that Kenyan legislators receive “handsome” salaries and packages while a medic who stands “on the frontline as is the case with the fight against the coronavirus spread, is hardly listened to.”

“This is the dilemma the government needs to address. It must be seen to be fair to all its civil servants,” the Bishops say in their December 9 collective statement.

KCCB members also highlight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reportedly infected at least 89,100 people in Kenya, among them 1,545 fatalities and 69,839 recoveries as one of the seven issues they want addressed.

They bemoan the fact that many Kenyans are succumbing to COVID-19 “and staring at Poverty.”

“Our people need support from the government and all people of goodwill,” the Bishops observe in their five-page collective statement.

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The add, “As we navigate the battered economy due the effects of COVID-19 in our country, we should support the medical doctors in all ways. They risk their lives for the sake of saving our lives. We must do all that is possible and within our means to provide them with the best working conditions.”

If we fail in this line, the Bishops say in reference to support toward medical doctors, “we put the lives of millions of Kenyans who cannot afford bills in private hospital at risk. We encourage constructive dialogue to resolve the outstanding differences between the doctors and the government.”

Meanwhile, the members of KCCB say that they are “cautiously happy” about the reopening of schools scheduled for January 2021. All learning institutions in Kenya were closed in March in a bid to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“We say cautiously happy because we know that not all schools have the capacities to adequately prepare for the reopening in compliance of the COVID-19 protocols,” the Bishops explain.

They add, “We are also aware that COVID-19 has contributed to high levels of low income in families. Consequently, there are many parents who, as a matter of fact, will not be able to raise school fees for their children.”

The Bishops call on the leadership of the national and country governments in Kenya to double efforts in ensuring that “no child is exposed to the risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus” once learning resumes.

In the statement, the Bishops also decry graft in the country and say that they “take seriously the evil of corruption.”

“Corruption cuts across all sectors including our spiritual space. It has contributed to the immense suffering our people are going through in form of ethnic fighting, political killings, and exponentially increasing unemployment among others,” KCCB members lament.

They laud and acknowledge the proposals in the BBI report that suggests ways to end graft in Kenya and urge Kenyans to “heed our call, to pursue paths that lead us to unity to seek to understand the path we need to take for a better Kenya, to avoid paths of confrontation and discord.”

“We have a collective responsibility to work for peace and unity,” KCCB members say, and add, “As we pursue this path, we your shepherds promise our prayers and accompaniment.”