Referendum, Succession Politics Need to Be Separated, Kenya’s Christian Leaders Urge

Bishop John Obala Owaa, Chairman of KCCB's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) addressing participants at the two-day National Christian Conference in Kenya's capital Nairobi.
Credit: Facebook Page Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC).

Christian leaders in Kenya are calling on politicians in the East African nation to separate the debate around a referendum on the Constitution and the 2022 succession politics to guarantee peace and stability in the country.

In their collective statement Friday, December 11, representatives of various Christian churches in Kenya make reference to the “divisive” 2005 constitutional referendum held two years before the general election that ended in the 2007/2008 “devastating wave of post-election violence.”

“As Kenyans we need to do all we can to prevent a similar occurrence. Key in this will be separating the politics of the referendum from the politics of 2022 General Elections,” the leaders say in the six-page statement issued at the end of their two-day National Christian Conference.

In Kenya, political leaders supportive of the “handshake” between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga have been collecting signatures to amend the 2010 Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a process that is expected to culminate into a constitutional referendum.

The referendum, which various sources say could happen between April and June 2021, will take place a year before the 2022 general election. A divisive referendum ahead of a general election could be used by some politicians to “foment conflict,” Christian leaders in Kenya caution.

“We urge all Kenyans to reject any leaders who foment conflict and violence in their communities,” the Christian leaders say in their December 11 collective statement.

The two-day conference was convened by the leadership of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) alongside the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) under the auspices of the Ecumenical Civic Engagement Program (ECEP).

Held under the theme, “Informed and Participatory Decision Making on Constitutional Amendments,” the Christian leaders underscore the importance of dialogue and consensus building in the constitutional amendment debate saying, “The Constitution is too important to be made the subject of conflict and political competition.”

The delegates of the National Christian Conference drawn from various parts of the country also raise concerns about the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020, which is expected to pave the way for the referendum.

“Our position remains that it is too early for us to say Yes or No to the Amendment Bill, and instead remain committed to promoting consensus building on the referendum so that it promotes unity and peace in the nation, not division and competition,” the faith leaders in their December 11 statement signed by CJPC Chairman, Bishop John Obala Owaa and the General Secretary of NCCK, Rev. Canon. Chris Kinyanjui.

In the statement issued during a press conference in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the representatives of Christian leaders in Kenya say that consensus should lead to a re-opening of the Constitution Amendment Bill to accommodate concerns on provisions that may claw back on gains Kenyans have already made.

The Christian leaders call on Kenyans to read the Constitution Amendment Bill and participate in civic forums to understand the implications of its proposals, evaluating it based on whether it solves the nine issues that were identified by President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga when they set up the BBI.

They also want Kenyans to resist any incitement to conflict because of the Bill, the referendum process or any other grounds.

In case the referendum is held, the leaders want Kenyans to exercise their sovereign power directly during the referendum process and to recognize that their individual decision will affect how Kenya is governed.

They encourage members of the Clergy to “provide truthful interpretation of the Bill for the people so that they are not dependent on the influence of the proponents or opponents.”

The Christian leaders want those at the helm of the country to provide resources for nationwide civic education, take into account the views of all Kenyans especially those who express opposition to the referendum, and to investigate and prosecute any persons who incite the public against one another.

In their statement, the Christian leaders in Kenya also raise their “deep concerns” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, which they say has torn families apart, impoverished men and women who have lost jobs and livelihoods, led to an increase in child-abuse and gender-based violence, devastated the health and wellbeing of Kenyans, and disrupted communal worship.

To mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the representatives of church leaders in Kenya ask Kenyans to pray and fast to overcome the pandemic, and to the government to prioritize the welfare of the people including healthcare workers.

Regarding the planned reopening of schools in 2021, the faith leaders highlight the importance of children resuming their learning and “emphasize the need for all stakeholders to engage the Ministry of Education to ensure that the schools are ready and safe for the children to learn without exposing them to infection with the COVID-19.”

They also call upon the government to consider waiving school fees arrears for parents who have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

The Christian leaders call upon all Kenyans to pursue paths that lead to peace, unity and a better Kenya.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

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