Kenya’s Building Bridges Initiative “polarizing the nation,” Religious Leaders Concerned

KCCB's Archbishop Martin KIvuva (centre) reads the statement on behalf of the Dialogue Reference Group (DRG). He is flanked by other religious leaders.
Credit: Samuel Waweru/ KCCB

As politicians in Kenya continue with regional rallies to popularize the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a document with recommendations on ending post-election conflicts in Kenya, religious leaders in the East African nation have raised concerns over the divisive discourse that the initiative seems to be taking and recommended an end to the rallies, concerns shared by the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB).

“To stop the country from sliding into anarchy, we strongly recommend ... that His Excellency the President directs that the political rallies on the BBI be stopped henceforth since they are polarising the nation,” reads in part the statement issued by religious leaders in Kenya Thursday, March 6.

Meeting under the auspices of the Dialogue Reference Group (DRG) at Nairobi’s Ufungamano House, the religious leaders who included Archbishop Martin Kivuva of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa stated in their collective message seen by ACI Africa, “It is a major concern to Kenyans that the BBI, which was presented as a solution to the political crisis is now tearing the country apart.”

 

The signatories to the collective statement include representative of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), Hindu Council of Kenya (HCK), Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).

Others are the Organisation of African Instituted Churches (AIC), the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).

“We have keenly observed the developments in national debate on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and are deeply concerned that the country has been pushed to a state of heightened political emotions, which in the past have been a precursor of violence and chaos,” the religious leaders state.

They attribute the discord being witnessed in the country over BBI to the “pervasive ignorance of the majority of Kenyans” and urge the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to direct “that a comprehensive civic education program on the (BBI) Report of the Task Force be implemented immediately.”

In the five-page statement, the religious leaders raise concerns over the validation process of the report saying  “the current situation where the formal validation of the Report has been subsumed by the diversionary rallies organized by political actors is contrary to the structured dialogue that the Task Force was meant to shepherd.”

To correct the anomaly, the leaders recommend “that the Steering Committee on the Implementation of the Building Bridges to a United Kenya Task Force Report robustly implements its mandate that entails validation of the Taskforce Report and making recommendations for its implementation.”

With the possibility of the 156-page BBI report being taken through a referendum, the religious leaders ask the head of state to initiate “the process of filling the vacancies in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with utmost urgency,” as it would be “irresponsible on the part of the political leadership to cause the country to once again go through an acrimonious change of leadership at the IEBC as happened in 2016.”

“Kenya deserves to have a properly constituted IEBC to undertake the constitutionally mandated review of the boundaries of electoral units, and conduct the referendum if one is called to effect necessary reforms,” the representatives of the over 300 religious leaders across different faiths in Kenya collectively state.

Referencing the “divisive referenda” in 2005 and 2010  that offered only the collective “Yes” and “No” options to the whole set of issues subjected to the vote, the religious leaders advise that should the country hold a referendum on BBI, “the questions should focus on specific issues and not an omnibus Yes or No vote.”

The leaders go on to call on political leaders to desist from “further public display of a culture of insults and disrespect of one another,” as witnessed in the BBI rallies, a trend they say is “grievously eroding the morals of our children who are growing up believing that insults, mudslinging and violence are pathways to success.”

“Are these the values that we want in this nation?” the leaders probe and add, “It is not lost on us that politicians misbehave in this manner, and whenever the other Kenyans behave like them, the religious institutions are accused of not inculcating values in the people.”

We remind the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission that, “Ethics,” the religious leaders say, “is not just about financial accountability, but the entire spectrum of human behaviour.”

On December 5, 2019, the religious leaders endorsed the BBI report saying it has “many recommendations that have the potential to transform Kenya to a better nation.” The leaders also cautioned against “divisive debates on the BBI Report” and urged the Kenyan “government to speak as one to avoid dividing the people.”

Speaking to ACI Africa at a separate event, KCCB Chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo acknowledged that while the initial intention of BBI (peace and reconciliation) was a good thing, “the worst thing that is happening is that it is being politicized and politicization means even those ones who might have started it originally are now looking at it from another point of view now.”

He added, “It is a call again to Kenyans to look at ourselves, you know, what do we really need? And how do we get it? We need peace. Without peace you know, you see how we are going economically, we are not doing good, we are not doing well.”


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.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]