Cracks Emerge in Churches Over Voting

Nairobi, Kenya - No section of Kenyan society has been spared the bitter exchanges over the referendum. But most prominent are the cracks that have emerged in the mainstream religious organisations.

For fear that the vote will tear apart both their leaderships and flocks, they have opted for the neutral ground.

Forty Africa Inland Church pastors in Rift Valley Province last week broke ranks with Bishop Silas Yego, rejecting the neutral stand. "The bishop asked us to remain neutral, but the document (proposed new Constitution) is defective," they said. "We must say No."

The cracks have also appeared in the rigidly collegial Catholic Church, a bishop rejected the official church position. On August 31, the Episcopal Conference, chaired by Bishop Cornelius Korir, announced that it would not endorse either the Banana or Orange, and urged Kenyans to vote with their conscience.

"The document is an improvement on the Bomas Draft and the current Constitution," said a statement signed by all the 27 Catholic bishops. "But it is not our duty to tell the people to vote Yes or No." But Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth of Kisumu last week made an unprecedented move when he appeared to "unsign" the episcopal letter he had signed on August 31, by publicly denouncing the proposed constitution as defective.

"I was a delegate at Bomas and Attorney-General Amos Wako short-changed Kenyans by replacing the Bomas Draft with the Kilifi Draft," he said on September 10, at a church in Ugenya. "It contains some anti-biblical sections, and I must ask Kenyans to vote against it."

Bishop Korir immediately clarified that "bishops are free to take a different position in their respective dioceses."

Mr Haroun Ndubi of the Kituo Cha Sheria told the Sunday Nation. "I oppose the neutrality by Christians, Muslims and LSK in the face of overwhelming widespread illiteracy in our society. They should stop trying to reconcile the Orange and Banana and instead point out what is wrong or unworkable in the Draft and the dangers lurking ahead."

US-based Kenyan scholar Makau Mutua said the silence of civil society was a natural product of regime change in 2002. "Countries that have undergone political transitions such as South Africa normally suffer disorientation of their civil societies," he said.

In South Africa, much of civil society was based on its opposition to apartheid. It took many years to rebuild the civil society, refocus it and found a new rationale for its existence, he added.

Civil society in Kenya, he pointed out, was driven by its opposition to lack of democracy, corruption and atrocities perpetrated by past regimes.