Kenya’s Catholic bishops sued after canceling lease for Muslim-run restaurant

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is facing a lawsuit over the cancellation of a rental contract for a restaurant operated by a Somali Muslim.

Al-Yusra Restaurant Ltd. had signed a six-year lease starting in 2013 to operate a restaurant in a section of Waumini House where the bishops’ conference is based. Baakai Maalim, a Somali Muslim, is a director for the company.

A lawyer for the bishops said the lease was signed without written consent and knowledge of the bishops.

Waumini House is about one kilometer from the Westgate Shopping Mall, where a terrorist attack in September 2013 left 67 people dead.

That attack and others blamed on the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab have heightened fear among Christian leaders and increased suspicion between Christians and Muslims.

“We stopped the lease for security reasons,” said Bishop Martin Kivuva of Machakos. “The restaurant would have increased human traffic within the building and that can be a danger even to other businesses here.”

But Rahma Jillo, the restaurant’s lawyer, claims the tenant was rejected because he is Somali and a Muslim. She accused the church of using tactics informed by discrimination and intolerance.

“This is not only discriminatory, but highly objectionable in the view of the recent past screening of Muslim Somalis,” said Jillo, in a letter quoted in The Star newspaper.

Jillo said the termination is illegal in Kenya, where the constitution provides for freedom of religion and bans discrimination on the basis of religion.

The restaurant owner is demanding $1 million in compensation for renovations made at the site, a rent deposit and lost profits.

Kivuva termed the demands as “impossible” and said the bishops had clearly explained their concerns to the business owners.

“The cancellation had nothing to do with the owners being Muslims,” he said. There are other tenants in the building, but they are mainly private offices or firms linked to the church.