Churches Ask for Changes to Clean Up Kenyan Politics President's Strongest Opposition May Be Protestant, Catholic Leaders

Article excerpt

A confrontation appears to be looming between churches and the government of Kenya, as church leaders head up a campaign for political reform and the curbing of presidential powers.

In separate documents published in August, Kenya's Roman Catholic bishops and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), which represents 35 Protestant churches, called for a series of constitutional reforms before the next elections.

President Daniel arap Moi, who has ruled the country for the past 18 years, will be seeking reelection in a vote due to be held sometime before the end of next year. The churches say the Constitution puts too much power in the hands of the president and the ruling Kenya African National Union party (KANU) and denies opposition parties a fair chance. Without certain minimum changes, they argue, the elections cannot be democratic and should therefore be postponed. But the government has reacted strongly to criticism from the churches, which in this predominantly Christian East African country are a powerful institution influencing the lives of the majority of Kenyans. Immediately after the release of the documents, KANU Secretary-General Joseph Kamotho accused church leaders of having a "revolutionary idea of overthrowing the Constitution." He suggested that the churches were acting together with the political opposition in an attempt to cause civil unrest and disorder. Speaking at an agricultural show in his home Rift Valley area last month, President Moi himself issued a warning to civil servants to "keep away" from NCCK officials and not to give them any support. But leading churchmen like Catholic Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki, who says he recently received death threats because of his persistent criticism of the government, have not been cowed. "If I am acting like a revolutionary, why don't they take me to court?" he says. "All we are asking, for goodness sake, is to allow the people to look at this document. The Kenyan people are behind us, and it's a force to reckon with." Kenya's Constitution, drafted at the time of independence from Britain in 1963, contains a number of laws instituted by the colonial government as emergency measures to control the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. These include laws of detention without trial, sedition, and treason. They have been used liberally over the last few years by the Moi regime to suppress opposition and silence dissent. …