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
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. …