Powerful Churches Target Kenya's Constitution over Abortion

By Baldauf, Scott | The Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Powerful Churches Target Kenya's Constitution over Abortion


Baldauf, Scott, The Christian Science Monitor


Kenya's churches are opposing a draft Kenyan Constitution they see as encouraging abortion. Three US lawmakers - targeting the abortion issue - have also sent a letter to the State Department questioning US support of the constitution process in Kenya.

A letter by three US congressmen aims to stop Kenya from ratifying a newly passed Constitution because they feel it encourages Kenyan women to have abortions.

In their May 6 letter to the US State Department's acting Inspector General, a copy of which has been obtained by the Monitor, Rep. Chris Smith (R) of New Jersey, Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida requested an audit of US government funds on the basis of a US law that states that "none of the funds made available under this Act may be used to lobby for or against abortion."

The lawmakers' efforts come amid an initiative by powerful Kenyan churches to battle what religious leaders see as an opening to abortion.

Kenya's draft Constitution actually forbids abortion, "unless in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger...." US Amb. Michael Rannenberger allegedly urged Kenyans to vote for this new Constitution on numerous occasions, which these congressmen argue is in breach of US law.

Two years after mob violence killed nearly 1,300 Kenyans and forced 300,000 others from their homes - in the wake of an election that appeared to be deeply flawed and manipulated by Kenyan politicians who had extraordinary powers over the judiciary and the supposedly independent electoral commission - many Kenyans say that passing a new constitution is necessary for the country's very survival.

A recent survey found that an overwhelming majority of Kenyans, more than 60 percent, approve of the new Constitution, which many Kenyans have read because of freely available printed copies paid for by funds given by the US Agency for International Development.

Powerful churches step in

Yet Kenya's powerful churches are putting on the brakes. And the draft Constitution's provision for abortion is just one of many of their concerns.

"The Constitution is an important document for Kenya, but there is no reason why Kenyans should adopt a bad constitution," says Henry Njagi, spokesman for the National Council of Churches of Kenya in Nairobi. "For Christians don't see why they should be asked to endure a constitution that is so directly against Christianity."

Mr. Njagi says that church leaders had engaged Kenya's politicians about revising the Constitution since the 1980s, but "at every stage, they did not address our issues. So now, we have no choice but to say 'no.' "

By threatening to scuttle the constitution process, Kenya's churches - particularly its Roman Catholic and Pentecostal denominations - are moving into dangerous territory, Kenyan political observers say.

"These people are playing with fire," says Mwalimu Mati, director of the Mars Group Kenya, an anticorruption watchdog that has pushed for the new constitution. …

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