KENYA: Constitutional talks with church collapse after clergy pull-out

May 2, 2010

Church leaders in Kenya have abandoned constitutional talks with the government, announcing that they will rally Christians to vote against the draft basic law for the east African country when it is put to a referendum.

The leaders cited insincerity on the government's part when announcing their withdrawal on April 28.

"We will instead focus energies on educating the people of Kenya on the meaning of the cardinal issues and on campaigning for the rejection of the draft," the Rev. Peter Karanja, an Anglican priest and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, told journalists in Nairobi.

President Mwai Kibaki called for the talks in early April, after many church leaders voiced concerns that the draft law seeks to entrench Islamic courts known as Kadhi and it also seeks to legalize abortion if the health or life of a mother is threatened.

On April 27, the cabinet which Kibaki chaired announced, "It was impossible to amend the law to accommodate the concerns of Christian church leaders." That led to the Protestant, Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Church leaders quitting the talks.

"The government side was unable to provide any satisfactory solutions to address the concerns of the members of the church," said Catholic Bishop Philip Sulumeti, deputy chairperson of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, soon after the talks collapsed.

Sulumeti said, "The church is unable to compromise at all on the issue of life, the right to life, nor accept the provision that does not ensure the religious equality and equity, as in the concerns about the Kadhi courts."

The leaders contend that the basic law fails to protect the unborn, entrenches Kadhi courts and exempts Muslims from the Bill of Rights. In addition, it does not separate state and religion, they asserted.

According to the leaders, the draft constitution does not guarantee the rights to preach and to convert, nor does it entrench employment irrespective of a person's religion. They also fear it allows the application of international conventions without the approval of parliament.

"These provisions mean that Kenya will not be founded on justice...thereby leading to inequality and conflict," said Bishop Moffat Kilioba of the All Nations Full Gospel Church.

Retired Anglican archbishop David Gitari has, however, been urging leaders to accept the draft as a "lesser evil" and says there can be amendments in the future, a view which the serving church leaders reject.

Meanwhile on April 29, Kenya's Anglican bishops issued a statement calling for the rejection of the constitution. The church had been seen as supporting the constitution after Anglican Archbishop Eluid Wabukala had been quoted in the media as saying it was a tactical necessity.

The statement read by the archbishop said, "The document in itself is not the solution to Kenya's myriad problems neither will its adoption automatically change Kenya for the better. We therefore say 'no' to the proposed constitution as it is unless amendments are effected before the referendum."

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