KENYA: Church leaders seek more inclusive constitutional talks

August 27, 2008

Several Kenyan church leaders have warned their government about its plan to select only a few experts to complete the writing of a long-awaited new constitution for the country.


"We find the selection of only a few individuals to write the laws as ridiculous. After all, this is the supreme law for all Kenyans," said Anglican Bishop Gideon Ireri of Mbeere, who chairs a multi-faith group known as the Ufungamano Forum for Religious Organizations.

Ireri, who heads the Anglican Church of Kenya's Peace and Justice Commission, told Ecumenical News International that the Ufungamano forum believes public participation is crucial if ordinary Kenyans are to get the constitution for which they have been asking.

"We are concerned politicians are campaigning to carry out the work alone, something we have been opposing all through," Ireri told ENI on August 28.

Earlier in August, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that many years of attempts at constructing a new constitution had resulted in the need for a small team of experts to bridge the gap between two earlier proposals.

"Details required for the composition of the constitution were extensively collated," said Odinga on August 8, when he referred to "the most consultative process in any country that I know of."

On August 23, at a national pastors' conference, the Rev. Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, stressed that people in the country could not be excluded from determining their own mode of governance. He warned that politicians left to their own devices would come up with a constitution favoring their own interests.

"As a church, we are totally opposed to anyone who is for this [unilateral approach by politicians]," Karanja told a press conference.

Still, some churches have backed the prime minister's proposal. "A delegates' format [including many interest groups] would involve a lot of money. We know what is contentious. Let's isolate that. I support the prime minister," said John Halakhe, general secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya.

Since 1991, a new constitution has evaded Kenya because of disagreements over land distribution, the devolution of power, resource distribution, and Christians' fear of the entrenchment of Islamic courts, also known as Kadhi's courts, allowing for Sharia law.

After Kenya's elections on December 27, 2007, that the opposition said the government had stolen by refusing to acknowledge defeat, violence and unrest broke out in many parts of the country. Hundreds of people died in the violence that followed, and hundreds of thousands more became homeless following massive destruction of property.

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