A Report from Kenya

From David Zarembka, AGLI Friends Peace Teams

Dear All,

On August 4, Kenyans will do something that Americans have never done – vote on a new constitution. As happens in Kenya, this vote has already become contentious and perhaps violent. The Yes side is supported by the Government including both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The No side is led by two men; William Ruto, the MP and minister who lives across the road from Lumakanda in Turbo Division; and,  Cyrus Jirongo which is our MP here in Lugari. Turbo is an area where we have been doing a lot of peacebuilding work.

More disturbing is that the National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK) has joined the No vote. The papers have reported numerous times that the Friends Church is part of the No campaign since the leaders in Nairobi are part of NCCK. Nonetheless, out here in western Kenya, I would say that the vast majority of Friends are on the Yes side of the vote and I know at least one yearly meeting which has unanimously agreed to the Yes side as opposed to the leadership of the Friends Church in Kenya which represents Friends on the NCCK. In other words this has polarized the Friends Church in Kenya and is leading to a new division.

This has hurt the work of Friends Church Peace Teams, which is purposely neutral in all of these political wrangles. When Getry went to the USAID office in Eldoret to obtain funding for civic education on the constitution in Turbo Division, she was told that Friends could not receive any funding because they had already publicly taken sides!

The NCCK objects to two items in the very long new constitution. One is the inclusion of the Kadhi Courts which are domestic courts in which Muslims resolve disputes when both parties are Muslim. The current constitution includes Khadi Courts so if the No side wins, the Kadhi Courts will still be in the constitution. I cannot interpret opposition to this item as anything more than an anti-Muslim crusade. After the fall of Communism in 1990, the conspiracy theories in Africa changed from being "the Communists want to take over Africa" to "the Muslims want to take over Africa". This theory is promoted by fundamentalist evangelicals in the United States. Kenya is about 10% to 15% Muslim and of course they support keeping the inclusion of the Kadhi courts.

NCCK’s second main issue is abortion. If adopted, the new constitution will be the only one in the world, except that of the Vatican, that includes the phrase "life begins at conception". There is also a clause that says there can be an abortion to save the life or health of the mother. Although this is not in the current constitution, it is the current law of the land. The NCCK claims that this clause will lead to abortion on demand and the Catholic Church agrees with this assessment. Some of the Protestant Churches on the No side are receiving financial support from fundamentalist churches and organizations in the United States.

What is really behind this? I think that the above is mostly a smoke screen for the current establishment. One of the main issues that leads to violence in Kenya is land, particularly the large, illegal land grabbing by influential, rich Kenyans, including much government owned
land. The new constitution will require that any land grabbed illegally will have to be returned to the State. Clearly this will upset many of those who have benefited from land grabbing but they cannot publicly fight the constitution on these grounds.

Already this has led to threats of violence. Since many people in Kenya are illiterate, the Yes and No sides have each been given a color – green for Yes and red for No. Church leaders on the No side have accepted this color because they say that it represents the blood of Christ and the bloodshed that they new constitution will bring! In Kitale just north of us to the east of Mt Elgon, fliers have been distributed in the town saying that if the new constitution is passed everyone in the region who is not a Pokot, who claims to be original owners of the area, will be forced from their homes and have to return to where they came from – clearly this is a campaign tactic of the No campaign rather than the Pokots themselves.

The old electoral commission for the 2007 election was dismissed in disgrace and a new one appointed. Their task has been to register voters, which has just been completed. The Friends Church Peace Teams (FCPT) held a seminar for about 50 Friends to do registration monitoring during the enrollment process. We have learned elsewhere that the fraud in elections in this region begins in the enrollment process so that this must be monitored closely. Below is a report from Getry Agizah, the Coordinator of FCPT. I have put in brackets my comments that will explain some of the observations.
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