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A Call to a Change of Heart

A Call to a Change of Heart
Pastoral Letter of the Kenya Catholic Bishops
2 April 1995

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ and all peace of good will in Kenya,

This is our greeting to you all: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ." [1]

  1. On numerous occasions in recent years and especially in recent months, we, Bishops of the Catholic Church in Kenya, have had occasion to voice our concern about various activities and trends in public life in our country. We have been witnessing a terrible breakdown in morality from top to bottom, expressed in ever-increasing lawlessness and violence, such as the many armed robberies, mob lynchings, clashes, rumours of threats to overthrow the Government, etc. Too many of our people are living in fear; it would seem there is no law, no justice, no protection, except for the powerful. When corruption in high places reaches the level it has reached in Kenya, the inevitable result is a breakdown that touches the whole of society. We have warned about this in the past. The rich and the powerful, who use Kenya as their playground and the hard-won goods of Kenyans as their personal spoils in order to grow ever richer, have ignored and mocked us. But we still must fulfil the mission God gave us as watchmen, "So you, Son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life." [2]

    Our personal responsibility for evil done to others is solemnly established by Christ Himself. At the last judgement He will say to those at his left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." Then they also will answer, "Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?" Then he will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." [3]

    We find no consolation in the praise from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Kenya. Money does not solve the moral crisis of Kenya. Nothing has improved for the majority of citizens.

  2. A Call to Prayer

  3. We are calling our people to pray for our country. This is not an act of despair but a cry for hope. "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth."[4] We believe that God cares about the sufferings of his people whose situation is growing ever more desperate: our poor, our unemployed, our sick and crippled who lack even elementary health services, our "street children" and "street dwellers," our hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have lost their livelihood and property, our camp dwellers.

    Again there are our brothers and sisters who turn to vice and violence in their poverty and desperation or to drugs to escape from the frustration and misery of life. We have met mothers and fathers who are ashamed because their children are hungry or have to leave school because their honest work can supply nothing more, our prisoners treated in so many cases inhumanly, our school children whose moral and religious education is being neglected. Beggars are everywhere whilst the self-seeking politicians think only of power and riches.

  4. A Call to Conversion

  5. "Our help is in the name of the Lord!" We believe that God is powerful enough to call our people, at every level, to conversion. For it is conversion that we all need - a conversion of heart and mind to honesty, truth, justice, solidarity and love. We Bishops may fear like Jonah - and may be tempted to run away from the Lord's command to call his people to repentance. "Up," he said, "Go to Nineveh, the great city, and inform them that their wickedness has become known to me." [5] In obedience to the word of God we call, first on our own Catholic people, but also on all the millions of people of goodwill in Kenya, to say, "Enough," enough of dishonesty, of lies, of self-seeking, of bribery and corruption of all kinds, even at the lowliest levels at which it can affect ordinary people. With sadness we admit that some Christians are a disgrace to the name they bear and are doing the work of Satan. We must say, "Enough" first to ourselves, asking God to turn us from our sins to the way of righteousness. If we are to halt the slide into fear, violence and lawlessness that is taking hold of our country, it will only be if the great majority of us resolutely refuse to take that road. Our help and strength are in the name of the Lord.

  6. Let Us Build Our Nation Together

  7. Then with one voice we can say, "Enough" to the officials at all levels who have entered the way of corruption. Here we need to call on our African solidarity; we need to stand together
    against corrupt ways, against violence and intimidation. If all of us together refuse to pay bribes for services to which we have a right, refuse to pay exorbitant fares for transport at peak moments or grossly inflated prices for scarce goods, those who exploit us become helpless. We are blessed if we are willing to suffer something for the sake of justice.[6] We must have the independence and the courage to tell our politicians, "Enough; enough of your divisions, your greed, your squabbles, your lies, your self-seeking, your jockeying for power and riches." Let us vote only for those who will serve the interests of all the people, putting aside all ethnic considerations. It is the people who give our politicians the power that some of them are using against us at present to let our country run down the road that leads to anarchy. We must refuse their money, their bribes, their promised favours; for even if we gain some small momentary advantage, it is at the expense of the misery of many of our brothers and sisters.

  8. This is the meaning of our call to prayer today and in the months ahead. It is a call to all to turn to God our Creator and common Father, whether we are Christians, followers of Traditional Religion, Hindus or Muslims, to turn to God and to ask Him to see the sufferings of the people of Kenya. We want to ask him to lead us out of the downward spiral towards violence and anarchy, to lead all of us through conversion of our hearts into the road of justice and peace, love and unity, so that we may together build one Nation again in strength. We turn with confidence to our Father to help us.

  9. Revision of the Constitution of Kenya

  10. The concept of law was first given to Moses by God in the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.[7] All man-made laws are based on God's will and all laws must be in conformity with God's laws.

    We have hope too in the promise of His Excellency, the President, that he will be inviting experts on Constitution and that views from all Kenyans would be considered in view of constitutional reform.[8] All people of good will must welcome a revision of our Constitution. All Kenyans must feel their responsibility to be engaged in this revision. The PROCESS chosen for drawing up the National Constitution is critical to the quality of the result. We want to emphasize that the way of re-drafting the Constitution must be well thought out in order to ensure that the citizens will recognize it and protect it as their own. The National Constitution will present the national identity of Kenya. It must, therefore, be prepared and written by the citizens of the country. Among our people we have ample skills to do so. The role of foreign experts should be advisory and deal with legal issues.

  11. The entire process of drawing up a new Constitution must involve all Kenyans, from the listening, collating of opinions, submitting views, writing, to the final enactment of the new document. Surely Kenyans are quite capable of drafting the document in question, in preparation for a National Constitutional Conference. The draft document should then be submitted to a national Referendum and not be left to parliament alone to enact. Some decisions are so important for the community that the choice must be referred to the people. The people, not the Government, decide. How the nation is to be governed is a decision that is rightly referred to the entire nation. For the Constitution belongs to the whole people and not merely to their elected representatives. Only in this way can the Constitution endure, be honoured and be taken seriously by all.

  12. Not only should the Constitution be enacted after a consultation of all the citizens in a referendum, but it should be altered only after consultation of the entire society. For the Constitution belongs to the whole people, as we have already said. Since independence, those entrusted by the people with the governance of the country have in fact altered the Constitution without involving the rest of the nation. Citizens through a Constitution empower a Government to rule them. It is not right for the Government to use its power except in accordance with the Constitution. Even the right to change the Constitution must be in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the citizens, not in opposition to or in disregard to their wishes e.g. in 1982 the Constitution was altered without any reference to the wishes of the people.

  13. Separation of Powers

  14. In a democracy different functions of Government are given to each of the three arms of Government, namely, the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature. Each arm is supposed to exercise only its own functions and should not interfere with the other arms. The Executive arm is the most powerful since it controls the coercive elements of the State, such as the army, the police, the prisons, etc. It also commands the resources of the State and controls the civil service. It is therefore of vital importance that the other two arms, and especially the judiciary, have their independence safeguarded.

  15. The Judiciary

  16. The judiciary is the arbiter between the Executive and individuals and between individuals themselves. It is the social referee, having the freedom and authority to ensure that the lowliest citizen is assured that justice will be done in his or her case, and will see its doing. However, over the years the Judiciary has been attacked, intimidated and threatened by the Executive arm of Government. The independence of the Judiciary has been severely eroded and with it the confidence of people in the law. No citizen is above the law. What is true is that the present Constitution accords Government officials a set of immunities from prosecution which, however, cease once they leave office. There are so many cases too, where politicians flout the law with impunity. If our leaders do not show respect for the law, can we be surprised that law and order are breaking down in the whole country?

  17. Legislature

  18. Parliament is supposed to be the body that attends to the needs of all the people and passes laws for the common good of all. Members of Parliament are meant to offer a listening ear to all their constituents and to remain in an ongoing dialogue of service to them. This hardly describes our actual Parliament, which has little authority or concern to serve the good of all the people.

    From a single party structure before the last elections to its current composition of a Government majority and a partisan opposition minority, Parliament finds itself in a stale-mate that does itself and the country little good. It cannot check the excesses of the Executive and, indeed, it often plays a role of complicity in these excesses. One can easily have the impression that Parliament exists to serve the interests of the political party in power while the concerns of the people go unattended.

  19. The basic flow of the current Parliament is due to the process through which it was elected. Although the present ruling party won only 30% of all the votes cast, it nevertheless has 53% of the seats in Parliament. On the other hand, the combined opposition secured 70% of the votes cast but ended up with only 47% of the seats. It is clear the electoral process needs revision, so that the will of the people expressed in their voting may be implemented. Further, under present rules most of the powers of Parliament reside in the Speaker rather than in the Members. The Speaker, who is meant to be an impartial chairman who defends the rights of all members, is in practice the one who decides what matters will be discussed and in what order. The current Standing Orders were drawn up by the present ruling party alone, during the single party era. Clearly they need to be revised. The same is true with regard to the Committees of the House, which are all dominated by KANU MPs. As things are, Parliament is not an effective check on the Executive. Moreover, we are disturbed and we deplore that so many decisions that should be made by Parliament are made elsewhere. However good the intention may be, such practices erode the powers of our elected representatives and lead to many abuses, as well as to bad and often hastily-made decisions.

  20. The weakening of institutions of Government is, however, most evident in particular constitutional offices.

    a) The Office of Attorney-General
    The Attorney-General is the guardian of the public interest. He can only fulfill this role if he enjoys professional independence and sound personal judgement. However, in present practice, the Attorney-General is both a Member of Parliament and of the Cabinet. He has influence on all arms of the Government, and it is difficult, therefore, to expect independence from him - and practice bears this out. We insist that we are dealing here with Constitutional and not personal issues. The independence of the office must be guaranteed by the Constitution.

     

    b) The Director of Public Prosecution

    The powers of prosecution should be hived off from the Attorney-General's office and vested in an independent Director of Public Prosecution. Besides, there is need to create a Ministry of Justice which would then deal with the political burdens that are presently borne by the Attorney-General and leave his office to concentrate on professional activities.

    c) The Office of the Controller and Auditor-General

    It is a matter of public knowledge that the reports of this office, of such vital importance for protecting the rights of the citizens, have over the years been shelved without any action being taken on them. Moreover, a major segment of the responsibilities of this office has been taken from it and given to a new office, that of the Controller and Auditor of State Corporations. It is also well-known that State requirements of Corporations can be exempted from the State Corporations Act simply through a Gazette notice. It is all too obvious that, if the Controller and Auditor-General are to be effective in watching over the rights and resources of the citizens and protecting them from plunder, either the Attorney-General should be obliged to take remedial action when the interests of the public require it, or the Controller and Auditor-General's office should be given powers of prosecution.

    d) Checks and Balances

    A Government, which serves the good of all the people rather than of special interest groups, requires a series of checks and balances, since human history shows how power tends to corrupt, unless adequate safeguards are put in place. The Constitution therefore, should secure the necessary independence of Parliament and of the judiciary from the Executive branch of Government. Likewise, all those offices which are established to protect the interests of the people, such as those mentioned above, must be guaranteed by the Constitution the independence and authority necessary to protect the common good. Likewise, the operations of the Public Service Commission should be guaranteed independence, and they must be transparent. Those selected for the Commission should be people of absolute integrity, independent of political influence, so that all civil servants may be confident that the decisions of the Commission are just and in accordance with its mandate.

  21. What Is to Be Done?

  22. It is obvious to all that this country cannot bear the present state of discontent and loss of hope. The people must be heard. In the preparation of the new Constitution, therefore, we request that the Government engage competent citizens, for example, legal experts, politicians, religious bodies, business people, farmers, professors, etc., in dialogue in order to find a common ground and approach. There is now a consensus on the need for constitutional reform to involve all Kenyans so that there is no domination from any quarter. His Excellency, the President, must have been struck by the joyful acclaim with which his New Year message on this subject was received by everyone. Involving all in a joint venture for the good of the nation will save time and possible acrimony in the future.

  23. Some Further Important Issues

  24. Since the Government is committed to constitutional reform, we believe that the enactment of other laws should wait until the fundamental issue of constitutional reform has been finalized. In particular, the controversial Land (Amendment) Bill should be shelved until the new Constitution lays down the ground rules on land issues. We also believe that the drawing up of the new Constitution should involve the repeal or amendment of presently existing repressive laws, which are numerous.

    Moreover, the Constitution must spell out clearly the powers of the President and present the office, not as a position to be sought for the good of any person or party, but as a call to the self-sacrificing service to all the people, with a special care for the poor and the marginalized in society. This will create an atmosphere of hope and reconciliation in the whole country. It is vital for the good of Kenya that the Revised Constitution be finalized without any unnecessary delay and that, once enacted, it be firmly and even handedly implemented.

    The good of Kenya is sincerely what we want and this statement, as well as our previous ones, is not meant as negative criticism of the Government. We appreciate the great difficulties in leading our people and governing justly.

    It is the Truth which will lead to the right solution. A doctor cannot help a patient without a correct diagnosis. No leader will help Kenya without knowing the Truth. It is surely true to say that the good image of the Police in the eyes of the public has disappeared. One sees and reads of nothing but over-reaction, brutal repression, arbitrary arrests not to speak of other abuses. The ruthless efficiency of the Police in breaking up any peaceful opposition is in contrast with their inability to fight crime and protect the ordinary citizen from thugs and law-breakers.

    Surely the Government is wrong in allowing violent demonstrations against political opponents. If the Administration allow armed warriors of exclusively one ethnic group to parade through a town or display bows and arrows in threatening postures, even on T.V., what message does that convey to other Kenya citizens?

    Such occurrences, reported daily, leave the intelligent citizen amazed. There is a real crisis of credibility on the political leadership and this surely the leadership should be aware of. A popularly-elected and supported Government should not have to resort to such massive security operations. Most of the public feel betrayed.

    Whilst not condoning violence from any source the consistent thwarting of political rallies and meeting, all but KANU ones, must have the disastrous effect of driving the opposition underground. The treatment of non-KANU political activities violates the basic rules of democracy and of constitutional and human rights.

    Kenya is very sick and the official diagnosis is false and therefore the treatment is not helping. Since the Church has suffered it can witness to what is wrong - not with bitterness but requesting that we "build this our Nation together."

  25. We wish to refer now to some issues which have distressed our citizens and which confirm the need for the kind of changes we have called for above.

    a) Resettlement of Displaced Families

    We cannot but express our distress at and condemnation of recent "resettlement" exercises undertaken by the Government. Night operations and raids, reminiscent of the worst activities of totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world, have left Kenyans dismayed and angered. The primary and essential duty of any Government is to care for and protect its citizens. As our justice and Peace Commission stated: "Even if the victims of the Enoosupukia, Burnt Forest and Thesalia violence were land speculators and not genuine owners of land, they are Kenyans and have a right to expect from the Government, humane, fair and just treatment. All Kenyans have a right to live in any part of the country. We do not have communal lands or ethnic lands."

    b) Religious and Moral Values

    One of our most serious concerns at present, shared we are convinced, not just by our Catholic faithful, but also by the great majority of our citizens and most religious leaders, is that of the falling standards of education and especially of the lack of formation to religious and moral values. The Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 quoted by the Gachathi Report of 1976, clearly endorses the fact that ethics needs a religious base to give it authority. Lack of such a well-founded ethics will constitute a basis for social disintegration and, in the long run, degeneration of the quality of life of a society. We do not wish to be alarmist, but we do believe that Kenya is on the road to moral decay and social disintegration.

    We agree with the statement made by His Excellency, President Daniel Arap Moi, at Egerton University on November 25, 1994, in relation to sexual morality, that "People have lost their moral fibre." Again at the Jamhuri Day celebrations on December 12, 1994, he affirmed the need for self-control in sexual matters and recognized the position of Religious Leaders regarding sex education. We still affirm our resolution against sex education in schools except on the condition that it be based on faith and morals, with full consent of parents.

    We offer pastoral religious programmes for youth. The standards of general education as well as those of religious and moral education are falling daily. As Bishops, we visit our schools and are well-informed of what is happening. In all our Dioceses we have competent educational advisers. We believe that as religious leaders we have a right to have a hearing. The Catholic Church has a very good record in the field of education. We strongly demand consultation on the new Education Act before it is brought back to Parliament.

  26. A Call for Dialogue with Parents and Religious Leaders

  27. We lament the great lack of openness in the way that the Ministry of Education conducts its business. It consistently fails to consult parents and religious leaders and ignores their opinions and demands, when these are publicly expressed. Indeed, not long ago the Honourable Minister of Education accused the Catholic Bishops of having a hidden political agenda when we raised strong objections on moral grounds to the so-called Family Life Education Programme (Project No. KEN/94/P04). Indeed, what troubles us so deeply is that so many decisions of the Ministry of Education are taken solely on political grounds and threaten the future social and moral health of the nation. We insist again that parents, who have the primary and inalienable right to education of their children, have a right to be heard in the formation of all important educational policies, and they have organizations through which they can be consulted.

    As Religious leaders we have repeatedly called, and call again now, for the reinforcement of Religious Education as an essential subject in the school curriculum. If our country is to be turned back from the road to disaster, there is an overriding need for dialogue and cooperation between the Ministry of Education, Religious Leaders and Parents. The future social and moral health of the nation requires the training and formation of our youth for chastity, fidelity and family values based on faith and morals. We, together with so many parents and religious leaders, repudiate the above-mentioned Family Life Education Programme as a fit instrument to this end. It should be unequivocally withdrawn once and for all.

  28. Conclusion

  29. We as shepherds of the Catholic Church address our dear brothers and sisters today. Our concern is for you, our faithful, in the first place, but it is also a deeply felt concern for all the citizens of our beloved Kenya. We are calling you to prayer at a crucial time for the future of our country. "Save us, O Lord our God and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to Thy holy name and glory in Thy praise" [9] We are also calling each one of you to a deep interior conversion, a change of heart and mind. We are challenging you and ourselves to enter and walk resolutely on the way of truth, justice, solidarity and love, a way which excludes all narrowly earthly and ethnic considerations. We are also calling our local provincial and national leaders to conversion, to know the things that are for their own peace and the peace of our country. We end with the words of the Master we follow and in whose name we speak: "What gain, then, is it for a person to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?" [10]

Notes

[1] Eph 1:2.
[2] Ezk 33:7-9.
[3] Mt 25:41-46.
[4] Ps 124:8.
[5] John 1:2.
[6] cf. Mt 5:10.
[7] cf. Ex 20:1-21.
[8] Sunday Nation 1/1/95.
[9] Ps 106:47.
[10] Lk 9:25.