Text Size

Pre-Election Concerns

Pre-Election Concerns
Our Responsibility as Christians in the Present Situation
15 August 1992

Elections had been announced and the process of registration of votes had already started in June that year, not without some irregularities. Some of them are mentioned by the Bishops. The Executive Committee of the Kenya Episcopal Conference gave a press conference on the 16th of June, but the release they gave to the press was not published in the newspapers. A good initiative of civic education was organized by the National Christian Council of Kenya called National Civic Education Programme (NECEP). The Catholic Bishops joined in this initiative through their Justice and Peace Commission. Thousands of flyers informing the people about their rights and duties as voters were widely distributed and welcomed. The Catholic Church, in union with other Christian Churches, played a key role in the preparation of this important electoral process as educators of the people.

It was in the line of political education that this Pastoral Letter wanted to present, in a simple form, the Christian vision of Politics and some applications to the situation in Kenya. This pastoral initiative was very opportune, at a moment in which electoral campaigns were going in the country, and some citizens tended to get discouraged and disinterested.


  1. In this crucial moment for the history of Kenya in which we enter a new political era, it is our duty as Pastors of the Catholic Church to read the signs of the times in the light of the truth of the Gospel which is always a "light for our path." [1] It is the concern for the future of our country that moves us to raise up our voice again before the forthcoming Presidential and General elections. We extend our message also to all Christians and to all men and women of good will in our country since we all are equally involved in our common destiny as a nation.

  2. The Church and Worldly Realities

  3. The Church founded by Christ in this world and gathered from all the nations by the power of the Holy Spirit [2] is a pilgrim people on earth, a visible sign of the Kingdom of God and as such has a spiritual purpose which will be fully attained only in the life to come. This mission, however, takes place in human history where the Church is "constituted and organized as a society in the present world." [3] Christians "travel the same journey as all mankind and share the same earthly lot with the world." [4] The mission entrusted to the Church by Christ is precisely "to be a leaven, and, as it were, the soul of human society in the renewal by Christ."[5]

  4. Though there is a distinction between the earthly and the heavenly city, there cannot exist a separation between them because both belong to the same plan of creation and salvation; it is in the middle of this world that God prepares for us a "new heaven and a new earth."[6] According to this close unity between human history and the human eternal destiny, Christians cannot exonerate themselves from their earthly responsibilities by claiming to be citizens of heaven who have not here a lasting city. [7]

  5. The Second Vatican Council exhorts Christians as citizens of both cities to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel: "It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, (Cf. Heb 13:14) we are entitled to shrink our earthly responsibilities according to the vocation of each one."[8]

  6. Christians and Politics

  7. Politics is one of the most important earthly realities in the life of human societies in which Christians have to be actively present. Political structures are necessary for the common good of the national community, a common good that embraces all the conditions of social life which enable individuals, families and institutions to achieve their complete fulfilment.

  8. There is a distinction between Politics as a social structure for the common good of the human society and party politics as a concrete means to establish a particular political regime or political leader. While the former is closely related to the plan of God in creating human beings to live in society, the latter is left to the concrete responsibility of citizens. In both cases, however, politics "must be exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed toward the common good."[9] Those who claim an absolute autonomy for Politics from religious values by quoting the words of Jesus "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar," [10] often forget that Caesar himself belongs to God.

  9. "It is clear - as the Second Vatican Council teaches - that the political community and public authority are based on human nature, and therefore that they need to belong to an order established by God; nevertheless, the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of citizens" (Cf. Rom 13:5).[11] It is not the mission of the Church to start or to support any particular political party or system [12] nor does the Church show to the Catholic faithful any political preference, provided that human dignity is properly respected and promoted. [13]

  10. But Christians are not marked off from the rest of people by country, by language or by political institutions. [14] As good citizens they should be moved by the love of their country and reject racial or ethnic hatred and all kind of divisions within the national community: "In their patriotism and in their fidelity to their own civic duties, Catholics will feel themselves bound to promote the true common good; they will make the weight of their convictions so influential that as a result civil authority will be justly exercised and laws will accord with the moral precepts of common good."[15]

  11. There is no Christian justification for political apathy or inertia especially when the circumstances require more political participation as it is the case of General and Presidential elections. The so-called political neutrality can play, as a matter of fact, in favour of one party or the other.

    The lack of commitment of a considerable number of citizens is a resignation that gives the power of decision, be it right or wrong, to the others. We, therefore, remind all our faithful that to vote is not only their right accorded to them by the Constitution of our country, but also a responsibility given by God for the proper exercise of human rights and freedom in order to establish a good government. Those who withdraw from their civic duty of voting should have little right to complain about the evil consequences of the newly elected political regime, installed, partly, thanks to their passive collaboration.

  12. The Case of Kenya

  13. In the case of Kenya it seems clear that a change of political structures is necessary and that the perpetuation of the "status quo" would simply lead the country to social chaos. In one of our public statements we underlined the urgency of the present situation: "The present picture of Kenya is one where their leaders are discrediting themselves by all the accusations and counter-accusations, by inciting bad feelings against tribes, groups or parties without any respect for truth or brotherly feelings." [16] There is no need here for an analysis of the situation. We have done that in several of our past Pastoral Letters. [17] This is our third Pastoral Letter in this year because the situation, far from improving, has been progressively deteriorating. We did not hide our concern to His Excellency the President when we told him openly and sincerely that Kenyan people haves lost their confidence in the present political institutions and leadership. [18]

  14. There is not yet peace in the clash areas and most of the displaced people have not recovered their land. Some schools have stayed closed and learning disrupted in these institutions. There is much looting going on. The fear of clashes still remains strong in the minds of the people with threats that they will escalate before the elections. The price of basic commodities is increasing beyond control. Health services are a scandal. There are still political prisoners in Kenya. Contrary to what we have expressed earlier this year [19] concerning the equal opportunities given to all parties we see that political opposition parties are denied license to hold political rallies and are frustrated in many petty ways. Physical violence has been used against some of their members and leaders.

  15. Anomalies in the process of registration of voters have been publicly noticed and reported. Citizens over eighteen years have been denied identity cards in some regions. As a matter of fact, the anomalies in the process of registration of voters have caused distrust and skepticism in the mind of many thinking Kenyans who have refused to register themselves as voters. There is among people a suspicion about the honesty of the forthcoming elections since the Government reserves itself the right to appoint the official observers while rejecting other monitoring groups. National non-partisan monitoring groups have the right to observe and verify the fairness of the electoral process. We also recommend that in addition to the Commonwealth group, other foreign monitoring groups who have the experience of monitoring elections in Africa be invited. Since we expect that elections will be held in a climate of honesty and transparency, nothing is to be feared in inviting them.

  16. Our Constitution is amended by an incomplete and quite often unilateral Parliament after a few hours of discussion without any national referendum nor wider consultation. One example is the Constitutional Amendment on Presidential election which just sailed through Parliament on August 6 this year. This Constitutional Amendment has met with a lot of controversy because the twenty-five percent added gives rise to the possibility of choosing particular provinces as grounds for rigging. Another example is the proposed amendment of the Defamation Act (chapter 36 of the Laws of Kenya) which proposes harsh measures against the Press. This cannot but be seen as muzzling the Press and this would be against the democracy we want. Is this effervescent period before elections really favourable for constitutional changes? The will of dividing our national community with the so-called "majimboism" is causing tribal discrimination and lack of freedom of movement for Kenyans within their own national territory.

  17. Kenyan people have suffered intolerably under the political leaders who were rigged into Parliament and do not feel accountable to the electorate in any way. We have survived, through God's mercy, the possibility of civil war in the country but the harm is there. The mismanagement of the country's economy has led to severe hardships for the majority of the poor who cannot afford even a packet of maize meal, the staple food in Kenya. In this situation Kenyans look for a substantial change of political structures not just for superficial arrangements and compromise with the status quo.

  18. Unfortunately, there seems to be little hope for such substantial changes coming from the present political authorities. The alternative is in the hands of the people of Kenya, but they need also education and guidance in civic and political matters. This education is not to be expected to come from the government-controlled Press, Radio and Television. The long years of one party political system have failed to educate Kenyans for democracy and we see political opposition sometimes confused and divided and also confusing and dividing. Elections, in such a climate, can bring still more confusion and division and their result can cause more frustration among people.

  19. Our Common Responsibility

  20. All Church leaders, the entire Christian community and people of good will must work together to help the nation in exercising a free and just electioneering process. The Churches must condemn all plans and practices that lure the youth to be used for violence and corruption. There is an urgent need to question the integrity of some of the existing party youth organisations. The Catholic Church in a spirit of ecumenical collaboration wants to contribute to the process of civic education of the Kenyan citizens through its participation in the National Ecumenical Civic Education Programme (NECEP). But civic education is not enough if our political structures are not revised and adapted to the new era of multi-party system. To amend the section 2(A) of our Constitution is not enough because the change of political system necessarily affects many other sections of the Constitution. But such structural changes must not be done in a time of political turmoil.

  21. Conclusion

  22. Democracy is a system of Government by popular consent based on reciprocal transparency and accountability. There is no real democracy when someone declares himself or herself an unopposed candidate or is declared so by just a small group of followers. It may well happen that this apparent non-opposition is the result of fear or lack of wider consultation. The electorate must know and guard their civic rights and duties and never be manipulated or bought by money, gifts or promises of jobs and positions in the future Government. The Government should stop using coercive strategies especially towards civil servants and teachers in order to support KANU. Opposition parties should not be seen as enemies of the present ruling party or Government but as alternative options for Kenyans to exercise their democratic rights in a multi-party era. We must learn to live and work together with parties having different ideologies without creating a culture of fear.

  23. Campaigns must be carried out in a peaceful and honest way, devoid of any violence and slander of the other opponents. All citizens must be guided by the truth, integrity and justice which are anchored on God's commandment. [20] It is sad to see that violence has erupted in some of the political meetings of the opposition parties even causing death. It is necessary to remind all parties including KANU that politics is for the good of the people and the country, and not for a political survival of any individual or party. If the spirit of the primacy of the common good were to animate all the parties, we would not witness wrangling, bickering and power struggle which leaves the public dismayed and disheartened. The quality of democracy is determined by the establishment of proper structures which facilitate freedom of thought, expression, and association. Kenyans should resist all attempts to suffocate their rights to elect the right people in all positions of political leadership.

  24. Democracy gives everyone a chance of participating in the affairs of the country. It is a good thing but it can be, as many good things, improperly used and manipulated by unscrupulous leaders for furthering their own evil designs. As we stated in one of our Pastoral Letters: "The main problems and challenges of our country are caused not first by a political system and will not be automatically solved by changing it. There are "structures of sin" that, because of our human sinful inclination, can insert themselves into any political system, the multi-party system included." [21]

  25. General and Presidential elections are crucial, for then Kenyans will be deciding on their future government which will depend on the quality of leaders they choose. This is why we want to conclude this Pastoral Letter by providing some criteria for the choice of candidates in the same way as we suggested earlier this year [22] some criteria for the choice of representatives to the new Parliament. Our aim is not to show to anyone a preference for any particular person or party but to provide guidelines that may help the ordinary citizen in his her own political choice for the common good of the region.

    • We should look for candidates that respect the Law of God and are actually guided by it, respecting the charter of Human Rights not only as the rights of people but also as the rights of God.
    • We should look for candidates who have the courage to speak out for the truth, who cherish social justice and show a preferential concern for the poor of our land.

    • We should look for candidates who are professionally competent, who have a deep knowledge of the situation of our Kenyan society and show a balanced judgement in proposing possible solutions.

    • We should look for candidates who are open to dialogue, to criticism, to team work and who show no ambition for personal power and self-enrichment but rather a real desire of service to the nation.

    • We should look for candidates who are known by their moral integrity, transparency and accountability to the people.


  27. Dear Brothers and Sisters: this picture of a candidate is far from being exhaustive. Through your own discernment, consultation and prayer, other valuable qualities may be identified. We therefore urge all people of good will to enter into a climate of prayer and spiritual discernment in order to fulfil their political responsibilities. We also appeal to all political parties and leaders to be aware of their heavy obligation in orienting the public opinion and presenting clear political programmes so that the choice may be easier for the common citizen. Let us pray with hope for a better Kenya. Discouragement and bitterness will not build the nation. God is always with us and "unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain those who build it."[23]

    We bless you and remain always,
    Yours devotedly in Christ.

Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. What are the reasons given by the Bishops to justify the right of the Church to intervene in political matters?

  2. It is rather unusual to see Kenyan Catholics pubicly committed in politics. Why? Is it good or bad, according to the teachings of this Pastoral Letter?

  3. Bishops mention "structures of sin" (cf. No. 19). Do you know what they are? Can you give some examples?


[1] Cf. Ps 118:105.
[2] Cf. Eph. 1:3, 5-6, 13-14, 23.
[3] Cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, No. 8.
[4] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 40.
[5] Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, No. 38.
[6] Cf. Rev 21:1.
[7] Cf. Heb 13:14.
[8] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 43.
[9] Idem, No. 42.
[10] Mt 22:21; Mk 12:16-17; Lk 20:24-25.
[11] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 74.
[12] Idem, No. 42.

[13] Cf. Pope John Paul II, The Social Concern of the Church, No. 41.
[14] Cf. Epist. ad Diognetum, PG 2 1173; Vatican II, Dogmatic Const. on the Church, No. 38.
[15] Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, No. 14; Cf. Paul VI, Evangelization Today, No. 70.
[16] Public Statement of the Kenya Episcopal Conference (22 May 1992), No. 6.
[17] See: On the Present Situation of Our Country, (Pastoral Letter of 20 June 1990), No. 13; Catholic Bishops' Statement On Pastoral Concerns in the Present Situation, (27 Sept. 1991); Kenya 1992: Looking Towards the Future with Hope, (Pastoral Letter of 9 January 1992), No. -18; A Call to Justice, Love and Reconciliation (Pastoral Letter of 22 March 1992), No. 3-7.
[18] Cf. Joint Message to His Excellency the President of Kenya (30 April 1992).
[19] Cf. Kenya 1992: Looking Towards the Future with Hope, No. 20 d.
[20] Cf. Ex 20:12-17.
[21] See: Kenya 1992: Looking Towards the Future with Hope, No. 2.
[22] Idem, No. 23.
[23] Ps 127:1.