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A Call to Justice, Love and Reconciliation

A Call to Justice, Love and Reconciliation
A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Kenya
22 March1992

This Pastoral Letter, issued on the Third Sunday of Lent, was prompted by an increase in violence. There was violence not only in clash areas where thousands of Kenyans were displaced, dispossessed and several hundreds killed, but also in cities. The most notorious incident was the one caused by the mothers of well-known political prisoners who installed themselves in a corner of Uhuru Park in Nairobi , known then as the "freedom corner," in order to ask the President for the release of their sons. The reaction of the police was brutal against these women. Some were injured. The mothers retired and took refuge on the premises of the All Saints Cathedral of the Church of the Province of Kenya (belonging to the Anglican confession).

The announced multi-party system remained theoretical for many Government officials because they were very reluctant to grant licences for political rallies of the opposition especially outside their "political zones." There were violent incidents caused by KANU members during these rallies, while the police remained passive spectators.

This Pastoral Letter was read in public by the Bishops during a solemn Mass at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi at which most of the Bishops of Kenya concelebrated. The mothers of the "freedom corner" were especially invited to the mass. After the celebration, the Bishops greeted them and gave them the fruit of the collection as a gesture of solidarity with their just cause.


  1. We the Catholic Bishops in exercise of our prophetic role do once again address this letter to you, all people of Kenya and particularly to leaders, during this difficult political situation in our country. Urged by the Word of God we feel that the words of the prophet Ezekiel are relevant to all of us in Kenya today. We, as shepherds of the Catholic church and in union with all the religious leaders in our country, are challenged by the words of the prophet Ezekiel:

    "Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them from me. If I say to someone wicked, "You will die," and you do not warn this person; if you do not speak to warn someone wicked to renounce evil and so save his life, it is the wicked person who will die for the guilt, but I shall hold you responsible for that death." (Ezekiel 3:17-18)

  2. Inspired by this text we who are gathered here from every part of Kenya want to convey the anguishes and expectations of our people. In our previous pastoral letter, "Looking towards the future with hope" (January 1992), we have spoken among other things about the lack of respect of human rights in our country and proposed various remedies to the various shortcomings. Notwithstanding the short time which has elapsed since the publication of the pastoral letter, certain disturbing events have taken place about which we cannot remain silent.

  3. Reality of Clashes

  4. Since October 1991 we have experienced the existence of "inter-tribal conflicts," especially concentrated there where Nyanza and Western Province border with Rift Valley Province. Initially those in authority did not treat the situation with the seriousness it deserved. This resulted in an escalation of violence.

  5. The country has been led to believe that these conflicts are tribally based or in some way connected with land tenure. A careful analysis, however, leads us to conclude that this is all part of a wider political strategy:

    • The attacks on civil servants, school children, business people, tea-pickers and other workers in Rift Valley are a clear sign that the land is not always the issue.

    • Eye-witness accounts strongly suggest that the arsonists and bandits are well-trained and are transported to the scenes of crime from outside the area so that they cannot be identified by local people.

    • Neighbors of different tribes who have been living together for many years can hardly be in conflict at the same time and in different regions.

    • Some victims were warned in advance of a forthcoming attack by their neighbors who volunteered to keep their property safe in their own houses. This attitude clearly shows no tribal conflicts.

    • The whole issue is officially presented to the public as a clear sign of the failure of the multi-party system in this country.

    • There has been no impartiality on the part of the security forces trying to restore peace. On the contrary, their attitude seems to imply that orders from above were given in order to inflict injuries only on particular ethnic groups.

  6. It goes without saying that it is the duty of any Government to safeguard the lives and property of its citizens. The Government alone has all the necessary means at its disposal to achieve this. It is difficult for the Government to exonerate itself from the responsibility of these violent clashes. The passivity of the forces of public order, sometimes just watching the events, as in the case of the public disturbances in February 1992 in Ngong, is a confirmation of this. It would be better for the police to be deployed to protect innocent people from aronists and bandits, rather than to beat unarmed citizens.
  7. This situation is a man-made disaster; injustice has been done by Kenyans themselves. The government should take responsibility in alleviating the suffering and rehabilitating those who have lost their homes and property. So far only the churches and non-governmental organizations have taken care of the victims of the clashes.

  8. Multipartism: from Theory to Practice

  9. We wholeheartedly sympathize with those innocent people who have been wounded indiscriminately, including school children and with the relatives of those who have died. But we condemn the planners, organisers and implementers of such violence as well as those who have taken advantage of the civil unrest to loot and destroy property.

  10. The advent of the multi-partism as the result of the scrapping of the section 2A of our Constitution was greeted with enthusiasm and hope for a brighter future. The hope of every Kenyan was that the constitutional change would be far reaching and not something merely theoretical. This means that every Kenyan should have full freedom of association with all its practical consequences. Every Kenyan should enjoy equal rights before the law, wherever he/she lives or works. It is with this in mind that we are disturbed by the statements made by some high-ranking politicians, declaring certain zones to be exclusively for the KANU party and demanding that certain ethnic groups should leave the districts. The results of these utterances are that people have been forced out of their schools, jobs, houses and even from their land. We are further concerned by the lack of impartiality on the part of radio and television media in the coverage of different political parties. Equal coverage has to be given to all.

  11. In a multi-party state, civil servants should be seen to be servants of the government rather than of a particular political party. In our situation today this is not very often the case. We admire those of our civil servants who in following their conscience refuse to be used by any political party. We condemn, at the same time, all those who have allowed themselves to be politically manipulated in suppressing political freedom and hampering the development of the multi-party system in some districts by not granting licenses for the meetings.

  12. Still Political Prisoners

  13. There are political prisoners languishing in our prisons today who should not be there. If their only crime is of a political nature before the amendment of the constitution section 2A, why should they be kept in prison?

  14. This situation has led various groups of citizens to campaign for their release. Prominent among these has been the group of mothers of prisoners who started a fast at the "Freedom Corner" in Uhuru Park. Kenyans were moved by the sight of defenseless women provoked through their helplessness and frustration to react in a manner that showed the depth of pain of a mother.

  15. The handling of the situation by the security forces in this case and of others thereafter has left us speechless. We support the cause of these mothers, assuring them of our solidarity with them and with all those who have helped them. In the meantime we appeal to those in authority to be more open to the protection of human dignity.

  16. Justice and Love for Reconciliation

  17. All these events are unfolding themselves at the favourable time of Lent. This is the time that we are all called to reconciliation as a fitting way to prepare ourselves for the great feast of Easter.

    Now we want to shed the light of our Christian faith on this sad situation by recalling the teaching of Christ our Master and Teacher:

    "If you are bringing your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your gift" (Mt. 5:23-24).

    As Christians we must pay heed to the words of Christ:

    "If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you the wrongs you have done" (Mt 6:14-15).

  18. We can never support the principle of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth"; if such principle were applied, violence would never end. We therefore urge the government to arrest and charge in court of law those politicians who have fueled trouble by irresponsible public utterances and deeds.

  19. In view of this call to reconciliation, we appeal to the government and to the KANU party to accept the fact that Kenya today is a multi-party state. Every citizen of this country has the inalienable right to join any political party of his or her choice and has the right to protection and security by the State.

  20. Reconciliation demands that the various parties respect each other's manifestoes and that all the parties in turn recognize and respect the government as an institution. Political dissent and constructive criticism should not be labeled as seditious and subversive opposition.

  21. Reconciliation is called for, especially in the current situation of the clashes. People have been killed or displaced, houses burnt, property looted or destroyed. Both the government and the parties must be fully aware of their responsibilities. Counter accusations must really come to an end, and more time be spent in seeking ways and means to improve the quality of life of our people. Justice demands that those who have been rendered homeless or who have had their property be rehabilitated and compensated.

  22. We affirm the need to uphold and respect the dignity of every person for each one is "Created in the image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1:26) In virtue of this, each person, man or woman, is "sacred," enjoying the personal love of God.

  23. In the words of the prophet we make now a fervent appeal to all our leaders and especially those in government to work sincerely for the good and justice for all our people without any prejudice to any tribal group.

    "The Lord, says, 'Cease to do evil, learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed , be just to the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17).

  24. We admire the courage and self-control of our Kenyan people who have resisted the provocation to fall in the trap of violence. We call upon the people in the affected areas and indeed in the whole country not to take revenge but rather to be reconciled with one another. We appeal to them to hold reconciliation barazas so that the peace and harmony that existed between them may be restored. Those who hold property belonging to others are morally bound in conscience to restore it to its lawful owners. We further call upon you all, of whatever religious confession: Muslims, Hindus, Traditionalists or other creeds, but particularly you Christians, not to allow yourselves to be divided by tribal disputes,

    "For you are all sons and daughters of one and the same Heavenly Father" (Col 3:10)

  25. Following the example of the Holy Father John Paul II when he prayed for peace at Assisi together with the leaders of the main religious confessions of the world, we conclude by quoting part of the well-known prayer composed by St. Francis of Assisi:

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
    Where there is hatred… let me sow love.
    Where there is injury… pardon.
    Where there is discord…unity.
    Where there is doubt…faith
    Where there is error…truth.
    Where there is despair…hope.
    Where there is sadness…joy.
    Where there is darkness… light.

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

Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. The existence of different races and tribes is a fact wanted by God in creating the world. What then is wrong with racism and tribalism?

  2. From a Christian point of view, revenge can never be justified. Why? What is the difference between revenge and legitimate defence?

  3. Is it enough to repeal article 2A of the Constitution in order to have a multi-party system functioning in Kenya? What else is necessary?