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On Pastoral Concerns in the Present Situation

On Pastoral Concerns in the Present Situation
A Statement from the Bishops of Kenya
27 September 1991

This Statement was produced during an extraordinary Plenary Meeting of the Bishops' Conference in September 1991. There were several reasons to prompt this meeting and its message. First of all, there was a considerable increase in the price of basic commodities which was decided in an unusual way. Official prices are announced in Kenya by the Minister of Finances during the so-called "Budget Day" and not just through an announcement in the newspapers, as it was the case in September of that year. On the other hand, salaries were not increased, and that caused popular discontent.

The Bishops mention also the Narok-Kisii conflict which was the first manifestation of a series of "tribal clashes" in Kenya. Similar clashes would start in the Rift Valley and some bordering Districts, in Nyanza and the Western Provinces between the Kalenjin (the President's own tribal group) and other tribes, especially the Luo, the Kikuyu and the Luhya. From the very beginning there was the feeling that those conflicts were not really of a tribal nature but rather politically planned, as appeared later.

The issue of unrest and indiscipline in educational institutions was prompted by generalised complaints that children were overworked under the current education system of eight years of primary school followed by four years of secondary school and then four years of superior level of studies. The primary school programme was not only overloaded with many subjects that could not be properly assimilated, but it also included subjects that were inappropriate and irrelevant in some cases, such as carpentry for girls, knitting for boys, and agriculture for students living in major cities, where schools did not have any space for a small vegetable garden.

There was a process of politicisation of the whole educational stem whereby appointments and educational policies were no longer under the control of the Minister of Education but under the hidden network of political influences popularly called "god-fatherism." The Bishops had earlier sent a special memorandum to the Presidential Committee on Unrest and Indiscipline in Educational Institutions on this matter. The memorandum was partially published in the Catholic magazine Mwananchi (Issue of November 1991, pages 3-4). Their voice had a visible effect because the Minister of Education announced on Monday, 7 October that the number of compulsory subjects in Primary Schools had been reduced from ten to eight and that the whole primary school curriculum was being re-organised.

Other issues mentioned such as lack of freedom of movement and of expression and abuses of authority, show the atmosphere of political tension that was prevalent in Kenya towards the end f 1991. The year ended with a positive note of relief because in December the Parliament repealed the article 2A of the Constitution, thus restoring the multi-party system in Kenya.

  1. We, the Pastors of the Catholic Church in Kenya, have been gathered in an extraordinary plenary meeting of our Episcopal Conference on the 27th of September 1991. In a spirit of collaboration with all men and women of good will in our country and faithful to our prophetic role of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God and its Justice, we express our concern on several issues which have been affecting the life of people in Kenya. All these issues have been made public knowledge through the media of communication; our purpose is not to add more information on them nor to take sides in any public debate but to briefly analyse them in the light of the Christian faith which is our last term of reference.

  2. The Price Increase of Essential Commodities

  3. As it was announced by the Kenya Dailies on September 4, 1991, the price of basic commodities such as cooking fats, oil, wheat, maize flour and others was considerably raised. While this rise may not affect very much the small minority of well-off people, it affects dramatically the majority of the common workers and in a special way the immense crowd of the poor. This increase of prices is again provoked by the pressure of an artificial "shortage" created by private traders.

  4. They use the hiding or hoarding of goods as a technique which is becoming a new trend in our country. First of all such a practice renders irrelevant in the eyes of people the official declaration of the "Budget Day" and secondly, the periodic rise of prices widens ever more the existing gap between the rich and the poor in our country, as we have already explained in the past [1] As a matter of fact, when we compare the official scale of minimum wages with the increasing cost of living there is no wonder that many people look for illegal and immoral ways of financial survival. The recent increment in salaries of civil servants and teachers, quoted by the Dailies on September 14, 1991, still insufficient, has not been matched by a corresponding rise of salaries in the private sector where the abuses are often rampant. Finally, this price increase of some food commodities has not been matched by the corresponding increase of prices for the goods produced by farmers as it would have been logically expected.

  5. The Kisii- Narok Conflict

  6. According to periodic press reports the conflict over border fights between the Kisii and the Maasai communities has taken away several human lives. While severe security measures have been announced, it seems that what is urgent is to attack the real causes of the conflict. Though it is described as a tribal conflict on land issues there seem to be deeper causes. It seems strange that two communities that have lived peacefully for decades are now in conflict. It seems inexplicable why this conflict appears to peak during school holidays and subside once schools reopen. This conflict has been taking place for the last two years and the question is how has it been going on despite all official efforts to solve it. There is room for sound suspicion that political incitement and not a tribal or land issue is the root cause of the problem as the Minister for Planning and National Development, Hon. Zachary Onyonka suggested in May. [2] It is urgent that a serious inquiry over the truth of the Kisii-Maasai conflict be conducted by the Government. We appreciate the firm intervention of His Excellency the President in this matter and at the same time we make ours the plea of the Catholic Bishop of Kisii in favour of peace and justice in order to solve this problem without bloodshed.

  7. Unrest and Indiscipline in Educational Institutions

  8. A school is part of the larger society and therefore what happens in the society is reflected in the school. In a memorandum presented by the Kenya Episcopal Conference to the Presidential Commission on Unrest and Indiscipline in Educational Institutions we expressed our great concern on this matter. As the major causes of unrest in our schools we indicated the following: Decay of moral values in our society, politicization of education policies, political interferences in schools begetting a system of "god fatherism" whereby promotion and protection of some officials of the Ministry of Education depend more on pleasing the highly placed "godfather" than in fulfilling the duties of the office. To these causes others are also added in our report: The poor implementation and lack of proper evaluation of the system; the excessive financial burden on parents; the lack of financial support of schools in order to acquire the necessary equipment and to pay just salaries to the subordinate staff; and the lack of proper school administration.

  9. We are not going to resume here all the concrete recommendations we presented in our memorandum but let us insist on the need for a clear and practical recognition of the rights and roles of Church in sponsored schools. There are some Ministry officials who are ignorant or who choose to ignore these rights and roles and some politicians who deliberately refuse to recognise them; so that as a result, the role of the Church as sponsor of schools has been grossly eroded.

  10. Freedom of Expression and Movement for All

  11. We all know that freedom of expression and movement is a fundamental right for every human being.[3] This right is also enshrined in our Constitution (Sections 79 and 81). While this right is not absolute, it is a matter of justice that it is given to all without discrimination of persons and irrespective of the issue involved. It is not our responsibility to share in the multiparty and "majimbo" debates; but it is one of our concerns for justice to notice that this freedom of expression was very differently understood and applied in the case of these two debates. While both issues deal with a possible amendment of our Constitution, the multiparty speakers were silenced and condemned, some of them imprisoned and others detained as subversive whereas the proponents of "majimbo" were given a public forum as political leaders and were just invited to stop the debate. It would be disastrous if freedom of expression were not the same for all but depended on the person who is speaking.

  12. Abuses of Authority

  13. Another source of concern is that in the past weeks public opinion has witnessed the abuse by some authorities. A priest in the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru was arrested by the police, was quizzed and his passport was taken away, only to find out that there was no reason at all for such a police action. Apologies were requested by the Church and they are still awaited. Another Catholic priest in Machakos Diocese was accused by a highly placed leader of receiving money from abroad in order to form a subversive political party. All these facts have been reported in the newspapers and there is no need to mention names. Such incidents, if repeated, cause a situation of mistrust and fear instead of ensuring peace and security. Since all Catholic priests are working under our pastoral responsibility it is our desire that if there is ever an accusation against anyone of them, the local authorities pass through us, their Bishops, instead of taking direct action without proper information. We are aware that similar situations occur not only to the clergy but also to some other citizens who sometimes have reasons to feel threatened for their lives or their families because of their political opinion.

  14. Protection of the Environment and Public Amenities

  15. Another issue that has been catching the attention of the public during the last months is the protection of the environment, especially in cities and towns. As the Minister for Lands and Housing declared: "Things have not been moving very well (in the past) and we felt that public land should be protected."[4] This protection refers first of all to a few public parks where people can have public amenities in urban areas. We are glad to see how the attempts to convert Jevanjee Gardens in Nairobi and Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa into private building projects have been drastically stopped by the Government and we hope that the same will apply to the integrity of Uhuru park in Nairobi.

  16. To convert our cities into forests of iron and concrete is not to do justice to the need for relaxation people deserve after a tiring week of work. Secondly, the environment is to be protected against pollution produced by the waste of factories. The case of Thika is not new and has been put again recently under the eyes of public opinion. We hope that a serious and impartial inquiry will be conducted and proper measures be taken in favour of the health of the population. The mandate of God of being the "masters of creation" [5] does not mean that we can destroy natural resources and cause damage to our brothers and sisters in the name of creating new jobs and promoting development.

  17. Conclusion

  18. We could have mentioned other problems that affect our society such as widespread corruption, unemployment and the alarming rate of deaths on the roads. We have addressed some of these issues in the past and our purpose was not now to make an exhaustive analysis of the situation of our country.

  19. If we have raised our voice to express our concern on the above mentioned problems this is not to be interpreted as if our vision of Kenya is a purely negative one. It does not mean that Kenya is the worst country in Africa. On the contrary, we recognize that the positive aspects are of a far greater weight and value than the negative ones. But we cannot sleep over our glories and be happy just by comparing ourselves with other African countries in which there are war and famine. It is rather in the perspective of the ever-greater demands of the Kingdom of God that we feel compelled to remind all, and especially our leaders, of the pressing exigencies of this Kingdom, a Kingdom of Justice and Peace that is already among us but that is not yet fully realized and for which we pray every day when saying "Thy Kingdom come."

    Most. Rev. Z. Okoth, Chairman KEC, Archbishop of Kisumu
    H.E. Maurice Cardinal Otunga, Archbishop of Nairobi
    Rt. Rev. J. Njue, Vice-Chairman KEC., Bishop of Embu
    Most. Rev. J. Njenga, Archbishop of Mombasa
    Most. Rev N. Kirima, Archbishop of Nyeri
    Rt. Rev. W. Dunne, Bishop of Kitui
    Rt. Rev. R. Ndingi, Bishop of Nakuru
    Rt. Rev T. Mugendi, Bishop of Kisii
    Rt. Rev. U. Kioko, Bishop of Machakos
    Rt. Rev. P Sulumeti, Bishop of Kakamega
    Rt. Rev. S. Njiru, Bishop of Meru
    Rt. Rev C. Davies, Bishop of Ngong
    Rt. Rev J. Mahon, Bishop of Lodwar
    Rt. Rev A. Ravasi, Bishop of Marsabit
    Rt. Rev P. Kairo, Bishop of Murang' a
    Rt. Rev. P Darmanin, Bishop of Garissa
    Rt. Rev L. Atundo, Bishop of Bungoma
    Rt. Rev C.K. Arab Korir, Bishop of Eldoret

Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. The Bishops allude in their statement to abuses of authority on the part of the security forces. When this happens, what can the citizens do to protect themselves? Have you ever asked a lawyer for advice?

  2. Why are Bishops concerned with the protection of the environment? Is that under their duty as religious leaders? Why?

  3. Are you satisfied with the present condition of the educational institutions in your area? What could the parent-teachers association do to improve them?

Notes

[1] Cf. Pastoral Letter On The Present Situation in Our Country, June 1988, No. l2.
[2] Cf. The Nation, September 2, 1991, in the Editorial where the Minister is quoted.
[3] Cf. United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 13 and 19.
[4]The Nation, September 20,1991, p. 5.
[5]Cf. Genesis 1:26-28