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On the Present Situation in Our Country

On the Present Situation in Our Country
Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Kenya
20 June 1990

This Pastoral Letter was written in a situation of popular dissatification and tension in Kenya after the general elections of 1988 in which many cases of rigging were reported by the media. The unopposed election of 64 Members of Parliment contrasted with the considerable decrease in the turn-out of voters. The newly appointed vice-president, Hon. Josaphat Karanja, had to leave office on May 1989 because of a "no confidence" vote by the Parliament. He was replaced by the Finance Minister, Hon. George Saitoti.

Two main events increased the political tension at the time: First, the assissination of Mr. Robert Ouko, a well-reputed Minister for Foreign Affairs, whose body was found on 13 February. At first reported by the Police as a suicide, the case was seen as a political murder and a Commission of Inqiry was appointed by the President. Secondly, a popular movement was started by former Cabinet Ministers Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia asking for a national referendum on the abolition of the "queuing system" and the repeal of the article 2A of the Constitution that had turned Kenya into a one-party State de jure. The ruling party KANU became more and more intolerant of any kind of criticism or dissent which was alleged to endanger national security. The Bishops condemned the abuse in the application of the principle of "national security" and they allude to their confreres of Latin America who condemned it in 1979 at the Puebla Conference. As a matter of fact the Bishops of Africa and Madagascar had already condemned "the crimes committed in the name of the security of the State" in the SECAM meeting of July 1978 held precisely in Nairobi.[1] Acts of violence on citizens were reported due to the excess of zeal of KANU "youth wingers."

From the international point of view there was a shift in policy among Western donor countries expressed by the American Ambassador to Kenya. Mr. Smith Hempstone, when he said that the United States would concentrate its aid to countries that nourish democracy, respect Human Rights, and practice multi-partism. The allusion to Kenya could not be more direct and this caused diplomatic tension within the country.

That the Bishops were right in expressing their concern about the situation was confirmed by the fact that only 17 days after the Pastoral Letter was published, there were serious riots in Nairobi and other cities on the 7th of July known as the "Saba Saba" riots. K. Matiba and Ch. Rubia were imprisoned and the political climate grew still more tense.

The Pastoral Letter was popularly welcome save for the criticisms of some few political leaders who, despite the explanation given by the Bishops (See No. 1 and 5), judged that the Church had somehow gone outside its spiritual mission.


  1. The joy of celebrating the first century of the Catholic Evangelization in Kenya presents us with a pressing invitation for the Church to read the signs of the times in our country and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel.[2] This is indeed our duty and our right as evangelizers because "evangelization will not be complete unless it constantly relates the Gospel to men's actual lives, personal and social. Accordingly, evangelization must include an explicit message, adapted to the various conditions of life and constantly updated, concerning the rights and duties of the individual person and concerning family life, without which progress in the life of the individual is hardly possible. It must deal with community life of all nations, with peace, justice and progress. It must deliver a message, especially relevant and important in our age, about liberation.[3]

  2. Reasons for Thanksgiving in Our Country

  3. As we have already stated in one of our previous pastoral letters, "the fact that Kenya has made great progress and enjoys peace and stability is a fact for which all Kenyans truly grateful" [4] This progress is not only a material and economic one, but it is a human progress involving all the areas of human life. In the field of education, for example, the number of primary and secondary schools has visibly increased and the same can be said of the institutions of higher education, colleges and universities, that have been registered by the government in the last two years. Progress is also patent in the field of health and science in fighting the world-threatening diseases, e.g. Aids; progress is also clear in the political dimension by the growth of political awareness and maturity of the Kenya people.

  4. It would be too onerous to enumerate all the areas of advancement in our country in the recent years. Our purpose is not to perform an exhaustive inventory of this progress but to remind all our compatriots that we should be grateful to God to draw attention to our problems without first mentioning his blessings. It would be equally unfair to ignore the positive role of our government in carrying out this progress. Thus, we want to restate here what we have already said: "The President deserves the support of the whole Nation in his many efforts to build up what we want: Love, Peace and Unity".[5]


  5. Reasons for Concern

  6. The positive aspects that give a privileged place to Kenya among the African nations should not, however, prevent us from analyzing the problems that are of common concern for all the citizens of this country, but in a particular way of those who are poor and afflicted in any way. By so doing, it is not our purpose to accuse particular persons or institutions since we all share, to a greater or lesser degree, in the common responsibility of building up our nation. But we would fail in our role of religious leaders and pastors if we kept silent in face of such problems.

  7. Sometimes opinions expressed in the public media purport that the role of the Church should be confined strictly to the realm of spiritual and religious concerns. To those who hold such a narrow vision of the role of the Church we say, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, that nothing genuinely human is alien to the mission of the Church. Therefore, she has a word to say on the ultimate meaning of human life and human society. [6] Pope Paul VI speaking on this same subject, says: "She (the Church) does not assert that her function is strictly confined to the religious sphere without regard for the temporal problems of men."[7] The Church wants to be an "expert in humanity" and this leads her to be concerned with all the aspects of human life in which men and women strive in search for the relative happiness which is to be found in this world in line with their dignity as persons.[8]

  8. Shift in Political Structures

  9. During the last three years a process of increasing identification of the party with the official government has been taking place. Whoever raises any criticism against some particular measures taken by the party is considered to be attacking the government of Kenya. Furthermore, the superiority of the party over the authority of the parliament seems to be an accomplished fact. This has led to a confusion of the three main arms of the government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary with prejudice to their legitimate autonomy. The most affected seems to be the judicial because the offices of Attorney General and Auditor General have become almost insignificant due to the poorly debated changes in the nation's Constitution.

  10. To give unlimited authority to the party leads to the abuses of power we have witnessed more than once published in the daily press, sometimes condemned by the party leaders who cannot keep lower offices under control. The least sign of dissent in the face of any particular decision of the party is often interpreted as subversive and as endangering the security of the State. We are afraid that the "philosophy of the National Security," publicly condemned by our brethren, the Bishops of Latin America in union with the Pope in 1979,[9] may become installed in our country leading to political murders, unlawful home searches, arbitrary detentions, confessions under torture and death squads' actions that escape the control of the public forces of order.

  11. The Catholic Church, without proposing any particular economic or political system or programme, has recently restated that "no social group, for example a political party, has the right to usurp the role of sole leader, since this brings about the destruction of the true subjectivity of society and of individual citizens, as happens in every form of totalitarianism. In this situation the individual and the people become "objects," in spite of all declarations of the contrary and verbal assurances."[10] By subjectivity, the Pope means the condition of being a subject of rights and duties and not to be the object of political manipulation. Such is the case, for example, when someone is victimized if he raises an opinion contrary to the one held by those in authority. This is a direct infringement of freedom of speech enshrined in our Constitution.

  12. In a public pastoral letter we expressed our concern about the recently introduced electoral system, popularly called "the queuing system", whereby the secret ballot of the citizens was drastically diminished. Some citizens, legitimately exempted from this voting system, were prevented from their right to vote because no other alternative structures were provided. As a result of this electoral system, many complaints were then raised in the public media by both politicians and Bishops about concrete cases of "rigging". In addition to this, as the turn-out of the voters decreased considerably in many parts of he country, several members of parliament were elected by a small minority not representative of the real will of the population of their constituency, even in the cases where they reached 70% of the cast votes.

  13. Financial Issues

  14. With respect to the economy, the cost of living has been increasing at an accelerated rate during the last two years. The recent increase of the 12% in the minimum wage is not realistic and it does not match the cost of basic goods: food, public transport, health, clothing, housing and education that make the fundamental budget for every family. It is no secret that when people cannot get by honest means a just salary the consequence is wide-spread corruption. Corruption in Kenya has reached alarming proportions prompting the President, in The Kenya Times report on March 29, 1990, to issue an ultimatum to corrupt officials. The harm done to the people due to corruption cannot be measured in monetary terms alone. Corruption is destroying the moral fibre of the nation, especially when it takes place among government officials, parastatal bodies, and even the forces of public order.

  15. Forced Harambees

  16. Another area of concern to us at this time is that of forced Harambees. Harambee is a system that many Kenyans embrace and appreciate. It is the system that has proved to be a very effective method of our nation building. However, sadly now, this concept, whose original inspiration was one of a voluntary giving and doing, has been transformed by some misguided leaders into an obligation and a forced exercise. We know of cases where government officials have issued circulars demanding. a certain amount of money from each family, i.e cases where through departmental offices, workers got their salaries slashed, chiefs and their assistants wait for people at the cereal boards, parents are compelled to pay money at a time when such funds are being raised e.g. the Presidential Bursary fund and many more such cases. And as absurd as it may sound, those who are unable to raise the required amount have suffered the confiscation of their properties which are auctioned in order to raise money. Harambee means people giving what they can afford freely without any pressure whatsoever. How genuine shall it be, for example, if we should succeed in raising a huge sum of money in the name of a bursary fund to help those brighter children who come from poor families while in fact we have created another million cases who will need bursary fund? In this matter we support the action of the President in making it clear that the recent harambee for the Presidential Bursary fund, as well as all harambees, are free and that nobody should be in any way coerced into making contributions against his will.

  17. The Rich and the Poor

  18. As it has been observed earlier on in our previous pastoral letters, [11] the existing and widening gap between the rich and the poor needs everybody's attention. Great contrasts coexist in Kenya today and the real problem of tribalism is not only based on ethnic origins, but also on the basis of two opposed "economic tribes," namely, the tribe of the rich, who have amassed their fortune through dubious means, and the tribe of the poor. While the former do not constitute more than a quarter of the population, the latter are the majority of our people most of them living in slums, or as squatters, in semi-desert areas, or surviving as permanent casual workers.

  19. It is a fact that the Agricultural sector contributes 50% of our Gross National Product, providing a livelihood to over 85% of our population, and still earns 70% of our country's foreign exchange. According to the development policy of our government the food requirement should be met from the domestic production. It is our concern that small farmers should be supported and be paid a just price for their crops.

  20. Conclusion

  21. Our conviction is that the issues we have mentioned in this letter constitute fundamental problems for our country and their solutions are a must for any country under any political system whatsoever. More than being merely political, these issues raise ethical questions of justice and human rights. What has emerged clearly from the public debate on the political system is a general agreement that the present structures have weaknesses that need to be set right.

  22. We would be accused of voicing merely negative criticism if we did not try to suggest any positive way of reaching solution to these problems. This is why we welcome very much the proposal to hold a national conference involving representatives of the Government, KANU, Religious bodies and Professional Associations like lawyers, doctors, business people, etc., to analyze the main problems of our country, their root causes, and their possible solution. While such a conference would of its nature be merely consultative, we would very much hope that opinions, ideas and suggestions expressed would be seriously considered and evaluated by the authorities and that action be taken where necessary.

  23. We feel that the following are some of the conditions necessary for such a conference to have a realistic hope of achieving positive results:

    1. It would need to be so organized as to allow for a frank and free exchange of opinions in an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence, as should exist among fellow Kenyans whose common wish is the prosperity of the country in all its aspects and the respect for the rights of every individual in our society.

    2. All participants in such a conference should be ready to accept constructive criticism.

    3. There should be some form of guarantee acceptable to all that no one will be victimized later as a result of opinions expressed or ideas proposed during the conference.


  25. What we have expressed in this letter was prompted by the most sincere desire of supporting our government in its difficult responsibility of looking out for the common good of all the citizens. No other hidden motivations or ambitions are to be suspected on our side. We conclude this document by praying to the Lord in this Centenary year of the Catholic Evangelization of Kenya, borrowing from the prayer of the Mass for the Development of Peoples:

    "Father you have given all peoples one common origin, and your will is to gather them as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love, and the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters. By sharing the good things you give us may we secure justice and equality for every human being, an end to all division, and a human society built on love and peace." [12]

The Bishops of Kenya

Rt. Rev. N. Kirima Chairman, KE.C., Archbishop of Nyeri
H.E. Maurice Cardinal Otunga Archbishop of Nairobi
Rt. Rev. Z. Okoth Vice Chairman, KE.C., Archbishop of Kisumu
Rt. Rev. J. Njenga Archbishop of Mombasa
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. J. Njue Bishop of Embu
Rt. Rev. L. Atundo Bishop of Bungoma
Rt. Rev. C. K. Arap Korir Bishop of Eldoret


Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. The Bishops affirm that the mission of the Church cannot be confined strictly to the realm of spiritual and religious concerns (Cf. No.5). What reasons are given to justify this statement?

  2. The rich and the poor are described as "two economic tribes." Can you give some examplesto illustrate the existence of this social and economic gap in your area?

  3. What would be, according to your experience and information, the most neglected sector of the population in Kenya?

  4. How is the Harambee collaboration applied in your own area?


[1] See SECAM, Justice and Peace in Africa, Nairobi, 29 July 1978, No. 18.
[2] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 4.
[3] Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelization Today (1975), No. 29.
[4]Cf. Pastoral Letter (1988) On the Occasion of the 1988 Election, No. 2.
[6] Cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modem World, Nos. 1 & 11.
[7] Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelization Today, No.34.
[8] Cf. John Paul II, The Social Concern of the Church, No. 41.
[9] See the Documents of the III General Conference of the Latin American Bishops, Puebla (Mexico), 1979, Nos. 49, 314, 547, 549, 1262.
[10]John Paul II, Encyclical Letter The Social Concern of the Church, No. 15.
[11] Cfr. Pastoral Letter on Justice and Peace Commission, 1988 No. 7 and Pastoral Letter on The Centenary of the Catholic Evangelization of Kenya, No. 17.
[12]Prayer of the Mass For the Development of Peoples, Missale Romanum, ed. typica altera, 1975, p. 850.