Text Size

Catholic Bishops' Open Memorandum to the President of the Republic

Catholic Bishops' Open Memorandum to the President of the Republic
13 November 1986

The change in the Constitution making Kenya a one-party State led to an excess of political zeal on the part of some KANU members. There was lack of democratic dialogue, and decisions affecting the country were hastily reached but were not based on popular consensus.

But perhaps the most critical issue causing the Bishops to meet the President and deliver him this memorandum was the decision on the method of elections popularly known as "the queuing system." Voters would be obliged to queue up in front of the place publicly assigned to the candidate they wanted to vote for. The vote was no longer secret. The consequences were predictable, as the Bishops pointed out in their memo¬randum. There was opposition to this system among many people, especially when an Assistant Minister and member of Parliament, Hon. Shariff Nassir, publicly said in Swahili that the system would be applied "wapende, wasipende" (whether people like it or not).

The tone of the memorandum is very respectful and tends to dissociate the President as a person and as a leader from over-zealous political partisans. The method, however, was maintained, as we shall see, bringing forth the consequences of divisiveness foreseen by the Bishops. The memorandum was published by The Weekly Review in Nairobi ( Issue of 28 November 1986, page 8).

  1. Your Excellency, we, the Catholic bishops of Kenya, come to you in peace to reaffirm our loyalty and to express once again our deep gratitude to you for your wise and benevolent leadership.

  2. Peace

  3. We are particularly grateful for the peace that exists in our dear country. This peace enables the Church to carry out the tasks' of evangelization, sanctification and human development entrusted to it by Jesus Christ. It enables our country to grow and to prosper. It extends to all persons within our borders the possibility of realising their God-given potential. We are all the more grate for this peace when we compare our country with so many others where oppression, lawlessness, military indiscipline and other social evils have robbed the citizens of peace.

  4. Role of the Church

  5. We come to you without any illusions about our role. We, are not politicians, and we do not aspire to political power. We are deeply grateful that you have consented to see us and to hear our views. The independent roles of the State and Church, which must be respected by both, have already been recognised publicly. As Church leaders, our concern is the advancement of the Kingdom, of God - a "kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." This kingdom is not a totally spiritual reality. It resides in the hearts of men and women, who in their secular dimension form the political community.

  6. Should the kingdom of God and the values of that kingdom seem to be endangered, we see it as our duty to point out the danger and to seek to persuade the State to reconsider and to fine a better way.

  7. It is in that spirit that we come to you. There are a number of issues that we are uneasy about. In drawing them to your attention, we are doing no more than seeking to fulfil the obligation of being "the conscience of society," of which Your Excellecy has previously reminded us.

  8. Dialogue

  9. Dialogue is an essential attribute of human freedom and foundation-stone of every peaceful society. A human being can be at peace only when he has made a positive contribution to the decisions that affect his life. If his voice has been heard, even an unfavourable decision is tolerable. The heart finds peace when its convictions are listened to with openness and respect.

  10. We are conscious of a certain inadequacy of dialogue in the country. While our system of political administration provides for dialogue at every level, we ask that the opportunities provided by this system be exploited to the full. It is impossible to reach consensus in the charged atmosphere of a political rally. However, by keen listening to discussion as it takes place at the most local level through location, district, province and even in Parliament itself, it is possible to identify the will of the people.

  11. The Party

  12. The commitment of Your Excellency to love, peace and unity is the inspiration behind the strengthening of KANU as a symbol and instrument of unity in the country. However, we are disturbed by the claims of various politicians that the power of the party is paramount, exceeding even the power of Parliament. The suggestion is made that anyone who says otherwise is disloyal to Your Excellency and anti-Nyayo.

  13. This view seems to us to be the result of excessive zeal for party unity which has not been fully thought out by its exponents. We believe there is a danger of totalitarianism if this trend is not checked. It represents a fundamental change in our political system. If our people genuinely want it, then they should have it. However, it must not be allowed to happen without very serious consideration and discussion.

  14. At present, discussion is precluded by the allegations of powerful party officials that any questioning of the system is tantamount to disloyalty. Already, the party is assuming a totalitarian role. It claims to speak for the people and yet does not allow the people to give their views.

  15. Change of Constitution

  16. We see the Constitution as a guarantee of peace and stability. We are alarmed at calls from politicians to change the Constitution and at the ease with which this can be effected. We are not constitutional lawyers, but we instinctively fear that any suggestion that the Constitution be easily changed will lead to instability.

  17. Our interest is in freedom and human rights rather than in the political technicalities. We ask for an open and frank discussion on all changes to the Constitution and ask that all concerned take a hard look at how changes should be effected.

  18. Method of Election

  19. Your Excellency has made your views very clear on the KANU decision to adopt the queuing method for preliminary elections. We acknowledge that the responsibility for the decision rests with you and with your parliament.

  20. Nonetheless, we feel that we would be failing in our duty if we did not draw your attention to the danger of divisiveness inherent in the proposed system. As senior religious leaders, we have been graciously exempted by Your Excellency from a public declaration of our preferences in preliminary elections. Nonetheless we appeal on behalf of others who would risk becoming marked men and women by this public manner of voting. We can envisage situations where professional people, businessmen and even the humblest worker would be faced with the choice of compromising their means of livelihood or abstaining from exercising their right to vote. We ask that they be given an opportunity to air their views in the appropriate fora and these views be keenly listened to before the matter is brought to Parliament for debate and final decision.

  21. We have all seen the enthusiastic support that Your Excellency has received at mass meetings in which you raise this matter. We believe that this represents the overwhelming personal support and loyalty enjoyed by Your Excellency, rather than a reflective response to the issue itself. It is on this basis that we appeal to your fatherly concern for the nation to allow further discussion on the issue.

  22. Conclusion

  23. We are grateful for this opportunity to make known our views to you. We would hope that this meeting will lead to deeper understanding and to working together, each in our own way, for the good of our country. Our interest rests only in finding the truth and, having found it, to put it into effect for the good of all the people.

  24. We wish to assure you that any stand we have taken or may take in the future is done with much prayer, thought and consideration. Any disagreement over the perception of truth should not be seen as lessening in any way the loyalty, appreciation and affection we have for our President.

  25. We are conscious of the great responsibility you hold for Kenya today and for posterity. We assure you of our prayer and of the prayers of the Catholics of Kenya.

  26. Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. If the Bishops admitted that they are not politicians, how did they justify their contribution in political matters

  2. Why were the Bishops afraid of totalitarianism in Kenya? Why is totalitarianism bad?

  3. If a political rally is not always appropriate for dialogue between Government and people (cf. No. 6), what other means do you suggest?

  4. Was the "queuing system" against human rights? Justify your own opinion.