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Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Kenya in Respect of the Events of August 1 1982

Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Kenya in Respect of the Events of August 1 1982
1 September 1982

In order to understand the context of the attempted coup d'etat which was the historical background of this Pastoral Letter, it is necessary to have a quick look back through the previous years at the political process in Kenya. On August 22, 1978 Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died at the State House in Mombasa. According to the Constitution the then Vice-president, Mr. Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, should take over the presidency of the Republic for a duration of 90 days after which general elections should be convoked. This system of transition was not accepted by all because, they alleged, in 90 days the Vice-president could make himself so strong in his post that on the subsequent elections people are not entirely free to elect a new President. There was in 1976 a political trend known as the "Change the Constitution," led by Kihika Kimani and supported by GEMA. But several Members of Parliament, and particularly the then Attorney-General Charles Mugane Njonjo, were against any change of the Constitution as far as the transi¬tion of power after the death of a president of the Republic was concerned. It was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta himself who stopped the debate on this issue in the Parliament and the Constitution remained unchanged.

In 1979 there took place the third general elections that confirmed, by a large majority, His Excellency Daniel Arap Moi as President of the Republic of Kenya. On the 9th of June 1982 the Parliament decided to amend article 2A of the Constitution which allowed the multi-party system and make Kenya a one-party State by Constitution. KANU which enjoyed an overwhelming majority compared to all other political parties became the Constitutional one-party.

Only two months later there took place an attempted coup planned by members of the Kenya Air Force. It was rapidly sup¬pressed by the Army and some of the immediately responsible instigators were imprisoned. It revealed, however, a social tension already present among the poor people of the cities, especially of the capital. The poor of the slum areas in Nairobi were incited to come to the city commercial area, and a rather selective looting of Asian-owned shops followed, which explains the insistence of the Bishops in rejecting any racial discrimination. This Letter was published one month after the attempted coup.

"Preach the word, be unfailing in patience and in teaching" ( 2 Tim 4:2).

    Our People of God


  1. We, as your Bishops and Pastors, feel obliged to address' ourselves to you on account of the recent sad event of the abortive coup of August 1st. We want to share with you our concern about the whole situation. It is now a month since these sorrowful events took place and the memories of the tragic happenings are still troubling the minds of many of us.

  2. "The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel `Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel.' Thus says the Lord God `Oh, Shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves: Should shepherds not feed the sheep?"' (Ez 24:2).

  3. Fearful of the warning given to those shepherds of Israel and of the mandate given us by the Lord Jesus to "Feed my Sheep" Jn 21:15), we will open our hearts and minds to you.

  4. Gratitude to God


  5. Our first words are of thanks to Almighty God Our Heavenly Father for the providential way He saved us on that unforgettable Sunday. We thank Him for protecting and guarding the person of our President, His Excellency Daniel T. Arap Moi. We thank Him for saving us and our Country. At the same time we grieve for those innocent people who lost their lives, their property and those who were bereaved of their loved ones.

  6. We also want to express our profound gratitude to our dear President of Kenya for all the good work he has done since Ire took over the Government guided by the Nyayo philosophy of Iovet, peace and unity. He has demonstrated a dynamic leadership to) the people of this country. Just to mention a few examples: it would be hard to measure the good he has done in support of religion and religious teaching in attending church services, fund¬raising meetings, etc. The accomplishments of Kenya in the fields of education, health and economic development, which are remarkable throughout Africa, and the interest in youth and children, so much in evidence, are the fruit of the personal interest and commitment of our leader.

  7. The event of August 1, 1982 has made us realise that we have been taking many things for granted, and it would be wise if we all learnt the lessons it should teach us - leaders, government servants, members of the armed forces, all citizens, all who have the good of this country at heart. If we are to avoid a repetition of the tragic loss of life, property and many other values, of peace :end security, then it would be good for all of us to ask ourselves what are the foundations of peace and progress.

  8. The Need for Lawful Authority


  9. The essential element of a peaceful society is support of and obedience to the lawfully-elected leaders, in our case, President Moi and the Government. As St. Paul tells us: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities, resists what God had appointed and those who resist will incur judgement" (Rom 13:1-2).

  10. Accepting the words of St. Paul, we condemn the coup of Sunday 1 August, which claimed so many innocent lives of our people. We condemn not only the killings, but also the violence, robbery, looting and other shameful subsequent crimes and whosoever committed them, unhappily involving even some of those who were supposed to be preventing them.

  11. Dignity of the Human Person


  12. In order to have a peaceful Kenya, another basic ingredient is that of respect for the dignity of the human person who was made to the image and likeness of God. (Gn 1:26). As the Second Vatican Council states: "Sacred Scriptures teach that man was created '; to the image of God, was able to know and love his Creator and was set by him over all earthly creatures that he might rule them and make use of them while glorifying God.",[1] Man's dignity therefore calls for a deep respect for his life, which is sacred, his freedom and his property - just to mention a few rights.

  13. Right to Private Property


  14. The Second Vatican Council in the same document states: "Property and other forms of private ownership of external goods contribute to the expression of personality and provide man with the opportunity of exercising his role in society and in the economy ... it assures a person a highly necessary sphere for the exercise of his personal and family autonomy and right to be ; considered as an extension of human freedom." [2]

    Robbery, looting, stealing, go against God's law. We were shocked to learn that a good number of the people who looted call themselves- Christians. We appeal to these people and all people of goodwill to restore what they have looted because not to do so is a grave sin against justice.

  15. Justice for All


  16. We deem it opportune now to speak about justice. There cannot be peace without justice. They are twin sisters. Justice demands that all wananchi have a right to share in the wealth of our country. As a recent meeting of the Bishops of Eastern Africa (AMECEA) put it: "God, our Father, has given us all we need to preserve and develop life on earth. He has given these gifts to our whole human family and it is our duty to ensure that these gifts are equitably shared among all his children."

  17. It follows that all should have some share in land ownership, in available material resources, in political aspirations, in education, in government services, etc. The use of unjust means of any form, by anyone, is against justice. To grab property, to be engaged in bribery, corruption, magendo, to defraud workers of their wages, to defraud employees of their justly-earned profits, these are only some of the most obvious examples of injustice.

  18. African Socialism


  19. We recall that Sessional paper No. 10 of 1965 spoke about African Socialism. Pages 3 and 4 tell us that in traditional Africa, "my brother is my responsibility, his property is my property, his wealth is my wealth." Therefore we are concerned with each others' welfare. Every person is equal before God and in the eyes of society. African Socialism, and by this we mean the authentic African Socialism which respects God and private property, requires that each one works hand in hand with the other. In this way we contribute to what our Nation needs. In our National Anthem we sing:

    "Let us all with one accord in common bond united Build this our nation together And the glory of Kenya The fruit of our labour fill every heart with thanksgiving."

  20. Sessional Paper No. 10 (1965)


  21. We can all gain much by reflecting deeply on the foundations of our society as set out by the early founders of our Nation, in their wisdom. They judged that, in building our political constitution and our economic structure, we should move from the known to the unknown, from the existing to its sound development. Three "known" characteristics of African traditions of Kenyans were identified as a root for our growth, democracy, religiousness and justice.

  22. African Democracy


  23. Participation in political authority and Government took p many forms in Africa. In each tribe every individual had a way of being heard or listened to. Some tribes had a representative system. Others had their leaders elected.

    In line with the above, Sessional paper No. 10(1965) laid down that the KANU Government allows everyone to seek whatever post he desires. As in traditional Africa, this happens in accord¬ance with certain norms. There are rules and regulations. All of us 1 participate in our own Government by a system of election and voting.

  24. African Religiousness


  25. In line with the thoughts of St. Paul on authority coming from God, Sessional paper No. 10 stated that religion gave an important reason for adhering to all the traditions of African democracy in political structure and of African Socialism in regard to private property.

    While on the one hand leaders were considered to represent the people, on the other hand they were also considered to represent God, in so far as he had delegated to them the political power which they exercised. They, therefore, had a responsibility to God and to people. They were considered as exercising a God-given role. The value of such beliefs directed both leaders and their people to fulfil their duties for the common good. All members of society were brothers and sisters as they were all children' of the same Father-God. Hence among them there was a serious duty to love each other, to respect each other, and to assist each, other in every way.

  26. Justice in African Socialism


  27. Belief in God remains an important element in our Nation. "0 God of all creation, bless this our land and nation." God's blessing is expressed in justice. "Justice be our shield and defender,"' as the National anthem also teaches us. Religion demands from all of us to be just in every way, whatever our situation or role in our Kenya Nation. God will then give us the blessing we pray for when we sing in our anthem: "May we dwell in Unity, Peace and Liberty, Plenty be found within our borders."

  28. Democracy, Religiousness, Justice


  29. The roots of our African way of life also develop into the spirit of love, peace and unity and are reflected in the first verse of our National Anthem as quoted above.

  30. Corruption


  31. The President has in many places and on many occasions reminded us Kenyans that corruption is totally unacceptable. Corruption is rejected in many forms by the Holy Bible. This rejection is very much in accordance with African Democratic Socialism. To enhance peace and progress we pray and petition, with our head of State, that this evil practice and mentality be totally eradicated from our midst. This effort must be made by all of us but especially by our leaders who have a grave responsibility to set an example to the Nation.

  32. Reconciliation, Justice and Mercy


  33. Unity and Peace demand that all of us Kenyans be reconciled with one another. We have witnessed the outstanding efforts of our President in this. There is need for all of us to stop irresponsible speculation and rumour mongering. We must work for reconciliation. We would like to point out that when people are kept well informed, without delays, then harmful talk cannot succeed. The radio, press and TV must be at the service of truth, justice and all the best values of our traditions. When the media are used for other purposes, then trust disappears, and lies flourish. Unity is broken.

  34. Unity


  35. The demands of unity require justice for those who have been wronged, as well as punishment for wrong-doers. At the same time, those who feel they have suffered any injustice; must not forget the virtue of mercy. With our God, the angel of mercy stands on His left hand while the Angel of justice is on His right hand. We should be merciful as God has been merciful.

  36. Pluralistic Society


  37. Kenyans have learned for a long time now how to live with people belonging to different religions, ethnic or racial,' backgrounds, even different ideologies. The well-known song; expresses a common sentiment: "Sisi Wakenya batujui ubaguzi." "We do not discriminate against people." The President himself has said, "We Kenyans do not see the pigment of the skin but of the soul. God is the Father of us all, without exception. We are all His Children - we are, brothers and sisters."

    The events of August 1st illustrate what happens when there! is disregard for all that has been said above. There was evidence of intolerance, of revenge, of injustice, of much that' violated all the values we held so dear ... above all of what a nation would be without the fear of God and respect for human dignity.

    If we are sincere and serious about avoiding another August 1st in the future then we do have to think, discuss and, implement a programme of renewal as we know them through the Church, the Scriptures and our best traditional values.

  38. Conclusion


  39. We hope that our words will guide, strengthen and encourage Ws all those who will read or hear them. Not only have we tried to fulfil our mission from Christ, but we have responded t•' the challenge of the late President Jomo Kenyatta, who said we the Church must be "the conscience of the Nation." H told us that we would be blameworthy before God if we did not speak out when leaders and people went wrong. We will continue to pray for you and ask that you will be faithful and united to us in serving God in Truth, Love, and Justice.

  40. Inspiration for Renewal


  41. We leave you with some words spoken by Pope John Paul II in his farewell speech after his memorable visit to Kenya in 1980. His words are meant to be our new resolve to build a better Kenya, a Kenya we want to live and work in, a Kenya blessed by God. Pope John Paul said to us and says to us:

  42. "One last thought I wish to leave with you. A nation that holds God in honour cannot fail to receive the blessing of God. Even when you meet problems, even when new difficulties arise, your trust in God will be the guarantee that you will overcome all obstacles and that you will build a nation where unity and love reign, where brotherhood and peace flourish, where everyone works together for the future in the spirit of Harambee." May God bless you all.


[1]Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern World, No.12.
[2] Idem, No. 71.


Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. Can you describe Socialism and Capitalism? What do you know about "African Socialism?" Why do the Bishops mention it in this Letter?

  2. "Corruption is rejected in many forms by the Holy Bible" (No. 19). Can you recall some passages in the Bible concerning corruption?

  3. "Kenyans have learned for a long time now to live with people belonging to different religions, ethnic or racial backgrounds, even different ideologies" (No. 22). These words were written in 1960. Do you think there has been progress on this matter in Kenya in recent years?