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Churches Tell President to Reform

Posted on: June 13, 1997 11:04 AM
Related Categories: Kenya

Kenya's Churches have issued an ultimatum to their country's Government, demanding the implementation of basic constitutional reforms.

While the churches did not specify what action they will take if there are no reforms, there is a widespread belief that they may call for a mass boycott of general elections in November. Over the past few years the Government has been frequently criticised, at home and abroad, for deep corruption and for unwillingness to complete promised political and constitutional reform.

Mutava Musyimi, Secretary General of Kenya's main ecumenical body, the National Council of Churches of Kenya, and representatives of the Kenya (Roman Catholic) Episcopal Conference, led by the Archbishop of Nairobi, Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki, told journalists at a press conference in Nairobi late last month that even though time was running out, "the Government has done little to review the Constitution to set the stage for free and fair elections later in the year".

They pointedly reminded President Daniel arap Moi, who has been in power since 1978, that "jointly and severally, privately and publicly, we have advocated broad-based reforms for more than 10 years".

"We are appealing to the Government to effect the desired changes before the elections," the religious leaders said. "We will continue to pray that this will be done. But if all these fail, we will take other measures."

On 23 May, the day after the ultimatum by the Protestants and Roman Catholic leaders, the Supreme Council of Muslims of Kenya (Coast Branch) called for the formation of an independent Electoral Commission and the annulment of the Public Security and Colonial Chiefs Authority Act which gives the Government massive powers against opposition parties. The Muslims also called for cancellation of the requirement that the winner in the presidential elections get at least 25 per cent of the vote in five provinces.

When similar demands were made by the Churches last year, the Government dismissed the proposals, saying there was insufficient time to make changes before the elections.

Last month's ultimatum could, according to some observers, set the stage for biggest clash between religious leaders and the Government since the campaign by churches and others at the start of the decade for the repeal of Section 1A of the Kenya Constitution. Thanks to the repeal of Section 1A in December 1991, Kenya adopted a multi-party democratic system. However largely because of division among opposition parties, Daniel arap Moi won the presidential election in December 1992 with 36 per cent of the vote. Since his 1992 electoral victory, President Moi's government has faced mounting criticism about corruption and the lack of democratic reform. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington have led much of the criticism, along with the governments of The Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavian countries.

In 1993 two senior government officials were implicated in a US$29.5 million scandal over payments for fictitious gold and diamond exports.

Last year the leading opposition parties formed an alliance which they hope will enable them to defeat the government in this November's elections.

On 23 May, when he was told of the Churches' ultimatum, President Moi said he took "great exception to the dictatorial attitude" assumed by the Churches on constitutional reform. The president said it was wrong for the Churches to issue an ultimatum to his government. "This is not the hallmark of democrats," he said, adding that the issue required a dialogue. Hasty changes to the constitution would "trivialise it".

"I am surprised the clergy have taken a partisan stand on national issues," he told a public rally in the Meru District.