Kenya's state-owned radio station has announced the dissolution of the nation's legislature by President Daniel arap Moi, in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections expected in late December.
The announcement was made on 10 November, only three days after 22 Catholic bishops pleaded with President Moi, in a special Pastoral Letter, for the current sitting of Parliament to be extended to allow the government to make further reforms to the Kenyan constitution, including limiting the powers of the president.
The Catholic bishops said that while the Reform Bills, passed by Parliament in late October and early November, were a step forward for Kenya, they were nevertheless "inadequate for free and fair elections". By law, the current parliamentary session could have been extended to early January.
"The life of parliament can be extended; it has been done before, and these outstanding matters are important to Kenyans," the Catholic bishops said at a meeting last week in the west Kenyan town of Kakamega. President Moi's government is widely seen as highly corrupt and intolerant of criticism. In the early 1990s, Western governments forced President Moi to allow political parties other than his own. But despite deep unpopularity, President Moi may win the December elections, largely because the opposition is divided. Allegations of corruption also continue. A presidential adviser was recently accused of building a fortune through graft of US$166 million - in a country where the average income is US$250 a year.
On 9 November Kenya's Anglican leader, Archbishop David Gitari, supported the Catholic bishops' request, declaring that Parliament should continue its work "for proper and conclusive" reforms. He said the reforms that had already received presidential assent were made hurriedly, leaving loose ends that would prove contentious in the future.
In a sermon delivered at Kutus, in his home district of Kirinyaga, Central Kenya, Archbishop Gitari said Kenya needed - more than ever before - a new crop of leaders "who would be God-fearing and of high integrity".
"It would be suicidal if leaders who had participated in ruining Kenya's economy or natural resources were re-elected," he said.
President Moi has already signed into law Reform Bills relating to the abolition of the Chiefs Act, Public Security Act and similar acts relating to sedition which date from the colonial era. Furthermore, the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill (1997) now fully recognises Kenya as a democratic, multi-party nation with an option for a coalition government. Opposition nominees will also sit on the Electoral Commission overseeing elections. Previously, nominees were selected by President Moi alone.
But the Catholic and Anglican leaders want reforms to go further. In their pastoral letter, the Catholic bishops made a series of recommendations calling for limitations on presidential powers and measures to ensure fairness in elections. But critics said the bishops, Anglican and Catholic, were acting after the horse had bolted.
Commentators are now saying that President Moi will head full speed towards elections whose arrangements are already in place and thus will not be affected even by the recent inadequate reforms.