Pointing Fingers in Kenya
With less than one month remaining until the much anticipated August 4 referendum on Kenya's proposed new constitution, political and religious leaders are trading accusations over the alleged involvement of foreign Christians and politicians in the charged campaigns.
At separate campaign rallies on recent weekends, opponents of the proposed draft accused the Obama administration of meddling while supporters alleged a plot by American and European church organizations to defeat the draft.
One of the major proponents of the draft, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, charged that those opposed to the constitution had received millions of Kenyan shillings from church organizations based in the United States and Europe.
"All they are doing is traverse different parts of the country using their campaigns to mislead Kenyans about the proposed constitution after receiving funding from foreign organizations, but they will not succeed in their mission," Odinga was quoted as saying.
On the other hand, a campaign rally convened by draft opponents accused President Barack Obama of seeking to force Kenyans to accept a flawed constitution.
"The U.S. President is a child of Kenya, but we are asking his administration to let Kenyans define their course. He should also not tie his proposed visit to the country to the passing of the constitution," said William Ruto, the Minister of Higher Education who has defied both Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki and thrown in his lot with church leaders opposed to the new constitution.
The East African nation is approaching the referendum with divisions widening every day. Most church leaders have teamed up with opposition politicians, insisting the current draft is flawed and should not be passed without amendments. These clergy—who represent nearly all of the major mainline, evangelical, Pentecostal, Anglican, and Catholic churches—have been particularly irked by proposals to permit Islamic courts and expand the list of who is able to approve life-saving abortions.
A few Christian leaders have warned that church rhetoric is fast losing its basis in reality. The Daily Nation reported that retired Anglican archbishop David Gitari exhorted attendees at a democracy rally to boycott churches opposing the constitution based on false alarms over its impact, such as the allowance of same-sex marriages and the imposition of sharia law.
“We should read and understand the draft,” said Gitari, according to the Daily Nation. “[Some clerics] have substituted ‘No' for God. Christians should boycott such churches. These peddlers of lies should be smoked out. Their conduct has shown that the church needs redemption.”
Two weeks ago, major Kenyan churches starkly accused their government of responsibility for grenade attacks that killed six people and injured almost 80 at a religious cum political rally the preceding weekend. Three successive grenades shocked the thousands of Kenyans who had flocked to downtown Nairobi's Uhuru Park to pray against a proposed draft constitution that has sharply divided the East African nation.
Although Odinga did not provide any evidence of American or European church organizations meddling in the debate, a local newspaper reported last month that a U.S.-based group opposed to abortion said it was donating thousands of dollars to help defeat the proposed constitution.
The Sunday Nation quoted Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice as saying his organization was working through its Nairobi office to tell Kenyans that the draft constitution would allow abortion on demand.