In 2010, the East Africa Centre for Law & Justice (EACLJ) opened in Kenya. As the Executive Director of the EACLJ, I have fought to prevent the legalization of abortion in Kenya’s new constitution, and I am working with pastors to educate and mobilize the Christian community in Kenya. The fight has continued in our efforts to prevent the persecution of the church at the hands of the government. The granting of new “rights” by the government has in fact allowed the government to persecute the church.
The promulgation of the new Constitution by Kenya in August of 2010, brought in a new dawn. In many respects, the clamor for the Constitution was to bring about big changes in Governance. However, the opportunity was opened for other stakeholders and interested parties to find a way to articulate their issues. The most obvious and loudest issues came from the leftist liberal agenda. The introduction of new “Rights” in the revamped Bill of Rights saw “Information” becoming a Human Right recognized under Kenyan law. There was also the resurrection of the age-old debate on Gay Rights and Abortion (aka Reproductive Health) rights in Kenya.
The Church rose up in strong opposition against the then proposed Constitution. The resulting fallout has deeply affected the relationship between the Church and the Government, which until now had been symbiotic, but is now almost acrimonious. Church leaders are not only skeptical of Government, but they are actually pulling no punches and are blatant in their criticism of the Government. These last couple of years, the Church has seen a previous powerful ally in the Politician become almost a foe. Recently, the head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Wabukhala came out strongly and directed that politicians be granted no opportunity to do political activity in Church. This decision is a big blow to Politicians who only had to attend a service and they were assured a chance to speak at the pulpit to the congregation for a few minutes.
It does not stop there. Historically, the Church has been in the forefront of opening and running education institutions for all levels, from pre-school to universities. The largest number of private universities in Kenya are Church owned and operated. However, under the new Kenyan Constitution, which reworded the Freedom of Religion clause in the Bill of Rights, Article 32, religious organizations have seen a change in the mother law from what was there previously.
Church autonomy and the freedom of association has been severely affected. Religious organizations, including schools and universities, can no longer reject admission or deny employment because the applicant or employee’s beliefs run contrary to the religious beliefs of the institution. Previously, if an institution was fully funded by a religious group, they had the right to restrict admission for students and employment for all cadres of staff to persons of similar faith. Furthermore, the religious organizations had the additional right to spread their doctrine to people who willingly came to seek education from their institutions. This right has also been taken away under Article 32 of the new Constitution. The net result is many religious institutions potentially run the risk of being sued on the basis of discrimination for refusing admission or employment to persons not of similar faith. They also risk being sued for compelling students to attend Chapel or observe certain rituals.
The situation is compounded by the fact that Church-run institutions are among the best in the Country and are usually elevated to become Provincial and National Schools. The Church administration is now hitting back by refusing to give up schools to be made National Schools. Some Church leaders have gone as far as demanding back institutions previously taken over by the State, yet they were built by the contributions of the faithful.
The Separation of Church and State in Kenya seems set to be a painful process for both entities. We are still in the early days of the new Constitution, but we hope that in the near future an amicable way forward will be found, for the sake of ordinary Kenyans who are heavily reliant on both institutions in daily life.
Joy Mdivo is the Executive Director of the East Africa Centre for Law & Justice (EACLJ), the ACLJ’s affiliate organization in Kenya.