Efforts to Break
Constitutional Reform Fail
Map of Kenya
Map of Kenyan Dioceses
Some Background Information
Two violent incidents in
recent weeks highlight how people opposed to constitutional reform are trying
to break up the Ufungamano Initiative, a multi-faith
grassroots effort to change Kenya's constitution before the 2002 elections.
 Religious and human rights officials point the finger
at the Kenya government and some political leaders, saying that they are using
the time-honoured "divide-and-rule" strategy to cause religious and political
divisions and, hence, slow or stop changes that would enshrine human rights
for all Kenyans.
1: A crowd of
people gathers in Kisumu town on November 26 to tell officials of the People's
Commission of Kenya (PCK), a consultation committee under the multi-faith Ufungamano
Initiative, what changes they think should be made to Kenya's constitution.
Speaker number three approaches the podium, and with a loud cry, smashes a chair
into pieces, signaling a group of youths armed with pangas, clubs, and axes
to attack the group. The youths - reportedly loyal to National Development Party
leader Raila Odinga, a political party opposing the Initiative - injure people
and decimate everything in sight. 
Flames shoot up into the sky from a mosque in Nairobi's South 'B' on November
30; the same thing happens to a Catholic Church the next day. As the two places
of worship are being devoured by fire, rampaging youths on both sides throw
stones, beat people up, rob, loot shops, and generally cause incredible havoc.
Ufungamano religious leaders appearing on the scene
to appeal for calm are swamped; Anglican Archbishop David Gitari is hit on the
head with a rock and barely escapes with his life after Muslim religious leaders
and faithful whisk him away from the mob. Are these two scenes related? Are
they somehow different?
see this as a pattern," says Zein Abubakar, Ufungamano
commissioner and PCK spokesperson. "Divide and rule is the name of the game,"
observes Anthony Njui, national executive secretary of the Kenya Episcopal Conference's
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. 
Scenes like the above two
are becoming more and more common in Kenya as people are agitating for, and
organizing, changes to Kenya's constitution. The Ufungamano
movement - an initiative of more than 52 religious and secular organisations
formed in December of last year with the aim of reviving an earlier unsuccessful
constitutional process - is the most high-profile and widespread attempt to
right the country's constitution right from the grassroots level.
the PCK is the structure that collects views from people in villages and cities
through open fora and other methods. The religious community - made up of Christian,
Muslim, and Hindu representatives - is responsible for resolving conflicts in
the discussions and "providing leadership to steer the process to its logical
conclusion," says Abubakar.
"The reason why the religious
community was entrusted with this is because people still have trust in religious
institutions in Kenya," says Abubakar, adding that this multi-faith partnership
- particularly between the Christians and Muslims - is the first of its kind
in Kenya's history.
And that is what makes the
Ufungamano Initiative especially vulnerable. The
incident in Kisumu town is fairly typical of how the political system from the
police to the ruling Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) government deals with
challenges to its authority; the South 'B' violence, however, is a direct attempt
to start a religious war by turning Christians and Muslims against one another,
say Ufungamano members, religious representatives,
and human rights sources.
"That violence was meant
to divert the opinion of the people from the issue of the constitution," says
Oumo Akoth, program officer with the Kenya Human Rights Commission. "It was
meant to associate the Ufungamano Initiative with
"Remember, it comes a few
days after the people of Ufungamano were beaten up
in Kisumu. The beating in Kisumu - and we have established this - had the full
blessing of the government of Kenya. In fact - and we are still investigating
this - the allegation is that some of the people who fought in Kisumu were basically
police officers and not hooligans or people of Raila as it was said."
conflict in South 'B' actually started when Muslim officials and youth attempted
to put a fence around land they owned near their mosque, telling traders from
the nearby slum - who had built their kiosks in the area - to vacate the land.
The traders, in turn, claimed that the government land office had allocated
the plots to them. A mob of traders and slum-dwellers gathered and surrounded
the Muslims, and threatened to burn the mosque. But police blocked Muslim youth
attempting to guard the mosque while traders broke into the mosque and started
the fire, says Abubakar. "When the mob burned the mosque, the police were watching
and laughing." And, when the driver of Gitari's car ran to police standing nearby
to tell them that the mob was going to kill the Anglican archbishop, a police
inspector said, "What did he come to do here? Let him be killed," reports Abubakar,
who himself was slightly injured in the melee. 
"We think that there was
a third force," says Abubakar. "This third force was organized by the Kenyan
intelligence." He says he recognized one of the main inciters of the violence
on the Muslim side as being a policeman attired in Muslim dress.
first, government and political party leaders appealed for calm and told people
not to interpret the conflict as a religious war. However, several days later,
Cabinet Minister Shariff Nassir told Muslim youth to "hit back with greater
force if they are provoked because I am a leader who is ready to sacrifice myself
for my people and I do not like cowards," as reported in the December 4 Daily
"This is not the first time
that the government of this country tries to play off various categories of
people [against one another] for it to rule," says Akoth. Ufungamano
religious leaders expressed the same sentiment in a December 1 joint statement
and press conference delivered by representatives from religious bodies such
as the Kenya Episcopal Conference (KEC), the National Council of Churches of
Kenya, and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.
"We strongly suspect that
the violence is instigated or allowed to divert people's attention from the
real problems affecting Kenyans and the urgent need to review their constitution,"
said the statement. "We also suspect that there could be a scheme to move from
the painful ethnic clashes that have been witnessed in the past to equally devastating
religious clashes in an endeavour to cause divisions in the country." The Kenya
government has denied any involvement in the South 'B' fighting, and maintains
that the police did their best to stop the violence. "What has the government
to gain from inciting religious clashes?" Security Minister Marsden Madoka told
the December 2 Daily Nation. "There is no shred of evidence. The government
is not that naive."
"[Kenyan President Daniel
arap] Moi has said he is not ready to go," says Akoth. "Moi has made attempts
to depict all other leaders in this country as tribal leaders, that he is the
only national leader. What he does is that he plays people to fight and then
he's got the powers to stop the war. Then he stops the war. And then he tells
people, 'look, I'm the one who can stop the war. I'm the only national leader."
ripping inter-faith cooperation apart, the violence in South 'B' has actually
brought religious leaders and faithful much closer together, says Ibrahim Lethome,
Nairobi advocate and legal council for the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.
He cites the joint statement, the Muslims' rescue of Archbishop Gitari, and
upcoming plans for inter-faith prayers and events as evidence that the bond
among faith groups has been strengthened. 
Muslims and Christians both
have a key, common interest in ensuring that Kenya's constitution is changed,
says Lethome. "Most of the problems affecting this country are problems that
are related to morality," he says. "We believe that the churches and the mosques
have a big role to play in correcting the evils and wrongs that we are seeing
in society today."
Constitutional reform has
been high in the minds of Kenyans, particularly this past decade. Following
Kenya's first multi-party election in 1992, there was national consensus that
the constitution needed to be changed to address power imbalances that result
in human rights abuses, corruption, mismanagement, and other ills, and to reflect
changes that have taken place since Kenya's independence in 1964. Kenya's original
constitution was drawn up in Lancaster, England, in 1963.
Just before the 1997 election,
the government published a bill that would have set up a commission to hear
peoples' views on constitutional reform, with the aim of changing the constitution.
The opposition rejected the bill, saying that the proposed commission was not
inclusive or independent enough.
Following the election,
a group of parliamentarians from all political parties agreed to initiate talks
that would amend the original bill. Representatives from the religious community,
political parties, non-government organizations, and women's groups hammered
out a draft bill, which was signed by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi and became
law last October.
But when it came time to
nominate representatives for the new commission, the political parties couldn't
agree who to nominate, despite the best efforts of the church to reconcile the
political parties. Several months later, religious representatives tried to
reconcile everyone at a meeting at Ufungamano House
in Nairobi, where the Initiative was born.
For the next few months,
the PCK will collect Kenyans' views concerning constitutional reform and prepare
a report and draft constitution, which will be presented to a national conference
next July, says Abubakar.
Constitutional changes that
groups are pushing for include: separating the powers and independence of Parliament,
the executive, and the judiciary; outlawing detention without trial; striking
capital punishment off the books; and giving Parliament the power to impeach
or force the resignation of the president.
The Ufungamano Initiative is named after Ufungamano
House, Nairobi, where it was established in December, 1999. Members of the Initiative
include: the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), the Supreme
Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem), and Hindus. Return
See page 11 for the various political parties in Kenya. The ruling party is
the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU). KANU and the National Development Party
(NDP) lead a rival review initiative to the Ufungamano. Return
See pages 10, 12 and 13 for details about the Catholic Church in Kenya.Return
There is a good atmosphere between Muslims and Christians in South 'B'. Many
of the thousands of 'Muslims' were bussed into South 'B' from other parts of
Nairobi, especially from Eastleigh and Kibera where there are sizable Muslim
communities of refugees from Somalia and other countries to the north of Kenya.
349 squatters' shacks were destroyed and in the weeks after the riots Our Lady
Queen of Peace Parish helped those who had been made homeless. It is ironic
that among the aid given were all the twisted corrugated iron sheets from the
roof of the destroyed church and all the charred beams of the offices which
were not totally destroyed. 'Callers to the Sunday Nation's news desk criticised
police for failing to stop the mob of youths who torched the church. But Cabinet
Minister Shariff Nassir defended the Government against claims that it was fanning
the clashes to stall the Ufungamano
faiths-led constitutional review. Mr Nassir accused the Ufungamano
House-based group of seeking to topple President Moi. Mr Nassir said the violence
should not be seen as a war between Muslims and Christians, saying it had been
fuelled by land grabbers.' ('82 held as churches blame riot
on police', 'Sunday Nation', December 3, 2000.)Return
This is from the article entitled 'I
told Muslims to fight, says Nassir', ('Daily Nation',
Monday, December 4, 2000.). It continues: 'However, he [Mr Nassir] said
that his comments were not tantamount to incitement, adding that when he visited
the troubled spot last week, the youths were already charged with anger. He
tried to calm them down but they would not listen because they were furious
at the burning of their mosque. ... "We know everyone has the right to own land,
but people have no right to invade other people's land," he said. ... "There
are no first class or second class citizens in Kenya. Just because we did not
go to school earlier, it does not mean we are fools", he said.'
of the same day ('Nassir must not get away with this folly',
'Daily Nation', Monday, December 4, 2000.) condemned the conduct of Mr.
Nassir: 'Mr Nassir's two greatest claims to prominence are precisely that he
is a member of the Cabinet and a political devotee of the President's as a ruling
party hard-liner. But he serves the interests of neither office when he calls
press conferences to acknowledge that, yes, he did indeed add fuel to the fire
of a full-scale riot in Nairobi South 'B' by telling Muslim youths "not to turn
the other cheek" and to retaliate to the burning of a mosque in such a way as
to outdo their perceived adversaries in the scale of the outrage perpetrated
against them. ...
would-be populism is the most grievous nonsense. Mr Nassir is ready to sacrifice
absolutely nothing. In fact, if every member of the Cabinet behaved the way
Mr Nassir has done, and bragged about it at press conferences afterwards by
speaking through both sides of their mouths, this country would be aflame from
seaside coast to lakeside coast and all points North and South.
conduct is totally unacceptable. No Cabinet minister anywhere in the world,
outside of a fascist regime (and there are virtually none of these left), could
get away with Mr Nassir's actions and utterances of the past weekend. And if
Mr Nassir does indeed get away with it, this will be a reflection not so much
of his deficiencies as a leader as of the sorry state of governance and rule
of law and decency in this country.
at South 'B' last week is to be deeply regretted on all sides and must not happen
again anywhere in the country. That a fragile peace has returned to the area
and many, including Muslim and Christian clerics, have pointed out that it had
nothing to do with religious differences, is thanks to community and religious
leaders, MPs and other opinion shapers whose actions and utterances were the
exact opposite of Mr Nassir's.
country hear from both the Cabinet and the President precisely what they think
of Mr Nassir's one-man riot against all the norms of good governance and responsible
leadership. And on this issue, silence will speak as eloquently as the most
piercing shout or statement.' Return
In his article (Opinion:
'Let us not compromise our religious harmony', 'Daily Nation', Tuesday, January
23, 2001.) Ahmad Khalif, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council
of Kenya Muslims, condemns the violence in Kenya and calls for the continuation
of the good inter-faith relationships in the country.
of the need to secure religious harmony in Kenya, Supkem [the Supreme Council
of Kenya Muslims] abhors the growing trend in which some sects, cults and groups
have taken to challenging established religions through cheap propaganda and
the abuse of the mass media to vilify other faiths.
times, we have witnessed a number of incidents that indicate a systematic attempt
by some individuals and groups to foment religious strife in Kenya. ...
for peace and harmony. In fact, the very word Islam is derived from the Arabic
word salam, meaning peace and submission. Islam teaches complete submission
to the will of Allah, the creator and true God of all existence. Sanctity of
life and respect for all human beings are important teachings of Islam constituting
the articles of faith.
In the recent
past, there have been a number of other incidents, which the enemies of both
Islam and Christianity have attempted to use in order to create animosity between
the two major religious faiths in Kenya. ...
dispute between a mosque and illegal squatters in Nairobi's South 'B' late last
year almost turned into a bloody religious war between Muslims and Christians.
It was only through the concerted efforts of both Muslim and Christian religious
leaders that a major catastrophe was averted. The incident in Nairobi South
'B' tested religious harmony in Kenya to the very limits as hooligans claiming
adherence to the two faiths torched one mosque and two churches.
It is evident
that some insidious forces have been hard at work trying to create religious
strife in Kenya. But, through the trials and tribulations, religious leaders
on both sides have remained united and steadfast in their pursuit of social
justice. This has been particularly evident in their working together in the
constitution reform process.
interest of both Muslim and Christian religious leaders in the review process
is to secure the best possible constitution through an all-inclusive, objective
and people-led process. The main goal is to achieve a transparent, just, democratic
and accountable system of governance.Return
process must inherently recognise the sovereignty of the people of Kenya to
choose the way in which they are to be governed. Any new constitutional dispensation
must recognise and guaruntee the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all
The Kenyan Constitution: http://kenyansabroad.org/organization/constitution.html
Fr. George Smith W.F.
On the 30th
of November at midday you could see the plumes of black smoke billowing
over the South 'B' shopping centre 400 yards from our church. Word spread
quickly: they have set fire to some of the hawkers' kiosks on the edge of
Fuata Nyayo slums. The 'they' were the 'Muslims' who had gone to pray in
the mosque nearby; fired up with righteous anger in this their Holy Month
of Ramadhan they had decided to do something about the kiosks which had
been constructed illegally on land belonging to the mosque. They began to
eject the squatters.
little makeshift shops on fire, the traders retaliated ... not only did they
fight back with their fists but more crucially they set fire to the mosque.
This incensed the 'Muslims' who straightaway set fire to the Makuti Night
Club on the other side of the mosque at the edge of the shopping centre; then
they fought their way into the slum area and torched a number of houses. Later
it was discovered that in one house someone inside was burned to death.
began to be fought everywhere and the riot police were called in. The turmoil
raged far into the night. We at Our Lady Queen of Peace had a grandstand view
of proceedings as we are situated at the intersection of the two roads leading
to the shops and the mosque. We could see and hear the clashes between rioters
and police and the whiff of teargas was everywhere.
was a sense of unreality about it all; it was exciting but not fearful. It
was like being in the middle of a huge Hollywood movie set, enjoying the proceedings
but in no way feeling endangered. Riot police charged up and down the street
alongside our house beating their batons on their shields and shouting "ua,
ua" (kill, kill) as they chased after the rioters. People were injured, many
arrests were made. Police chiefs entered our compound and assured us that
everything was under control. Although we had this assurance our plan of going
out for a meal that night to celebrate Fr. Franz Gieringer's birthday was
put on hold. An uneasy calm settled over South 'B' with police patrols everywhere.
day, Friday, meetings took place at a high level between police and top religious
leaders in central Nairobi. We were informed that tension had been defused
and matters now were under control, although rumours circulated all round
South 'B' that the 'Muslims' were going to avenge the loss of their mosque
by targeting Christian places of worship. Just after midday, I was alarmed
by the huge crowds of 'Muslims' swirling past our gates on their way to the
burnt-out mosque ... they were chanting "Allah, akbar" as they marched along.
We had been
told earlier that gatherings at the South 'B' mosque had been banned in the
morning by the police! Nonetheless thousands of 'Muslims' from all over Nairobi
went there. Less than two hours later the same chants could be heard and we
knew they were on their way back from the mosque. Even then we did not feel
in too great danger; our gates were locked and no one was in the church compound.
2pm I joined Fr. Franz on the rooftop of our parish centre 30 yards from our
house: it was an excellent vantage point where we could see all the way down
to the mosque area. Shops were being attacked at the shopping centre; we could
see looting going on. As the crowds made their way up the two streets which
run parallel to our compound, we could see rocks being thrown and we could
hear the continuous noise of windows being smashed all the way up the roads
leading to our church. We still felt that other than broken windows, there
was nothing to fear: as long as we kept a low profile, all would be well.
From the rooftop we scanned the streets below and then it began to dawn on
us ... there were no sign of any police present!
began to rain on our rooftop position. Windows in our hall were being smashed.
The far side of our house was also being bombarded. We looked over the parapet
into our compound: to our horror our puny defences had been breached ... dozens
of 'Muslim' youths had broken into our compound and were smashing the windows
of our church and our parish centre. Our lives were suddenly in grave danger.
This was no longer a Hollywood movie set.
we do? There was smoke coming from downstairs: they had set fire to the parish
centre ... we were trapped. We dashed downstairs; Fr. Franz went to the classroom
to put out the flames. I tried to get out the only exit door: I was confronted
by a gang of youngish men mostly Somali types, many wearing the white kanzu.
They were intent on systematically smashing every window on their side of
the church. For a fleeting moment I pleaded with them to stop the violence.
They were totally enraged at seeing me and engulfed me in a torrent of rocks
and stones. I disappeared back into the parish centre as this barrage of stones
struck the door. I bolted the door as the mob tried to knock it down.
only one thing to do now ... get back up the stairs to the rooftop from where
perhaps we could climb down one of the drain pipes to safety. Just then Fr.
Franz called out that the church was going up in flames. This had the effect
of momentarily distracting our assailants ... and then they started running
away. They had apparently heard the sirens of the riot squad. The police had
at long last arrived on the scene like the cavalry in a cowboy and Indian
film. Our emotions were a mixture of relief and anger ... they were in time
to save us but not in time to save our once lovely church of Our Lady Queen
Note: Fr. George Smith W.F.
is the Parish Priest of Our Lady Queen of Peace.
The parenthsis around
the word Muslims in this article, ie. 'Muslim', have been added by the
These articles appeared in "White Fathers - White Sisters" (UK),
issue 358, of June-July, 2001.
The articles may be published freely with due acknowledgements
and the "White Fathers - White Sisters" magazine respectively.
If you would like to receive a copy of
magazine please email,
drop a line, to the Editor at the address below giving
us your postal address or you can also complete this form
The White Fathers, 129 Lichfield Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, England, B74 2SA.
Registered Charity No. 233302
You can reach us by e-mail at:
email@example.com (Magazine Editor, and Media and Information Officer)
and firstname.lastname@example.org (General Office and Magazine administration)
Return to the White Fathers' Page
- Return to the top of this page
Return to the African Country Index Page
Return to the Main Articles Page
Return to the Home Page
Return to the Welcome Page