Following the recent collapse of a case in the International Criminal Court against the country’s deputy president, which was touted by the government as a vindication, Kenya’s Catholic bishops have warned the nation is instead gripped by a “malignant disease” of corruption and poverty.
The ICC indictment against Deputy President William Ruto charged him with helping foment ethnic violence in 2007/2008, in tandem with national elections, that left some 1,100 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced.
An ICC statement asserted that the case unraveled because of political interference and witness-tampering, much as an earlier ICC attempt to prosecute Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta also fell apart as witnesses recanted and evidence disappeared.
“As Catholic bishops, we see the ruling, not as an outcome of winners and losers,” the bishops’ April 8 statement said.
“The outcome of the ruling does not resolve the pain of the violence as the trauma of the post-election violence has not been healed,” said the statement, read aloud in a news conference by Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, chair of the conference.
Kenya has long been considered a pacesetter African nation, with above-average economic and educational standards, and Catholics form roughly one-quarter of the total population of 44 million.
The new statement from the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops was widely seen as a direct challenge to the government of Kenyatta, who a week earlier had presented a “State of the Nation” address offering a fairly rosy picture of Kenya’s accomplishments.
For one thing, the bishops said the government still has not done justice to the victims of the violence in 2007 and 2008, including compensation for internally displaced persons.
“Our appeal to the national and county governments is to offer solutions for the victims, through compensations and plans of reconciliation and integration,” the bishops said.
The Kenyan prelates also bluntly charged that important government offices are on the take, including a department that oversees elections, the Independent Electoral Boundary Commission (IEBC).
“Elections are one of the most important activities of the country, and when the IEBC is riddled with corruption and incompetence, then our democracy and future growth is in danger,” they said.
The bishops also openly asked if Kenyan citizens have any reason to trust the integrity of their judicial system, in the wake of recent corruption charges made against some members of the country’s Supreme Court.
“We, the Catholic bishops, wish to raise our voices to our political leaders and say, this must stop,” the statement said.
“Let’s stop bleeding our country to death. As your shepherds we are appealing to the conscience of all our leaders to realize this is our country, and if it sinks, we sink together.”
The bishops vowed they will not permit Catholic parishes in the country to be used as “campaign venues to make political rhetoric, inflammatory statements, and foul language, or as a hideout for looted funds and corrupt monies.”
Nor were the Kenyan police exempt from the bishops’ indictment.
“This is clearly obvious with the bribes exchanged at police check points,” they said. “Our borders are not secure, and our roads are mere collection points for bribes,” said the bishops.
John Oballa Owaa of Ngong, vice-chair of the bishops’ conference, used especially strong language in demanding a halt to corrupt practices.
“Daily revelations and exposure of corrupt deals and stealing of money from public coffers by top government officials paints a picture of how low we have sunk as a country,” he said.
“We can’t give up. Now is the time to rise and face this malignant disease with all the weapons we have.”
In general, Catholic bishops in many parts of the developing world, including sub-Saharan Africa, often play a robustly political role that sometimes seems puzzling by Western standards of church/state separation.
Experts say that in many developing societies, however, religious bodies are often the only spheres in which civil society can take shape, and from which voices on public affairs can emerge that aren’t clearly aligned with political or economic interests.