It appears that after more than 20 years of waiting Kenyans will finally have a new constitution after August 6th. The Attorney General Amos Wako (I can’t believe this man is still in office) published the document today. The electoral commission will formulate the referendum question and announce the campaign period for the August 6th referendum. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the document will be passed by a majority of Kenyans. The latest poll indicated that 64% of Kenyans support the document compared to 17% who oppose it.
The Church and a section of politicians are opposed to the document because of its wording in relation to abortion and Kadhi’s courts (see below) and on matters of resource allocation. With regard to abortion, my stand is that the constitution does nothing against Kenya’s conservative bend. If anything it still needs some doses of liberalism on family law and social justice in order to protect our mothers and sisters and other marginalized peoples from the rather dated views of the Kenyan patriarchy.Our mothers and sisters are not crazy child-killers. They too are very conservative when it comes to abortion. In this case the law will only serve to bring out of the shadows the thousands of illegal abortions that result in the death of many women in our towns and cities. Also, if the church is so concerned with abortion, how about doing so by promoting birth control? I still don’t get the church’s justification for its consignment of millions to an early grave (thanks to HIV/AIDS) and orphanhood because of its bizarre policies on the use of contraceptives.
And on the Kadhi’s courts: the wording speaks for itself. It only applies to Muslims’ personal issues and even then only with their consent. No Christian will ever have to face a Kadhi. Plus as I have pointed out before, the church’s attempt to impose Christian morality on Kenyans through the constitution is not consistent with their opposition to Kadhi’s courts.
Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.
On Kadhis’ Courts
(1) There shall be a Chief Kadhi and such number, being not fewer than three, of other Kadhis as may be prescribed under an Act of Parliament.
(2) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed to hold or act in the
office of Kadhi unless the person—
(a) professes the Muslim religion; and
(b) possesses such knowledge of the Muslim law applicable to any sects of Muslims as qualifies the person, in the opinion of the
Judicial Service Commission, to hold a Kadhi’s court.
(3) Parliament shall establish Kadhis’ courts, each of which shall have the jurisdiction and powers conferred on it by legislation, subject to clause (5).
(4) The Chief Kadhi and the other Kadhis, or the Chief Kadhi and such of the other Kadhis (not being fewer than three in number) as may be prescribed under an Act of Parliament, shall each be empowered to hold a Kadhi’s court having jurisdiction within Kenya.
(5) The jurisdiction of a Kadhis’ court shall be limited to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts.
Muthoni Wanyeki has this cool piece on the ongoing debate over the draft constitution.
I share in her surprise at how low the church has decided to sink in its opposition to Kadhi courts and the so called abortion clause in the draft constitution. Firstly, abortions are but a symptom of greater social problems (marital rape, poor sex education policies, the church’s intransigence over contraceptives, etc etc). People do not carry out abortions because they are baby-killers. Can someone please point this out to these men of God?
In any case personal morality is not a province of the state. People’s “moral failings” are a reflection of the church’s inability to instill in them the values that they consider to be ideal. Sending millions to their graves and creating even more orphans on the premise that God does not endorse the use of contraceptives is simply absurd. If I ran the Daily Nation I would print rates of contraceptive use and fertility rates in Rome, Canterbury and the great evangelical centres of America in the front page to make this point.
I say this knowing that Kenyan conservatism is not necessarily because of Christianity. But we don’t hear traditional elders screaming about these two issues. If the church wants to remain relevant it mus realize that before we all go to heaven we have to live through real life on earth.
And on the issue of Kadhi’s Courts. Who cares? Doesn’t the current constitution have this already? And isn’t it ironic that the same people who want to legislate personal morality on religious grounds are the ones opposed to Muslims having the option to use an Islamic judicial system? And do they even know that these courts would still be subordinate to the country’s secular court system?
Maureen Dowd’s column highlights the deep crisis in which the Catholic church has found itself in the aftermath of the many cases of sexual abuse across Europe and the United States. Like Dowd, I am also a Catholic who is deeply disturbed by the Church’s apparent intransigence and inexplicable inflexibility in the face of problems like HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases on the Continent.
The Church must reform. And I believe it will. Sweeping cases of priests molesting 200 deaf children under the carpet is simply not doable.
Similarly, condemning millions of people to their graves by putting spiritual sanctions against their use of known methods of disease prevention is also wrong. As the Church reacts to and adjusts in the face of the backlash in the West over the abuse cases it should also be reminded of the consequences of its anti-contraceptive policies in the developing world, particularly in Africa.
I should point out that even as I criticize the Church and its policies on the Continent I am aware of its importance as an institution. The Church runs schools, hospitals… etc etc. Indeed in my lifetime I have attended no less than three Catholic-run schools.
The Church in Kenya has every right to lobby for a pro-life amendment to the draft constitution. But that does not give them the right to completely rubbish the opinions of women leaders. Women like Gender Minister Esther Murugi are not crazy child-killers. They are reasonable people who do not want the male-dominated constitutional review process to usurp too much of women’s reproductive rights. Demanding for women’s reproductive rights is not being pro-abortion. And if the church leaders are so concerned about abortion perhaps it is time they eased their opposition to contraceptives that limit the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
The fact that the Kenyan clergy feel the need to legislate morality is a clear pointer to their failure to do their job right. If you do not want people to have premarital sex or use contraceptives, preach to them from the pulpit. Do not seek to make this into law. In any case, Kenyan society is already conservative enough when it comes to things like abortion and sexuality. What we need is not a constitution that pushes us further into paranoia about these issues but one that protects our mothers and sisters from the tyranny of the men from 10,000 BC who run our country.
This quote from Hon. Murugi captures the absurdity of the amendments being proposed by the anti-women’s rights team: “Let us have a reproductive health bill where all other issues are addressed. For instance, women are using morning after pills after sex. Are you going to put us all in jail?”
I am sure none of those opposed to the amendments is into the idea of killing the unborn. All that Kenyan progressives want is a law that does not take away women’s rights to choose what is good for them. Reason demands that we should not legislate morality. This will only lead to more kienyeji abortions that will continue to kill many Kenyan women each year.
It is fascinating how the conservative types (in both ODM and PNU) that ordered policemen to shoot rioters or organized militias to kill fellow Kenyans in early 2008 are the same ones at the forefront of the faux pro-life campaign. May their efforts to go against reason fail.
Kenya is a country of duplicitous people. It is a country in which the masses have been bullied into pretending that they do not have sex outside of marriage and therefore do not need contraceptives – condoms included. But sex-related statistics continue to expose them for who they are. The country has an AIDS infection rate of almost six percent. Unintended pregnancies account for 45% of total pregnancies, at least according to the ministry of medical services (someone tell me, what is the difference between this ministry and that of health?). Further evidence of the enormity of the problem comes from recent news reports that women are using unverified herbal contraceptives – mainly out of ignorance because the concept of contraception is not yet mainstream – that have left some of them and/or their children permanently deformed.
Meanwhile, the church in Kenya continues to be an ostrich – and I have complained about this before. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a sexually active populace in need of a less closed-minded approach to contraception, the only advice coming from the pulpits is that abortion is immoral and evil and that nobody should be having sex until they get married.
I am not saying that liberal sexual attitudes should be forced on Kenyans. I personally believe that cultural changes should be incremental and reflective of the will of the people. But we cannot hide from the evils of non-contraception. Illegal abortions kill countless women every year. And a lack of family planning is a direct contributor to economic hardship for many Kenyan families. I am reminded of a comment made by a close friend of mine who is working with communities in Manyatta (an informal settlement in Kisumu) that one of the things she noticed about the place was that there were masses of children everywhere. I can bet that a good chunk of these kids will not get enough food, clothing or education in their lifetimes. A horrifying percentage of Kenyan kids do not make it to five. A little birth control would free up resources to ensure that Kenyan children have a better chance in life – beginning with the chance to stay alive into old age.
Now do not get me wrong. I am not for reducing Kenya’s population figures. As I have stated before, I believe that Africa – as a continent – is woefully underpopulated. That said, I think that the Continent’s – and in particular Kenya’s – population expansion should be better managed. It is time we stopped burdening the daughters of the continent with, on average, almost one and a half decades of childbearing. It is time the government acted on the need to better educate Kenyan families on the means of contraception. And about the church, they should get real.