Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An open letter to Canon Peter Karanja


I address you not without substantial angst as one who, at one time, respected your conduct when you worked at the All Saints’ Cathedral.

Matters are not made any easier by the popular hype that the referendum produced no losers and we should embrace each other and move on. I want us to move on, but there are losers. And when you lose a contest, there is a price to pay.

Oft time I have wondered what became of you since you were elevated to the seat of General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. Those who have held that office in the recent past carried themselves with honour and humility. While they held strong opinions on key questions of the day, their statements reflected the knowledge that they presided over an organisation with diverse religious affiliates whose stands on matters secular were rarely unanimous. They also acted in a way as to understand their responsibility in nurturing the societal respect and esteem bestowed upon church leaders.

You assumed leadership of the NCCK when the country was trying to pick itself up from the ruins of early 2008. The electoral commission had been disbanded, the voters register had been invalidated, the nation was still trying to establish a footing to heal our collective wounds. In these circumstances, it raised some concern that one of your earliest statements was to call on the President to dissolve Parliament and take the country to an election. Imagine if we had taken you seriously.

A year later, the momentum for reform was clearly gaining ground. The first draft of the new constitution was gaining shape. The Naivasha process was regaining legitimate attention as different groups lobbied for certain content in the new draft. Out of the blues, Canon Karanja, you called a press conference and demanded that we abandon comprehensive reforms and do a minimum reform package to pave way for a new government.

In the run-up to the referendum, you distinguished yourself as the church’s pointman in the ‘No’ campaign; William Ruto’s counterpart from the clergy. You were impressive for the gusto and singularity with which you threw yourself at this crusade. I grant everybody the right to prosecute the course they embrace. Everybody had a right to fight what they believed to be wrong — although many of us wished you never shunned debating with ‘Yes’ proponents the way you did.

But your situation raised some more serious concern to me. As the leader of NCCK, you preside over an organisation which has some member churches that did not oppose the draft constitution.
Indeed, the very church you come from, CPK, was increasingly ambivalent about taking extreme positions for or against the draft. As a nation we were treated to a cacophony of contrasts when your Archbishop was emphasising national unity and tolerance, asking Kenyans to vote with their conscience, while you were most strident in pushing the ‘No’ vote — not without occasional appeal to fictitious provisions in the draft.
On the night of the referendum you reached a new low. As Kenyans held their breath and prayed that the provocative conduct we experienced in 2007 should be shunned, we saw you on television from the vote tallying centre.

You declared that a conspiracy between the IIEC and the ‘Yes’ campaign was rigging elections through electronic fraud. We wanted to share your concern and stop anything that could reverse the integrity of this otherwise very successful exercise, only to learn that your reason for such a serious statement was that you did not know how the technology worked.

The next time your visage was brought to our living rooms, you were demanding an immediate meeting to initiate amendments to the new constitution to suit the agenda of the referendum losers. Canon Karanja, losers never demand anything. The Church has a very challenging period to reflect on what it has visited upon itself. It has a duty to reclaim the hallowed high ground it needs to help reconcile our country.

Such challenges cannot be carried out by persons who fail to see their limitations and the body blows they inflict upon this sanctified institution by their personal conduct.
Your conduct over the recent past may be a matter that remains surmountable within the ACK where you belong.

But considering the proud history of the NCCK as a reconciler of divergent views, as the unifying voice of reason, and as a proud player in the struggles of our national renewal, I have arrived at the very humble opinion that your continued enjoyment of the office of General Secretary to this critical institution has become untenable.
Dr Mukhisa Kituyi was a founding member of the Forum for The Restoration of Democracy  (FORD) and a former minister for Trade and Industry. He is a Director of the Kenya Institute of Governance.

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