The shuttle diplomacy initiated by some Church leaders, seeking to bring truce in the country on the IEBC stalemate, is a rare but promising sign in the national political landscape.
For sometime Kenya did not have an institution that enjoyed sufficient confidence across the board and to which the nation could turn when its belligerent political sides are on each other’s throat. The build up to our national crisis that revolves around elections has certainly started.
As expected, both sides of the political divide have dug in. While one side insists IEBC must go, the other has taken the opposite direction. One can only imagine where this is likely to lead. The tragedy is that there is hardly an institution across the land that can be said to enjoy sufficient goodwill and which can speak to both sides of the political divide, with respect, when necessary.
This reality was clearly brought to bear in 2007. It should have fallen naturally to the Church specifically, but broadly, to the religious institutions to fill the gap. Even if the country recognised and later registered the association bringing together atheists, the reality is that the majority of the nation’s population is, at the core, conservatives with theistic beliefs.
A near 80 per cent of Kenyans subscribes to Judeo-Christian faith. The problem with Kenya, however, is that religion tends to be stored in the wardrobe to be worn on worship days and when convenient. Scratch the confessing believers and what emerges is their cultural belief that finds expression in their ethnicity.
Sadly, some of the strongest proponents of ethnic stereotypes and jingoism are men and women of faith. Ethnic purity and cultural supremacy have been preached from the pulpit and its equivalence in other faiths.
Even in the most densely populated multiethnic neighbourhoods, churches still appeal to people from a single ethnic group. And so a PCEA church in Mathare would, in all likelihood, be conducting services in Kikuyu, while it is difficult to find an African Brotherhood Church beyond the comfort of Eastland.
As a consequence of these dynamics, even in 2007, the Church could not provide refuge to the many that came under its roof. The colours and discourses in the pews are reflected in the pulpit.
The mission to go to all nations of the world is yet to find appropriate embrace on our shores. It is not clear whether the congregation leads the Church leadership or vice versa. Be it as it may, however, Church leaders have tended to see themselves from the prism of their ethnicity first, their regions of birth second and only lastly as Kenyans.
The constitutional institutions could have provided impersonal platforms through which to address national issues. But the vices of the nation visited them long time ago. They are accused of corruption and some of the biases they were supposed to cure.
At least that is the argument being advanced by the Opposition and the rationale for resorting to protests, even when they turn ugly. They can’t trust IEBC, they say, and they have no confidence in the courts.
That is why in the middle of the hopelessness that is emerging it has come as a breath of fresh air to see a group of clerics shuttle from one side to the other at least to talk about the possibility of talks. We can only wish them well. However, one would pray that this would evolve into an institution that can be impartial and which will shoe away our common vices so that it can play a crucial role of ambassadors of peace across the land.
Credibility is drawn from perceptions thus this group must guard their image jealously. Clergymen who have in the past worn their ethnic jingoism and biases on their sleeves should have no space at the table just because they wear a collar. We should only have people who genuinely believe in building bridges and bridging the gap.
On the other hand Kenyans of goodwill should support this initiative. Whereas little may be done to change the past but we can, at least, turn a new page and approach the future differently. Sometimes it is helpful to dare to dream. Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University