Washington Post headlines religious tension on khadis courts issue

“Kenya’s constitutional vote on sharia courts pits Muslims against Christians”

What an unfortunate mess. This is one, inevitably emotional issue, on which reasonable people can disagree–and those same reasonable people could still vote for (or against) the proposed new constitution regardless of their position on this one issue. Clearly tensions are being exploited.

From the U.S. side, I want to believe that people who wade in to this mean well, irrespective of the issue about the road to hell being paved by good intentions. At the same time, I have to wonder and worry about whether people who have a record of doing ignorant and irresponsible things like generating e-mails that end up discussed on the front pages on newspapers in Kenya (the day I left the country during the U.S. presidential campaign) asserting that Muslim-Christian tension and an alleged Obama-Odinga “secret Muslim” pact to impose sharia were involved in Kenya’s election and post-election violence.

Waking up to the challenges in Kenya

Yesterday’s big news from Kenya was the ruling by a court panel in a 2004 constitutional challenge to the Khadi’s Courts on grounds of discrimination and the separation of church and state. The 2004 plaintiffs were clergy, some of whom are involved in the current “No” campaign (and others not). The Attorney General has announced he will appeal, which will of course carry the case out beyond the date of the August 4 referendum on the new constitution.

While I am not a Kenyan lawyer, I think that the approval of a new constitution at the referendum would render the current case moot before reaching finality, but in the meantime, the ruling will surely energize the “No” campaign and give greater relative attention to the new draft constitution’s provisions continuing the Khadi’s courts for “family law” and related matters among Muslims on a consensual basis. Surveys have shown that large majorities of Kenyans find the draft constitution a mixed bag, with things they prefer and things they don’t, with the balance weighing in favor of the overall reform. This ruling could have some real impact on that balancing act.

As an American Christian I have been favorably impressed by the general ability of Kenya’s Christian majority and Muslim, traditional and other minorities to get along and live among each other respectfully relative to so much of the rest of the world. As with tribalism, this has the potential to be one more opportunity for politicians with wholly irreligious motives to exploit and divide based on emotions, especially fear.

Certainly the last thing the Kenyans need as they work through this is outsiders who also have other priorities injecting themselves and their money into the campaign.