Kenya's religious groups angered over constitution


From TIME. Rose Angiro has a favorite proverb: when two bulls fight, it is only the grass that suffers. Angiro, a maize farmer in western Kenya, is talking about Kenya's politicians and church leaders, who are locked in battle over a draft constitution that Kenya's 44 million people will vote on in August.

The debate over the constitution suddenly became much more than an exercise in civics in mid-June, when grenades exploded at a rally organized by churches against the new constitution. Six people were killed in the blasts and the stampede that followed.

Early last week, police arrested three members of Parliament who oppose the new constitution on accusations of hate speech. One of them, an assistant minister of roads, allegedly told a rally that members of the Kikuyu ethnic group "should prepare to leave Rift Valley en masse" if the constitution passes. President Mwai Kibaki last week suspended the assistant minister, who denies the charges. The Kikuyus are the largest of Kenya's 42 ethnic groups, and the Rift Valley is the part of western Kenya dominated by smaller groups. It was exactly that sort of language that led to the 2008 violence, which saw 1,300 people killed and tens of thousands of Kikuyus driven out of the Rift Valley.

Much of the debate has focused on church groups' opposition to two things. One is the Muslim courts that rule in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance for believers. They are also enshrined in both the current constitution and the new draft, leading to opposition from Christian church groups playing on the fears of greater Muslim dominance in Kenya. The other hot issue is that the new version of the constitution explicitly states that abortion is legal in cases where the life of the mother is endangered, a proviso that currently exists only in the country's legal code. Church groups fear the clause could open the door to wider abortions. They have been encouraged by some American Evangelical groups, including the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an antiabortion group founded by Pat Robertson. The ACLJ's international director, Jordan Sekulow, told the Associated Press earlier this year that the measure "opens the door to abortion on demand, which is why Christian organizations that are pro-life are so opposed to that provision."

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