By Fiona Imbali
Kenyans continue to grapple with the high cost of living as inflation rates have shot to a high of 11.48 as at the end of April 2017 according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Houghton Irungu from the Society of International Development notes that Kenyans currently have mixed feeling with regards to the happenings in the country. While others perceive a chaotic situation as well as a lot of uncertainties in the future due to the current political happenings, some see progress.
As Kenya counts days to the general elections in August, voter bribery, corruption, scandals, become the norm of the day. Houghton notes that 1 in 2 Kenyans received bribes to influence their voting patterns while others were paid to change their constituencies in order to be able to vote for their tribesmen during elections. These people he says cannot and may not have the authority to demand for services from leaders they never voted for. He further added that from the current available elective seats of 1871, a minimum of 20,000 people run for these seats. Nevertheless over 700 of the candidates have integrity issues to deal with.
Strong institutions he opines are key in ensuring that countries are able to deal with challenges that citizens grapple with on a daily basis. He lamented that there seemed to be some level of hopelessness when as a country we are not able to create institutions that would enable wealth creation and distribution of resources in the country.
While addressing AIC church leaders from various parts of the country during the national reference group meeting at JJ McCarthy he noted that it was important for church leaders to understand their commitment to Kenya and understand their space in serving the country. He urged the leaders to learn to serve and lead above self.
Rev. Joel Mwangi noted that in Mathare, there had been instances of illegal immigrants flooding in from Uganda. “These people coming in to Kenya have Kenyan IDs and their sole purpose of being transported there is for voting purposes. Politicians are responsible for this,” he noted.
Archbishop Stephen Marete added that sometimes the people in Mathare create confusion when they see new people in their midst in order to steal from them. “The idleness of the youth is distressing while the high levels of unemployment continue to be a great challenge for everyone especially the government.”
Archbishop Enock Odongo from Migori was concerned that militia groups continue to be formed especially during this electioneering period. He notes that politicians are to blame for the chaos that continues to be seen as they hire the militia to cause chaos and scare voters in the opponents’ areas.
Houghton was concerned that a majority of people are uncertain of what tomorrow holds as most leaders don’t appreciate service that is higher than themselves. “The role of leadership is to bring people to serve higher than self. I would be uncomfortable if I am doing exceptionally well while my neighbor isn’t. Often my life has had more meaning when I’m in a position of uncertainty or at risk. Leaders should open up and consciously make choices that are so bold that it creates change in society,” he noted.
Rev. Nicta Lubaale the General Secretary of OAIC International noted that despite an existence of tension and anxiety in the country, there was still hope and faith and the role of church leaders is tremendous. He urged them to immerse themselves and work through the uncertainty with their congregations.
“I see a lot of passion in Kenyans. We need leaders who will direct people to the right direction. Church leaders and religious leaders need to reclaim their space and lead with the spirit of God. The resurrection of Jesus has given us hope. The tension and uncertainty gives us hope yet it can turn chaotic. We should work for what will bring hope in Kenya. We need to move towards collective discernment from collective reflections. There’s need for accountability on our commitments to better elections this year,” he noted.
Houghton further urged the church leaders not to accept contributions from corrupt people as it goes against what they stand for. He gave an example when he was asked to give an impromptu presentation at an event and was paid Kshs. 200,000. He later donated it to a Non-Governmental Organization- in the informal settlement areas that was struggling to pay its employees as he felt he did not deserve it.
“The current happenings in Kenya present a disruptive situation in our lives. This is fine as it helps us to think out of the box. The chaos being experienced however is one step away from nullifying religious institutions; religious values as we may be at a crossroads and things could turn and change very fast. The discomfort being experienced is a necessary part in leadership and especially in situations where congregations don’t reflect the values that church leaders espouse,” he noted.
He further added that their effectiveness as church leaders was not about their intentions, but rather their actions in whichever situations that the country currently grapples with. “Who we are, is the environment in which we live in. Don’t get comfortable with your intentions, we need to be uncomfortable and initiate change. Leadership is usually 10 to 15% most of the times going against the grain. Only 15% of societies produce change that decades later we remember as turning points. Church leaders need to lead from the front by showing integrity. Men and women of faith should move towards righting the wrongs. Christianity lives in the actions that we take which shouldn’t be inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. Leaders actions ought to ensure that society’s actions are consistent with the word of God.”
Reverend Nicta further noted that church leaders are responsible for defending the weak while helping to transform institutions that have left them weak whilst averting State capture. “Migori County accounts for 50% of maternal deaths in the country; is that the point that is causing tension in Migori between politicians? In Cuba, there’s over over 98% literacy level. They have free education and it’s compulsory for one to attend school until high school. Housing and sanitation services are exemplary. A doctor earns as little as Kshs 5,000 and they are happy because institutions work. We don’t have to be exceedingly rich to care for everyone. In Africa we have enough for everyone to be well. We need to turn resources into public resources and public goods.”
Houghton noted that politicians shouldn’t be given an opportunity to politic during funerals as this behaviour was inconsistent with good governance. “People come to churches with all types of vices and we allow them to continue with such trends every time they stand before the congregants. Church services are an opportune moment for church leaders to teach something useful, raise their voices and speak against vices. The more church leaders accept unethical behaviour and corrupt tendencies in their midst, they cease to be different from Cabinet Secretaries and politicians engaging in uncouth behavior that catalyses the mismanagement of public funds.”
Houghton noted that civil society organizations are teaming up and giving out red cards – placards – to leaders who fall short of the threshold of integrity as provided for in the constitution.