Saturday, May 1, 2010

US dollars fuelling Church campaign

National Council of Churches of Kenya Secretary General Canon Peter Karanja (left), chairman Dr Gerry Kibarabara and televangelist Mark Kariuki (right) during a media briefing at the Ufungamano house. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT

National Council of Churches of Kenya Secretary General Canon Peter Karanja (left), chairman Dr Gerry Kibarabara and televangelist Mark Kariuki (right) during a media briefing at the Ufungamano house. PHOTO/ CORRESPONDENT 

By KEVIN J. KELLY, SUNDAY NATION Correspondent in New York

An American-based group opposed to abortion has said it is donating “tens of thousands of dollars” to help defeat Kenya’s proposed constitution.

The American Centre for Law and Justice’s Jordan Sekulow, told the Sunday Nation that his Washington-based organisation is working through its office in Nairobi to tell Kenyans that the draft constitution would allow “abortion on demand”.

It is the first revelation of foreign funding given to church leaders in Kenya to campaign against the draft constitution.

The American Centre for Law and Justice is a non-governmental public interest law firm founded in 1990 by the controversial televangelist Pat Robertson well-known in Kenya for his programs on the Christian Broadcast Network.

Information available on the Internet indicates the centre has an annual budget of about $14 million (about Sh1 billion).

Mr Robertson stirred up a barrage of criticism with his remarks that Haiti had “made a pact with the Devil” that earned them the earthquake that left more than 250,000 Hatians dead in January.

Extreme right

The “deal”, according to Mr Robertson, was made by the black inhabitants of the Caribbean island nation in order to gain freedom from their French masters in 1804.

Mr Robertson and Mr Sekulow are behind the Washington-based NGO that has established a centre in Nairobi to work against the proposed draft and to develop a strategy for Christians to lobby Parliament over future law reforms.

In America they are referred to as the extreme Christian right and favour conservative social policies and very limited or no government role in the economy.

Kenyan church leaders have vowed to fell the proposed law because, in their view, it does not affirm religious freedoms and, according to their interpretation, it does not expressly outlaw abortion.

The American organisation’s outlet in Kenya is the East African Centre for Law and Justice.

A statement on the US organisation’s website on January 27 this year announced the centre’s establishment and says, “This is only the beginning. The EACLJ will be a centre that will change the landscape of legislation for all Kenyans and eventually all of East Africa’s citizens.”

It is signed by Executive Director Joy Mdivo and Bishop Mark Karuki of the Deliverance Church Kenya.

The revelations come a day after NCCK secretary-general the Rev Peter Karanja said the organisation was not receiving foreign funding to run its No campaign. The Deliverance Church is not a member of the NCCK.

Reached on Saturday evening, Bishop Kariuki told the Sunday Nation he did not wish to comment on the donations until after he had spoken to Mr Sekulow.

Activists associated with similar groups in the United States are also shipping brochures to Kenya in an attempt to persuade voters to reject the proposed constitution because of a provision that would permit abortion when a woman’s life is in danger.

Although the Constitution guarantees the right to life, and the draft provides that life begins at conception, church leaders have vowed to fight it because of its provisions on abortion and kadhis’ courts.

They object to the section of Article 26 that empowers doctors to end a pregnancy if it endangers a woman’s life or she needs emergency treatment.

The section reads: “Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other law.”

Christian leaders are also opposed to the retention of kadhis’ courts in the proposed constitution under Article 169 and 170. The courts have limited authority to arbitrate disputes over personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance where all the parties are Muslims and agree to take the case to a kadhi.

The anti-abortion movement in the United States argues that the wording of the Kenyan draft constitution would in practice make abortion much more widely available in Kenya.

Under the Penal Code, the current Constitution permits abortion when a woman’s life is judged by a medical professional to be in danger.

The head of the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to encourage the Kenyan government “to ensure that the new constitution does not undermine access to safe and legal abortion services, which are crucial to protecting women’s basic rights”.

The same organisation issued a report in March estimating that at least 2,600 Kenyan women die each year as a result of unsafe abortions.

The Obama administration has expressed its support for the proposed constitution.

And although neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton has spoken out directly on the issue of abortion in Kenya, both leaders do generally favour a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

On April 3, 2010, the White House issued a statement supporting the progress made in search of a new constitution.

“We are encouraged by the strong statements made by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga in support of the draft,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

“A unified effort to see this important reform element through can help to turn the page to a promising new chapter of Kenyan history. We urge all Kenyans to focus on the future of their nation and to unify in support of a peaceful and credible referendum and electoral process.”

But Mr Sekulow, the anti-abortion attorney in Washington, told the Sunday Nation that his organisation supports “99 per cent of what’s in the draft constitution.”

Promote stability

He said he recognises that the proposed document includes reforms intended to promote stability in Kenya.

Mr Sekulow and other anti-abortion campaigners in the United States argue that the draft should nonetheless be rejected because it does not unequivocally prohibit abortion.

In 2005, Mr Sekulow was named one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals” in America by Time magazine.

Jeanne Head, a New York-based official with the anti-abortion National Right-to-Life Committee, said that her organisation “is assisting friends in Kenya by sending them brochures” to be used in the referendum campaign.

Her organisation, the largest of its kind in the United States, is not supplying funding to groups in Kenya, Ms Head said.

Held forum

Mr Sekulow said his group is using donations from its supporters in the United States to fund the activities of the Nairobi-based East African Centre for Law and Justice, which was established early this year.

He added that he could not specify how much money might eventually be provided, but he said the amount so far numbers in the “tens of thousands of dollars”.

Mr Sekulow is a frequent guest on American television and is frequently quoted in the mainstream press.

According to the website, the East African satellite recently “held a consultative forum with members of various professions on the wording of the draft proposed to the Select Committee on the Constitution”.

“In conjunction with Deliverance Church, the EACLJ will be initiating a grassroots effort to bring to light the importance of the new Kenyan Constitution,” says the statement.