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Cablegate: Kenya Election: Role of Religious Institutions

VZCZCXRO4053
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHNR #4652/01 3391058
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051058Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3745
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHDR/AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM 5612
RUEHKH/AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM 1716
RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 9728
RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 2437
RUEHDJ/AMEMBASSY DJIBOUTI 4947

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NAIROBI 004652

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/E
LONDON, PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KE
SUBJECT: Kenya Election: Role of Religious Institutions

REF: A. NAIROBI 4423
B. NAIROBI 3609

Summary
-------
1. (SBU) Kenya's vibrant religious institutions play an
active role in public life. They have figured
prominently in the run up to the 2007 general elections.
From sponsoring civic education efforts to backing
certain candidates, religious leaders from the Christian
and Muslim communities have used the pulpit to achieve
their interests. Much of this activism -- such as
denouncing violence and promoting voter education -- has
been positive. When religious leaders engage in partisan
politics, however, controversy ensues, which only serves
to highlight Kenya's ethnic and religious divisions. End
Summary.

Neutral Advocates for the Democratic Process
--------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) In the run-up to the December 27 national
elections, Kenya's diverse religious institutions have
advocated vociferously for a range of interests. Much of
this advocacy centers on the integrity of the electoral
process. Prominent religious institutions, such as the
National Council of Churches (NCCK) and the Supreme
Council of Muslims (SUPKEM), routinely declare their
neutrality and encourage members to make their own
decisions.

3. (SBU) Some institutions, such as the NCCK and the
Kenya Council of Imams and Ulema (KCIU) also conduct
civic education programs. NCCK's program is specifically
aimed at combating voter apathy and helping voters
determine how to judge candidates against their
priorities. NCCK and SUPKEM also plan to participate as
domestic election observers.

4. (SBU) Religious organizations of all stripes have also
implored political parties to refrain from violence. In
September, the Inter-Religious Forum (which includes
Christians, Muslims, and Hindus) and UNDP brought
political parties together to sign a pact against
election violence.

Advocating for Traditional
Interests versus Taking Sides
-----------------------------

5. (SBU) Religious activism has taken on ecclesiastical
and community interests as well. While some positions
are clearly in line with church doctrine -- such as the
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Kenya calling for
aspiring leaders to reject abortion, euthanasia, and the
death penalty -- other leaders' declarations have been
more political and have correspondingly sparked
controversy.

6. (SBU) Cardinal John Njue made headlines in October
when he spoke out against the establishment of federalism
(majimbo), for which opposition candidates Raila Odinga
and Kalonzo Musyoka have both advocated (ref A). Some
accused Njue (a Kikuyu) of supporting President Kibaki
(another Kikuyu) out of ethnic solidarity. Other
Catholic bishops later denied that Njue's comments
reflected the position of the Catholic Church.

7. (SBU) Apart from the majimbo debate, presidential
aspirants' courting of the Muslim vote has caused the
most controversy this year. Muslims represent only 10
percent of the population and have never voted as a bloc,
but the close presidential race has created an incentive
for candidates to outline how they will address the
community's grievances.

8. (SBU) To show his sympathy with Muslim interests,
President Kibaki established a Presidential Action
Committee to investigate complaints that Muslims suffer
unfair discrimination and declared the Islamic holy day
of Eid ul Adha a national holiday. Opposition Orange
Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate Raila Odinga signed a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National

NAIROBI 00004652 002 OF 002


Muslim Leaders' Forum (NAMLEF) promising to attend to the
community's needs in exchange for their support.

Candidate Advocacy, Secrecy
Lead to Fearmongering, Division
-------------------------------

9. (SBU) KCIU representative Musa Mwale told PolOff that
NAMLEF wanted the contents of its MOU with Odinga to
remain confidential because they believed it would
encourage other presidential candidates to conclude
similar agreements with them. (Note: KCIU is one of
NAMLEF's member organizations. End Note.)

10. (SBU) If this is true, NAMLEF grossly miscalculated.
Shortly after the agreement was concluded, a false
version of the MOU (likely created by Kibaki supporters)
was widely publicized, claiming that if elected, Odinga
would "recognize Islam as the only true religion,"
require non-Islamic religious activities in Coast
Province to be approved by an Islamic council, ban
alcohol, and impose strict Islamic restrictions on
women's dress.

11. (SBU) While the fake MOU was inflammatory and hardly
plausible (Odinga is Anglican), it generated negative
publicity for Odinga and exposed ethnic rifts in both the
Islamic and Christian communities. In late November,
Christian church leaders from Western, Nyanza, and Rift
Valley Provinces (Luo, Luhya, and Kalenjin dominated
areas) supported Odinga and implied that Christian
leaders in Kikuyu-dominated areas of Central Province
were promoting (or at least tolerating) a sectarian hate
campaign against Odinga. The leaders also accused groups
in Kikuyu-dominated communities of holding "oathing
ceremonies" to enforce Kikuyu electoral solidarity and
rituals to curse political opponents - practices
associated most recently with the organized crime
syndicate Mungiki. (In fact, there have been no credible
reports of such practices in Kikuyu communities in recent
times, outside the Mungiki.)

12. (SBU) As for the Muslims, the MOU brought out
divisions between coastal and ethnic Somali Muslims, who
received perks in the MOU, and the rest of their brethren
in faith. "Upcountry Muslims" and various pro-Kibaki or
neutral Muslim associations complained of the
presumptiousness of NAMLEF to negotiate on behalf of the
entire community.

13. (SBU) In late November, ODM and NAMLEF belatedly
released the real MOU, but it did little to unify Muslim
leaders. The contents were hardly inflammatory and
closely matched Odinga's public promises to the Muslim
community (e.g., redress historical marginalization with
targeted development, end discrimination and human rights
abuses, including the alleged rendition of Kenyans to
Somalia, Ethiopia, and Guantanamo Bay, etc.). SUPKEM
officials rejected it, however, claiming that NAMLEF had
no authority to speak on behalf of Kenya's Muslims.
SUPKEM's rejection was perhaps understandable, as the
group's Secretary General had already endorsed President
Kibaki. Perhaps more importantly, Odinga's MOU promise
to "embrace NAMLEF as his partner of choice" and accord
it an advisory role in his administration could
significantly diminish SUPKEM's influence if Odinga wins.

Comment
-------

14. (SBU) Ethnic identity has always commanded a stronger
allegiance than religious affinity when Kenyans go to the
ballot box. At their best, Kenya's religious
institutions have played a positive role, encouraging
people to vote according to their principles rather than
their fears. This election season has also shown,
however, that religious leaders who choose to engage in
partisan politics risk entangling their institutions in
highly charged and ethnically-driven campaign
controversies, possibly to the detriment of their flock's
unity.

RANNEBERGER

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