Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Kenya is not secular

Kenya is not a secular country. Stop saying it is. The constitution's opening lines (in the Preamble) grandiosely declare,
We the People
ACKNOWLEDGING the supremacy of Almighty God of all creation...
and ends with the words,
You get the feeling that those last three words should end with an exclamation point, don't you?

Some of you are going to point to the useless fig leaf in Article 8 that states,
There shall be no State religion.
You would be right to do so, but also spectacularly off the mark. Simply because Kenya does not have a "State religion" doesn't in any way make it a secular State, or a secular nation for that matter. The Constitution has already pissed on that cozy notion by acknowledging (a) the existence of a god, (b) that this god is Almighty, (c) that this god created "all", and (d) that this god has the power to bless Kenya.

The Constitution - a document authored by constitutional lawyers and blessed by a majority of voters at a referendum - ignores everything lawyers say or think or do and unabashedly revels in its non-secular credentials. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the principal legal advisor of the Government (that is the Attorney-General, for those keeping score) has vacillated between issuing an association of atheists with a registration certificate as a society and "suspending" the very same certificate because clerics have raised a stink about it.

Some very smart lawyers will point out that the constitutional court may use Articles 32, 33 and 36 to force the Attorney-General to recognise the legitimacy of the demands of the atheists' society and permit them to be registered under the law. I suspect that the shortest route to lifting the "suspension" would be through Article 47 on fair administrative action and a successful petition that demonstrates that if indeed the society's registration has been suspended, it was done unfairly and without the due process of the law being applied. That would be a Pyrrhic victory, though, because Kenya, constitutionally, doesn't accept the claim that "there is no god."

It matters not that the Constitution of Kenya was ratified at a referendum by less than a third of the citizens of Kenya; the referendum rules specified that only registered voters could vote at the referendum. Those rules were not challenged by anyone. The majority of the voters who cast their ballot in favour of the referendum question of whether Kenya should adopt the draft Constitution established Kenya as most certainly a non-secular State. However, and this is important, the ratification did not establish Kenya as a theocracy - such as Iran or Vatican City, the only two theocracies in the world. You can thank Article 8 for that: without a State religion (like Anglicanism in England) there's no state clerical class and the State is not organised around religious principles.

But the fact that the Constitution recognises "Almighty God of all creation" and beseeches (or orders, depending on how you read it) "GOD [TO] BLESS KENYA" raises doubts that the Committee of Experts intended for Kenya to be secular. Now that Kenya's clerics have bullied the Attorney-General into "suspending" the registration of the atheists' society, it remains to be seen if the clerics will strengthen the Attorney-General's hand with well-reasoned constitutional arguments about why the society's registration shouldn't be revoked outright. I fear that this will be an exercise in futility. 

What the clerics are likely to offer in support is unlikely to stray far from philosophically messy justifications for the existence of "God" or political boilerplate language intended to throw the fear of, excuse my pun, "the Lord" into the National Government. Whichever way this matter is resolved, the atheists' society is about to become a political football in an election year-but-one. I hope its members have thick skins and tough bones because these people play dirty.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After reading this article, I think that Kenya is a secular country