Bringing together non-believers
By Kennedy Karuga – Chief Editor, AIK
The interesting thing about privilege is that you can get so attuned to it that you become blind to its very existence. The much-ballyhooed visit of Pope Francis underlines the extent to which people can take privilege for granted purely because of its longevity. Few people have stopped short to examine the constitutionality of the state’s financial splurge on the papal visit. Fewer still have pondered how the pope’s extravagant taxpayer-funded tour affects the already fickle relations among Kenya’s religious groupings.
The papal visit will cost Kenyan taxpayers 200 million KES. Add to this the economic costs that businesses will have to bear because of the near shutdown of Nairobi during the three-day stretch of the pope’s presence and you can see that the total expense is probably somewhere in the billions. The pope is coming to Kenya, not as head of the Vatican, but as head of the Catholic Church. In any event, Kenya has no diplomatic or commercial relations with the 110-acre state that the pope heads. So in sum, Kenyans of all faiths and beliefs will have to part with billions of shillings- and do without public services for a day- to accommodate the leader of the Catholic church.
Would the state splurge so generously on a visit by a differently affiliated religious leader? If the Dalai Lama came to Kenya, would the government accord the same treatment it has given Catholics to Kenya’s Buddhists? Would a visit by a high-level Hindu or Muslim cleric precipitate the level of freehandedness we have observed with Pope Francis? If not, why not? What entitles the Catholics to privilege? Are we assuming that Catholics deserve this privilege simply because they have been privileged for very long in Kenya?
Many have chastised our going to court to challenge the constitutional integrity of the President’s declaration of a public holiday and national day of prayer in homage to the pope, calling it a chase for cheap publicity. But even a brief examination of the state’s conduct in regard to the papal visit reveals that it is unconstitutional. The constitution places an onus on the state to regard all faiths and belief systems equally. No faiths are more equal than others. When the state splurges extravagantly on one religious group at taxpayer expense, we have to wonder on what basis it doles out this favor. Is the government simply trying to curry favor with the politically powerful Catholic caucus? More important to ask, is it constitutionally proper for the government to use public resources for the benefit of a religious group, however large its political muscle might be?
These are the questions to which we seek answers from the courts. They are questions that Kenyans should ponder, given the rise of religious polarization and extremism in the country. If the government is really serious about fighting religious extremism, it must begin by showing that it holds no biases toward or against any religious outfit. Sidling up to politically powerful religious institutions does the reverse, and places more obstacles on the path to religious tolerance in Kenya.
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