Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Politicians in Churches

In (Catholic) High School, my Religious Studies teacher once told me the story of a Priest who had been called to the Royals’ Castle so that he might hear the Queen’s confession. When he got there, the Queen was seated, as opposed to the tradition which demanded that the Priest be seated and the Confessee standing. Unashamedly, the Priest reminded her of this fact; however, the Queen insisted that because of her station she was justified in sitting. To end this all the Priest calmly replied,

‘I am the Confessor, and you are the Sinner….so you will stand as tradition dictates!’

It seemed like a harsh teaching back then, but I understand its importance now. The notion of (Catholic) confession may not be something that everyone understands, but the act of submitting to someone whose authority dwarfs yours is a Cultural Universal. This is why the penchant of Kenyan politicians for commandeering all manner of religious services (especially Funerals) and converting them into ad hoc political rallies to discuss the politics of the day is an extremely embarrassing affair.

I remember about 8 years ago that my paternal Grandfather passed away, and so I accompanied my mother as she made arrangements for his burial at the village. At the town centre where we wanted to rent chairs, some fledgling politician insisted that he would ensure the chairs were rented to us at a cheaper price so long as we allowed him to address the funeral congregation. My mother flatly refused and got the chair at full price, no-strings-attached. Would you believe that idiotic politician still had the gumption to show up to address the congregants, dishonoring my Grandfather’s memory. 
On the one hand, as the village level, I can understand that funerals bring the community together, therefore they can serve as useful venues for the local administration to discuss issues of public welfare (sanitation, clinics, nutrition, etc.); BUT, it serves no purpose whatsoever to have the occasion turned into a fanfare, discussing issues totally unrelated to the moment at hand. As far as I’m concerned, the deceased person, and the bereaved (particularly closest family and friends) take centre stage.

Unfortunately, this misbehavior is not confined merely to the villages; it is spread far and wide, from villages to cities and from funerals to Sunday church services. As my sister puts it, at her church - which a prominent politician also happens to attend - the church leaders will invite him to the podium to ‘greet’ the congregation. So, in this case, the church is wholly complicit in having the politician appropriate the ceremony for the sake of the perceived prominence he imparts to the church.

Something is terribly wrong here, and the sooner the multitudes realize it, the quicker we can set about remedying the problem. A pastor/priest’s responsibility of guiding the flock is divine and distinctly recognized by society, and should not be encroached upon. In much the same way that a non-doctor cannot superimpose himself on a doctor’s diagnostic work, or a non-Engineer place himself over that Engineer’s professional dictates… or even a non-Mechanic bulldoze the work of a competent professional Mechanic, it is just as wrong to encroach on Pastoral work.

If we continue to let politicians run roughshod over religious ceremonies, we risk turning the Church into that debacle listed in James 2:1-13. When I sit in a congregation and a politician happens to be in attendance, there is no difference between Him/Her and me… end of story… it is BIBLICAL! Any contravention of that fact (clearly stated in the latter parts of the New Testament) is an outright sin.

And so my lesson from the ‘Queen and her Confessor’ has come full circle. The moral is TO KNOW YOUR PLACE, and to stick to what pertains to that station, regardless of who you are in this life.

God Bless.

Peace and Conflict Resolution

A friend from High School visited me a while back, and as we were ‘shooting the breeze’ he told me about his latest career move: going to the US to pursue a major in Peace and Conflict Resolution. This conversation would of course shift to the Kenyan context and how this particular skill is needed to settle the constant tensions and flare-ups that are common in certain areas of Kenya (the volatile North in particular). More so, after the display in diplomacy exhibited by some Northern Leaders during the verbal joust on NTV, it would seem that this is surely the way to go.

On that day, I was something of a ‘wet blanket’ to my friend’s ambitions. I’m not saying that I discouraged is pursuit of this much needed field of study; rather, it was his broad-stroke application of peace and conflict resolution to all that ails the troubled land that I had an issue with.

Let me explain: I’m pretty sure people are in need of healing, justice and reconciliation because clashes stretching a long way back and emotional or physical hurts visited upon them by their neighbours are a vivid reality to these people. However, approaching this from a peace and reconciliation mindset is to simply apply a salve over a festering wound. The background story to many of these regions is that they are grossly underdeveloped, far-flung and neglected. Public services are sorely lacking, and one’s safety is not guaranteed…and let’s not forget their economic isolation. Pair this up with the practice of Nomadic Pastoralism, and communities that have inculcated a tradition of Cattle Rustling (compounded by a proliferation of arms in the area from our insecure Northern neighbours (Somalia) and you come close to approximating the powder keg that this regions really are.

The real problem here is Economic, and also stems from a lack of safety. Economic isolation is reflected in the poor educational standards, retention of traditions that are probably no longer useful as is (Pastoralism), and failure to adapt to new market opportunities. Nomadic pastoralism, particularly cross-border en masse transport of animals is a particularly bad idea ; not only are the massive herds an encouragement for rustling in those lawless parts, but it also technically exposes the herds to diseases/parasites that may be prevalent in other areas, and strains the animals, probably lowering their economic value. In the interest of safety and economic sense, it would be more ideal to keep the animals confined to specific areas and, possibly, find some way of bringing the pastures to the flocks instead of taking the flocks to the pastures. With the environs of Turkana specifically in mind after the discovery of that vast ‘Underground Lake’, I think we could actually be able to rid ourselves of pastoralism, at least in the form we currently know it.

Like it or not, safety is something else those lands also bleed for. I’m sure historical injustices weigh heavy on their mind (as they do for a lot of people across the Country), but I’m also sure people would be willing to forgive these injustices if they were sure that they could be safe and wouldn’t end up reliving them. Safety not only calms the people of the land, but it also ensures would-be investors that any of the money they sink into the land won’t end up being wasted investments. In this day and age, 50 years after Independence, we owe all our citizens a modicum of safety before we even set our sights on loftier ideals.

And certainly, we owe them Infrastructure. If we can’t give them roads, water, electricity, etc. how then will investors be able to move into these lands? And without much needed investments, how will these people be able to embrace the many opportunities posed by education and different avenues of wealth creation…to shift away from animal husbandry and primary production and embrace the kind of tertiary services that will turn Kenya into a middle-income economy?

Hence, for me, the picture is clear; the poverty and isolation that long ravaged these lands is what needs to be relegated to our history in order to ensure long lasting peace and prosperity. Without that as an overarching goal, everything else will be relegated to the realm of mere Lip Service and platitudes. People wouldn’t have enough time for idle talk and fighting if they were actually making money and prospering…so let’s set about getting them into the business of making money.

My 2 cents for the day.
God Bless