By Paschal Norbert
NAIROBI, FEBRUARY 7, 2023 (CISA)- In an interview with CITIZEN TV, on February 5, 2023, Most Rev Anthony Muheria of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri and the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) chairperson for the Commission for Social Communications responds to a variety of questions regarding the impact of Pope Francis’s apostolic journey to DRC and the ecumenical peace pilgrimage to the Republic of South Sudan and implores the political class to exercise tolerance, uphold the virtue of human dignity and respect Churches.
The archbishop shares his thoughts on the lack of servant leadership and stewardship among the Kenyan leadership in all sectors, and the unchecked divisive utterances by politicians, which he terms as “venom of hatred that is vindictive.” He also appeals to both the government and opposition to rightfully play their roles to alleviate Kenyans from the fangs of hunger and the rising high cost of living.
Q: Pope Francis was in South Sudan and before that he was in DRC, as you well know you were supposed to be in Juba and you couldn’t make it but the message here is he’s talking about the blind fury of violence and he’s not just referring to South Sudan or Congo is he?
A: No, in fact, it’s something that we all must listen to with a very open mind.Pope Francis says he comes as a pilgrim of peace and at the same time an apostle of hope. So, Africa needs a very strong message, it must be awakened with a very strong message of Peace, precisely because we have a fuse there, this theory of violence is very easy to diffuse, it’s very easy to explode. And it’s where we refuse to speak, we refuse to have dialogue and we start throwing and trading insults and threats and putting ourselves at a distance and refusing to dialogue.
So, this was a very strong message from Pope Francis and it’s for all of us and I would say for Kenya and other African countries. Now, we have our leaders in Bujumbura and I would wish that they would have a moment to just reflect to tell all of Africa that there is something we must change in our script.
So, what the pope refers to is a leadership gap or a deficiency that has come to us in Africa and it’s not only those who are in power but even those who are in positions of leadership that very often seem to speak like lords and not servants and they speak with threats and not in dialogue form of let’s see, let’s hear.
There are things that both opposition and government should unite to do and I think that is where we should be speaking at this moment; what are the needs of our country now and how do we address those needs and not rhetoric, which is so easy to give and so easy to speak but rather what are the constructive things that we must engage in and what are the pitfalls that we’ve seen in DRC, that we’ve seen in South Sudan and we have seen in other countries in Africa and that we must avoid. What kind of rhetoric will give us that kind of outcome, which is hatred, which is a return to tribalism, which is a return to absolute intolerance while we should be uniting Kenya, uniting East Africa and uniting Africa?
Q: Archbishop let’s distil that message of peace from Africa the region to Kenya. And just looking at the post-election “bad blood” that has extended six months after the General Election what message do you give to the political class at a time like this?
A: As leaders of the church have always wanted to put across a message of tolerance and that the fact that when you’ve won and you’re in government and the other part is in opposition does not mean you can’t work towards a common good; the common good will be to counter check the government if you’re in opposition and you as the government is to respect the other party and carry out your work of government.
So, the first is that the human dignity of each leader, of each Kenyan must be respected at all times and that means there must be respect in the tone of our discussions, I may not agree with what you say but I should talk to you as a human being with respect. I should give even your point of view reasonable credibility or reasonable space; this is the right politics.
I am saying let’s get back to respect, we called for it at one stage before the election campaign, we call it political hygiene but it is more than political hygiene, actually the pope says it’s not just because we must keep the peace for peace’s sake, it is something deeper, we must accept one another as brothers and sisters to build a fraternity of humanity where I accept you even though you don’t think like I think, even though you have different views.
First, my message to them is we must tolerate one another, second, we also must follow the rule of law and especially the Constitution that all the disgruntlement and all the things that must be addressed either by government or by opposition must follow the right channels and we don’t have to see it played out in the public Arena.
A lot of these things should go to Parliament that is why the elected parliamentarians, a lot of these things should go into the county governments and some of these things should be addressed in committees, which try to look for what’s wrong and avoid this spontaneous, you may call it sidewalk or the highway declarations of non-informed leaders that also breeds a lot of misunderstandings.
So, let’s go back to the maturity of seeking information before speaking, let’s go to the maturity of respect and tolerance, let’s dialogue, let’s sit down and talk about what the problems are, that is a way of governance and that means the time for electioneering politics is over.
We must go ahead in other ways and if there are things, which refer to the election then follow through the channels that the whole system provides when it comes to the situation of discussions of going forward in terms of the politics of this country, let us follow those channels that are meant to feed to this and if we go that way we will become a mature nation that already we enjoying in the worldwide reputation. I would say that’s my and our messages as religious leaders.
Q: Speaking of tolerance and you spoke about tolerance a moment ago, when you see a former first lady, when you see the mother of the former president herself, you know a woman of stature in this society having to respond to all the vitriol out there, when you see if it comes to that, what does that say about us?
A:The is a venom of hatred that we also have to avoid. I wouldn’t want to tread into whether or not we should have let this greatly respected lady come out to speak in her defence. I don’t want to enter there, I think we have certain respect not only for her stature but for her age, there are people who we don’t want to be put in the public arena. Let’s agree, let’s respect our elders and that is irrespective of what’s happening, let’s just give them the respect that’s African and that’s Christian.
The second, is to say let’s avoid provocation and this I say also in terms of the leaders who are in the current leadership that are still driving in the rear-view mirror, they’re looking into the past, they’re looking into past ills. We have been told let’s learn to grow out of it by forgiving and by reconciliation. We must find deep in ourselves the fact that I have suffered injustice, the fact that I may have even gone through tough moments should not give me a reason why I should come out constantly referring to the injustices. What it creates in the whole nation is a feeling of a kind of bitterness and that bitterness can easily go down the path of what the pope prefers to as Venom, which means it creates an interior desire to hurt.
Venom hurts, it’s a poison that hurts, so that venom of hatred that is vindictive is true bitterness of itself. It hurts the person first, the one who is suffering the bitterness but it is less aggressive, offensive but venomous. This is what we are starting to see: biting, spitting, snapping and that cannot be for any leader.
You just imagine this is something they wouldn’t expect a religious leader to be doing. There’s no difference between a religious leader and a political leader, all leaders must show a certain icon of leadership and that leadership is an icon of governance but it’s also an icon of God.
That’s why you’ve been placed there to be a steward of people and what you do you are somehow a mirror and an icon of godliness, so it doesn’t matter what kind of leadership you are in, you’re supposed to hold those people dear and care for them and nurture them and protect them that’s leadership. The moment you pray on them when you harass them that is no longer leadership that’s now exploitation and I hope that countries don’t go the path of exploitation, which is what we see in those communities that are certainly now bleeding so badly in Congo or South Sudan and we pray God that would change.
Q: On that point of being stewards of the people and their needs often in the political arena you see servant leadership missing, and Kenyans oftentimes get the raw deal when it comes to the exchanges that we see playing out on the campaign trail and right now if it’s in a church service or a public rally, their needs are not being met. And by that I mean the cost of living is still quite high, we’re seeing electricity going up, water going up and cooking gas prices going to go up. What does this mean when the government of the day is turning attention to attack and responding to the opposition and leaving the responsibilities of service delivery unmet, what does that mean for the wananchi?
A: I think that’s what we should be asking the government, first to deliver because that’s the rule, that’s why we elected them, so let them focus on delivery and not so much on the true rhetoric but I think servant leadership is even more than just delivery, it is having a sensitivity of the actual needs of our people.
We are in one of the worst famine periods and surprisingly even in today’s newscast you saw that you spoke about the famine that has hit Isiolo, you see in all other places this should be a central point of discussion for opposition and government. We are having some of the hottest days we’ve ever had in Nairobi and Kenya.
There are things that we should be spending more time on; you spoke about education, the form ones, there is chaos in many issues about education, decisions perhaps not fully thought out and we’re still struggling to understand. So, there is enough on the tray of delivery, there is a lot and it is not only for the government, it is enough for the government for other players for faith-based organizations but fundamentally also for the opposition to interrogate, to guide, to question and therefore make sure there’s a right balance.
So, indeed stewardship is missing but stewardship is something that I believe comes from within and that’s what’s missing in a lot of world leaders. They don’t have that spark within that cares that looks for solidarity, that looks at the poor not as an instrument of your power, not as a means for your gains but for their sake for human dignity.
If we can as leaders start focusing on that, I think that’s what we have to ask our leaders instead of going out there speaking and rhetoric, let’s get the problems of our countries addressed properly, that’s maybe a long-term goal for stewardship and governance, of course, the other issues, which we cannot go into like corruption, which is always the elephant in the room and nepotism, which is also the elephant in the room, those who come will be able to address them slowly if there is a will, a heart to care and to embrace all.
Q: Archbishop you heard one of the clips today, Deputy president Rigathi Gachagua saying they plan to attend church services every Sunday for the next five years, is that prayers or is that politicking?
A: I wouldn’t want to judge him. I wouldn’t want to judge that statement but I think it’s very good that they are attending church every Sunday for the next part of their lives. Everybody let’s go to church, let’s encounter God but genuinely and honestly and not use that platform for politics.
I think we must continually say this and call it out to our religious leaders and our politicians of whatever political divide there is that the encounter with God and places of worship must not be used as instruments or platforms for political gain or political messaging, we really must work towards that so that we go to pray God as equals and after that, you can speak to the people wherever. And I think that is why we must encourage our leaders to go to church, go to the mosque to go to pray, and have a good time not only on Sundays but include even on other days.
Praying for your families but please do not instrumentalize your faith or your worship for political gain and we as religious leaders let’s educate them, respecting them when they come to our places, recognizing them but not allowing the politics and the rhetoric of exchanges to take place in sacred ground that we must defend protect
Q: Archbishop how is that done practically because we’ve seen in the last two Sundays when they are given the podium they can’t help but politicize issues. Taxes have been the topic of the day in the last two weeks and so how do religious leaders as you were saying respectfully challenge that to keep it as a matter of faith and worship when they do attend on Sunday?
A: In the Catholic Church we’ve tried as much, maybe our success would be somewhere up there 90 to 95 percent in which we say no addressing from the podium. There may be one or two exceptions that we have made in one of these occasions but no politics, politicians don’t address.I think that has to be the way that each church should make a decree and let all the politicians know that you will not be given a podium.
If you’re given a podium, it’s shown that the politicians don’t know how to control themselves. I’ve said it in the Interfaith Council, our brother Muslims don’t have that problem at all because there is no space for political addresses at all and I think that’s where we should go.
If they want to address, let’s agree that we’ll give you space outside the Church but of course, there are exceptions that we have made one or two for example if a president were there, we would give but again with very clear understanding and in most cases, they have been fairly respectful but that’s a battle and the other battle is for us religious.
Because sometimes we seek gates and it’s a give and take, so to get certain gains and help financially, I will allow that to be a friend. So, there is a problem of protecting that friendship, I think we have to be bold and courageous enough to say indeed if that is what it will cost to somehow betray this space or to sell this space for good or for benefit, which really will be simony then I would rather not have your help.
We will continue as Christians to build our church and I think there’s a bold move, which we already made and announced as the Catholic Church in Subukia in 2019 before the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic hit us but we still have to hold fort because it looks like the political pressures are still coming and they really want to take that space. But if they are Christians they should not try to take the space, they should respect and honour us and when they come they say I’m coming for the prayer please I will not address the Christians that’s the right thing for politicians to do.