By REV. CANON FRANCIS OMONDI
Who can refute that Kenya is ‘standing in the need of prayer?’
Not that routine, liturgical prayer of: “God guide our president. And give him your wisdoms and justice…” chanted in churches every Sundays though with some variations. We must prod for Divine intervention in our catastrophes: brought to us by our own hands, or visited on us by nature. The disastrous famine or challenges of the coming election calls for something greater: Effective prayers.
At beginning of this year’s Lent Period, the Catholic Bishops held a public Mass, to which they invited the country’s political leaders. That Lent’s 40-day fast theme is “peaceful and credible elections” is quite revealing. It is here that President Kenyatta made his national call prayer, peaceful election and rain.
“May we all join hands as Kenyans to pray for our beloved nation, for peace, unity, harmony, understanding, and also for rain,” he said.
The presidents’ call hinges on the value Kenyans attach to prayers.
Apparently, the president knows something about the power of prayers.
In October 2014, while thanking his supporters, he attributed the collapse of his case in The Hague to prayers: “Si mumesema si Uchaw ni maombi?” (Didn’t you say it’s not witchcraft, it’s prayers) Kenyatta told his cheering supporters.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) teachers too attributed their court victory in the battle for pay increase to prayers. They hoisted shoulder high their Secretary General Wilson Sossion outside the Supreme Court, as they chanted, “si uchawi, ni maombi (it’s not by witchcraft but prayer).”
The Supreme Court had just ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the interlocutory orders issued by the Court of Appeal directing that the salary increment of 50 to 60 percent by, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), be effected starting August 2014.
I was not surprised at the credulity with which we deal with irredeemable corruption in the country.
Kenyans appeared contented with the appointment of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) Chairman, one who claimed his unique contribution to slaying graft would be prayer.
My retired Archbishop Most Rev. Eliud Wabukhala, in the esteemed view of vetting Members of Parliament, was considered the last best hope as all other highly qualified individuals had failed.
“We hope you will be able to slay the dragon because Kenyans are looking up to you as a man of integrity and a man of God. If you are not able, we do not know who else to turn to because we have tried other prominent Kenyans and they have failed,” Kuresoi North MP Moses Cheboi stated.
The lawmaker was not alone on this. A section of religious leaders, among them bishops, are counting on prayers to help Archbishop Wabukhala win the battle. Mr. Onesmus Njenga, a lay preacher at All Saints Cathedral, admonishes: “Wabukhala should spend more time in prayer.”
Yet despite prayer being my trade, I remain skeptical that Prayers per se would adequately resolve these conundrums.
Attributing the foregoing to be answered prayers would be grading on an overly generous curve. Besides, it is cheeky to assume much prayer will change our condition. We know it took more than the said prayers.
There is though a place for prayers in times of crises of national proportions.
The role that prayer played in Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.’s work during the Civil Rights Movement is captured in a recollection from his wife Coretta King. For my husband, she said: “Prayer was a daily source of courage and strength that gave him the ability to carry on in even the darkest hours of our struggle.”
She further narrates how Martin was imbued with confidence after prayers, concluding: “It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: ‘Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at our side forever.’” Then Dr. King was ready to face anything. They toiled, suffered and worked for the changes they dreamt for. This is the kind of prayer Kenyans need. Prayers that catapults us to activism against the evils we abhor, importantly: corruption, elections violence and famine.
I find resonance in the words of an online reader calling himself “Charles, an Atheist,” who has noted:
Don’t pray. Two hands working do more than a thousand clasped in prayer. Praying does more harm than good. Praying gives people a false sense of accomplishment: they’ve done nothing, but felt like they made a difference. Many people forgo actually helping in times of crisis or tragedy, because they believe that they’re doing their personal share by praying. So they contribute less than if they contributed in material ways.
Citizens here have a model to emulate. If we choose to pray we must pray right. This is an admonition not only to the people but also to the president.
King Solomon the wise exemplified how a national leader can pray right. He prayed:
“Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this…I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings
Overwhelmed by the challenge to lead Israel after King David, he sought divine guidance. Two aspects of his prayers stand out:
1. The value he placed on the people he was set to rule. “Who can govern this great people of yours?” Solomon quipped.
2. The nature of his request: “a discerning heart, one to know what is right (to do) and wrong (to stop).”
The value leaders place on those they lead will directly affect how they rule and the residual impact of life in their domain. What Israelites were to Solomon, contrasts to what Kenyans are to President Uhuru. The president stunned us on February 2016, while on an official visit to Israel, when he said: “God has given Kenyans a country that is 20 times better than the one we are in right now (Israel). But there is crying, theft… we are experts at stealing, abusing each other, doing other evils and perpetuating tribalism.”
These words were spoken against a backdrop of public outcry condemning scandals in government: among them suspect payment of the KSh. 250 billion Eurobond, claims that the Kenya Defense Forces trades in contraband sugar and charcoal and the KSh. 791 million loss at the National Youth Service.
Here is our giant problem: There must be a transition from just praying to gaining divine wisdom and developing sound policies. Discerning Right from Wrong. When the courts awarded teachers a pay rise, it was “won’t pay, can’t pay” from the President. “This is bad for the economy,” he argued. The thought may have been informed by the fear of exasperating the already high inflation. This hypothesis is misconstrued.
There would have been an economic boost with increase in teachers’ pay. A section of economists insisted that with increased incomes there will be a corresponding increase in demand for goods and services, which will be evenly spread across the country. Besides a good portion of this would be scooped in taxes. Upon becoming India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, gave a pay rise to government workers. Anant Kala, writing about this in the Wall Street Journal of June 30, 2016, observed that “India’s cabinet approval of a more-than 23% pay increase to about 10 million state employees and pensioners, would not only cheer workers but significantly give the South Asian economy a shot in the arm. It is most probable it would trigger response of the states to raise the salaries of their own employees. Religare Capital Markets estimated that in total the economy could soak more than $50 billion as a permanent fiscal stimulus. India Ratings and Research, estimated that consumption could rise by 450 billion rupees equivalent to 0.3% of India’s gross domestic product.”
Because of the increase, Anjali Verma, an economist at Phillip Capital, says: “India’s GDP growth could rise by about 35 basis points this year–pushing growth to the magic 8%”, an increment from last year’s 7.6% and the level that Modi’s government wants to reach. Agreeing with the stimulus, Soumya Kanti Ghosh – an economist at state Bank of India – says that “the timing of the raises couldn’t be better, given that a large amount of deposits raised by banks from Indians living overseas are expected to mature in September.” For a country whose bank deposit was at its lowest ebb in 53 years besides a falling savings rate, such injection would be a welcome remedy, especially since some government employees will save their increased pay either as bank deposits or in public deposit schemes.
Sound economic policies more than prayers, should make Kenya prosperous. It’s not a mystery why, for instance, we fail to provide proper healthcare for citizens. While foreign governments, philanthropist and donors – including our first Lady Mrs. Kenyatta – have shown tremendous compassion and generosity to Kenya’s sick by giving substantive funds for Malaria, HIV/AIDS drugs, and vaccines, government officials – including the President’s kin – are stealing them through the back door.
President John Magufuli of Tanzania has fascinated many people in the East African nation and beyond by some of the actions he has taken via his motto: Hapa Kazi Tu. Following his austere policy, he clamped down hard on unnecessary public expenditure, dramatically reducing foreign travel, out-of-office workshops and meetings. The Tshs. 4 billion saved from cancelling official national Independence Day celebrations on December 9, 2015 was spent on widening a Dar road from Morocco-Mwenge and provided for transformation of the main referral hospital in Dar-es Salaam, Muhimbili Teaching Hospital.
Holding public servants accountable for their performance and demanding efficient use of public funds on one hand and getting to grips with corruption and tax evasion on the other is indispensible to the good governance agenda. That is why the president, with his Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, swept through the port and tax authorities, uncovering widespread corruption and unpaid taxes, leaving a trail of more than 60 sacked and suspended senior officials behind them.
If Kenya could apply Tanzania’s vigour in restoring its leadership in the environmental sector, we just might have begun hitting the right spot.
In destroying the water towers of the country, we unleashed disaster upon ourselves. Particularly since 2001, 100,000 hectares – more than a quarter of the Mau forest – were allocated to settlers and cleared. Consequently, there have always been cyclical droughts in Kenya, which are becoming frequent, more severe and less predictable. Countless warnings have gone unheeded, as the late Prof. Wangari Mathai, Nobel peace winner and head of Green Belt Movement, could testify. “I keep telling people, let us not cut trees irresponsibly… especially the forested mountains,” she would say.
Again she warned: “If you destroy the forests, the rivers will stop flowing and the rains will become irregular and the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation”. Isn’t this the time to rectify this wrong? Speculation runs rife that attempts to evict the settlers and restore the forests would spell political doom. Action now will prevent tomorrow’s drought.
Christian Lambrechts, a former policy and program officer at the United Nations Environment Programme, says: “At a time when the climate in Kenya is becoming drier, that is when you need to boost your ecosystem – to help it to absorb the impact of climate variability.” Mr Lambrechts is one of 30 officials recruited to a related task force by former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.
And going forward, the antidote for election violence is allowing the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) to conduct transparent and fair elections. We recall the 2002 General Elections with nostalgia because the results were beyond dispute. Neither was there a dispute following the well-conducted referenda in 2005 and 2010, which reflected the will of the majority of Kenyans. We saw trouble due to the opacity that shrouded the 2007 elections. We got away with murder in 2013 because of the safety valve that was our Supreme Court, whose reputation still lies in tatters over its ruling. I do not think prayers will shield us from chaos if the electoral process in 2017 is suspect.
Our president can work harder for Kenyans, besides calling us to prayers. He should rally us to work for a better Kenya. St. Benedict told his followers: “Laborare est orare” – to work is to pray. ‘Kazi Tu’ – only work.
The views expressed here are the author’s own and not those of the Church. (firstname.lastname@example.org)