News Analysis

Why Kenya’s bishops are launching an anti-corruption campaign

Bishop Philip Anyolo, second from left, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (CNS)

Kenya’s Catholic bishops have embarked on a nationwide anti-corruption campaign. The campaign, called “Let Us Break the Chains of Corruption”, was launched on October 5 and is expected to last six months, after which the Church will assess its impact.

Corruption, or graft, is a serious problem in Kenya, an east African nation with a population of almost 50 million (33 per cent of whom are Catholic). The country ranks 144th out of 174 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. There is a widespread belief among ordinary Kenyans that the country’s so-called “big shots” are deeply corrupt but never brought to justice because they are protected by government officials.

Launching the campaign, Archbishop Philip Anyolo of Kisumu, chairman of the Kenya Catholic Conference of Bishops, said: “By educating citizens on the moral aspects on the issue, we are hopeful that we shall have raised the conscience of the citizens, hence effectively managing to fight the vice.”

When Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president in 2013, he promised to crack down on graft. In 2015, he declared corruption a “national security threat”. But his critics claim that he is using the war against corruption as a pretext to sideline his rivals ahead of elections in 2022.

There is also some scepticism inside the Church. “President Uhuru and his government have promised too much while not walking the walk on the issue,” a priest, who asked not to be named, told the Catholic Herald.

Patrick Ngugi, a Catholic journalist based in the capital Nairobi, told me: “Some of the nation’s ‘big shots’ are ruining the country through this vice. Hence they should face the law.” He said he would only believe that the battle against corruption was serious when “we begin to see the guilty being jailed after facing the law”.

During his visit in Kenya in 2015, Pope Francis raised the issue of graft, pleading with the government to do more to tackle it. He compared corruption to indulging in sugar. “We like it. It’s easy,” he said. “And then we end up in a bad way. So much sugar that we end up being diabetic or our country ends up being diabetic.”

The bishops launched their campaign after Mass at the national shrine in Subukia. The bishops symbolically took off their shoes as they issued the following statement: “We wish to lead the country and every person of good will, to commit himself or herself before God, to fight corruption from the grassroots, up to the highest offices.

“We do so with humility by removing our shoes, in solidarity with those who have suffered and continue to suffer the dehumanising effects of corruption, especially those living in miserable conditions.”

The bishops promised that they would themselves take steps towards financial transparency. “We shall declare publicly the list and accounts of our projects and fundraising initiatives for public scrutiny,” they said.

They concluded: “We, your spiritual leaders, ask every one of you to make this real commitment and be ready to pay the price of integrity and uprightness.”