Thursday this week will mark five and a half months since the Catholic Church in Kenya committed to taking the corruption monster by the horns.
It was on Saturday, October 5, 2019, when the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) led the faithful in a huge gathering at the Marian Shrine in Subukia, Nakuru County, to launch a six-month anti-corruption campaign. Although several mainstream churches have pronounced themselves on graft (see sidebar), this was the first time that a local church launched a spiritual onslaught on the monster that is bribery.
So committed is the church to the war on graft that for a solid six months, all new members have been committing to fight the monster with spiritual rather than legal weapons.
The Sunday Nation learnt that during the six-month campaign, all new members -- and parents on behalf of infants -- have been renouncing corruption during baptism, the same way they have done for centuries by answering "I do" to the familiar question, "Do you renounce corruption?". Refusing graft is being placed on the same level as rejecting Satan in the traditional baptismal rite. The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) is usually charged with organising the 40-day Lenten Campaign that starts on Ash Wednesday and has just entered its 19th day. Bishop Alfred Rotich, who sits on both the KCCB and in the JPC, explained the grassroots nature of the anti-corruption campaign in a telephone interview.
"The baton is now with the Lenten campaign," he said.
The five-point campaign addresses responsible and sustainable farming, youth and development, natural resource management, leadership and accountability and the sanctity of life and human dignity. It is evident from the 76-page campaign document obtainable online that corruption, which falls under leadership and accountability, is actually a cross-cutting issue that touches on all the themes.
The topics, the bishop said, were researched by the JPC "to help the faithful internalise them individually and move to correct [their ways] without pointing fingers. The thematic areas are not only for the 40-day Lenten campaign, but for the whole year," he adds.
For Lent, the themes are worked in a way to serve as meditation points both at home and in the workplace from Ash Wednesday, which was marked on February 26, to Easter Sunday on April 12.
The Catholic Church recognises corruption as one of the biggest ills affecting the country. It is instructive that during his October 2015 visit to Kenya, Pope Francis urged the youth, regarded as the future of any nation, not to succumb to the allure of corruption.
He declared that corruption 'is a path to death as it cripples development and leads to poverty and suffering.
And in what might well be taken as the cue for the bishops-led campaign, the Pope said Kenyans would require individual and collective moral responsibility to fight the vice in order to achieve the desired zero tolerance to corruption.
Former US Vice-President Joe Biden put it succinctly while speaking to the Romanian civil society: "Corruption is a cancer, a cancer that eats away at a citizen's faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments. It wastes the talent of entire generations. It scares away investments and jobs."
"And most importantly it denies the people their dignity. It saps the collective strength and resolve of a nation. Corruption is just another form of tyranny," he added.
Former Amnesty International Kenya executive director Samuel Kimeu, noting that no comprehensive studies have been done on the cost of corruption to Kenya, said it is generally estimated that at least 30 per cent of the resources applied to procuring goods and services are stolen through corrupt means.
"The figure is even higher if you factor in waste," he wrote in a Nation article.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji and Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) George Kinoti are leading the onslaught on rampant corruption that has landed several high-profile personalities in court. In spite of the DPP's and DCI's commendable efforts, Kenyans want to see those who have looted national coffers convicted and jailed.
The Catholic Church's anti-corruption campaign is informed by the belief that legal means alone will not win the war on corruption, which they want scaled up to the spiritual level.
"It's the conscience that helps people to define what is right or wrong," Bishop Rotich told the Sunday Nation.
"If the conscience is warped, it will lead to wrong decisions, hence the church becomes the conscience of the society," he said.
Spiritual formation is, therefore, at the heart of the church's anti-corruption war. How to deepen that awareness -- that "corruption starts with me" -- is the challenge the Catholic Church seeks to address in its 2020 Lenten campaign.
Bishop Rotich described this year's Lenten campaign as a 40-day school of prayer and evangelisation that ropes in all the hierarchies of the church -- from the family, which is the first school of virtue.
The family, he said, is where parents impart on their children the virtues of humility, which are antithetical to the ostentatious living that has sucked in many a youth with disastrous effects. Online borrowing to support unsustainable lifestyles is there for all to see.
The church is calling on its faithful to shun devious ways, and instead seek forgiveness for sins such as greed, which is a major driver of corruption, and practise almsgiving and visit prisons, hospitals and orphanages.
The family level "is the rightful place for parents to form the conscience of their children on a daily basis through Bible reading, and reciting the Ten Commandments".
Small Christian Communities, which have equivalents in other Christian denominations -- like the Presbyterian Church of East Africa's District Fellowships -- are another frontier for waging the war on corruption.
Schools and other institutions of learning are also platforms for spiritual formation, Bishop Rotich pointed out.
It doesn't end there; the war on graft is also targeting the lay apostolate such as the Catholic Men's Association and its women's equivalent, which have parallels in the other mainstream churches, such as the Presbyterian Church Men's Fellowship, the Woman's Guild, and the Mothers Union of the Anglican Church, among others.
"The nation is suffering from this ill [corruption] and we're inviting the leadership of the country to join us," Bishop Rotich said of the spiritual thrust the Church has taken.
"That is why the President [Uhuru Kenyatta] was invited in the launch," he said of the event, also at Subukia just before Lent.
Will the spiritual cudgels the church is wielding against corruption work? You might as well ask: Have the existing ways of fighting graft worked?
Inasmuch as the path the Catholic Church is taking may raise eyebrows in an increasingly secularising country, the place of religion in human life is defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
The tail end of the quote: " ... to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance" is pertinent and puts the church's spiritual approach to fighting corruption in context.
This article was originally published on The Daily Nation.