Kenya won’t be a theocracy

First Lady Rachel Ruto, President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and his wife Dorcas Rigathi.

From left: First Lady Rachel Ruto, President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and his wife Dorcas Rigathi pray at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani in Nairobi on September 13, 2022, during the inauguration ceremony.

Photo credit:  Tony Karumba | AFP

Let me state the bottom line upfront – Kenya isn’t, and won’t be a theocracy.

For those who don’t know, or have forgotten what they learnt in school, a theocracy is a system of government in which priests and mullahs – clerics – rule in the name of a god.

Think of the Holy Roman Empire or the Islamic Republic of Iran and you get the picture. A theocracy is a state governed by religious tyranny.

I write this column to remind the UDA regime that a wolf in any clothing – even if it’s sheep’s wool – is still a wolf. That’s because a theocracy can be established either in law (de jure) or in fact (de facto). We will accept neither in Kenya.

Why am I alarmed? Because recently I have seen troubling signs of creeping religious state fundamentalism and extremism in Kenya.

Senior UDA officials who superintend the state speak as though they wear cassocks and are infested with spiritual powers.

Recently, UDA’s William Ruto said that he had received a divine revelation about some state policy. At first, I thought he was joking. But I watched the clip again and discovered he was dead serious.

Hijab controversy

UDA’s Aden Duale followed suit when he said the hijab was non-negotiable as a dress for Muslim girls and women. He spoke as a minister in the government.

When leaders in their secular roles start talking about biblical or Koranic guidance, then we’ve entered dangerous territory.

But Mr Duale went further. He explicitly said that those who opposed to the hijab would be expelled from Kenya. My mouth was agape. Did Mr Duale mean that Kenyans who opposed the hijab would be denationalised, stripped of their Kenyan citizenship?

I am still waiting for his clarification. I don’t know who appointed Mr Duale the Grand Mufti. Then there’s UDA’s Rigathi Gachagua. The man is now purporting to be the political and religious supremo of Mount Kenya.

Recently, I saw a bizarre picture of him – hands raised like a penitent with two others – facing Mount Kenya. He wanted us to believe that he was in prayer. He brought cameras along to capture the hugely auspicious moment. 

Then of course Mr Rigathi’s boss – Mr Ruto – has turned the State House grounds into open-air churches where he conducts Christian “crusades”. Mr Ruto knows what he’s doing. Religious performance – or wearing Christianity on his sleeves – has served his political career well. 

Weeping in church

There are videos of him weeping in Church, or with hands raised and cupped in prayer, eyes closed. These performances are obviously meant to fuse his political power with religious authority. 

In my view that blurs the line between Church and state and runs afoul of the secular 2010 Constitution on which all state authority is founded. Nowhere does the Constitution grant any religious authority to any state official, or state office, the use of “god” notwithstanding. 

The Constitution already gives massive secular powers to the state and its many factotums. The state, or any of its officials, don’t need to claim non-existent spiritual, or godly powers. Nothing good in history ever came out of any political leader claiming to be anointed by God.

On that road lies damnation and ruin. That’s why in Europe divine kings were replaced by secular leaders anchored on liberalism. The basic argument is that religion isn’t based on logic but on faith.

But the state and the experiment of democracy is a wholly rational pursuit whose central germ is the scientific method, not illusory metaphysics. The state is about the here and now, not the afterlife, or some belief in providence. 

This is where I need to call out some senior religious leaders in Kenya. Some have been openly doing partisan politics to the extent of “endorsing” the UDA regime. Many have been receiving loot whose provenance is questionable. The clerics must know the money they receive is ill-gotten and the proceeds of crime.

How, then, can they turn the House of God into a brothel for politicians with shady characters? How can they as the shepherds of the flock hold the state to account? Where, I ask, have they taken their conscience and hidden it? And why must they be allowed to use the name of God for nefarious political purposes? That’s why they’ve lost their moral voice.

Finally, let me say that the Constitution is clear about the superiority of the freedoms of conscience, belief, and religion. 

None of these is placed above the other in the hierarchy of rights in our constitutional design. One can choose to be an adherent of a religion, or not. No faith is above the other. No belief, or conscience, is superior or inferior. None. 

The people who are pejoratively referred to as atheists aren’t “children of a lesser god.” Our constitution doesn’t have “small” or “big” people. That’s why no official in the state should assume “godly” powers. There will never be a theocracy in Kenya.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.