Baseline Study Conducted on, “Knowledge Gaps on Religious Literacy and Constitutional Rights in Kenya”
A specialist workshop was hosted in Nairobi to discuss and validate a Network-commissioned study developed to advance the project, “Religious Minorities in Kenya: Overcoming Divides, Respecting Rights.” The study was conducted in six counties in Kenya to explore knowledge gaps on religious literacy and constitutional rights, especially in regards to freedom of religion or belief.
A specialist workshop was hosted on 11 December 2019 in Nairobi to validate a baseline study to advance the project, “Religious Minorities in Kenya: Overcoming Divides, Respecting Rights.” The baseline study explored knowledge gaps on religious literacy and constitutional rights, especially on the freedom of religion or belief, as well as to explore violations of constitutional rights, especially the rights of women.
The Network-commissioned study was conducted in six counties in Kenya throughout November 2019. Throughout the study, both Muslim and Christian interviewees acknowledged that they knew relatively little about each other’s faith; some Christian leaders cited cases where they consider Muslims to be violent. Women respondents revealed that while there are initiatives to promote interreligious dialogue and rights protection, they usually does not transcend to the grassroots levels. For instance, religious leaders may be invited to attend high-level events discussing the issues, but when they return to their communities, they do not consistently integrate practices of interfaith and interreligious dialogue within their communities.
Through data analysis, there are still concerns regarding the threats posed by al-Shabaab. Community leaders, especially in Muslim communities, noted extremism stems from issues regarding lack of productive engagement with youth, poor treatment of youths by government officials, peer influence, social media and extreme non-conforming preachers. There is also a rising concern that initiatives to prevent violent extremism are actually undermining human rights and civil liberties that already stigmatize marginalized groups. It can also perpetuate a divide between the two religious communities. This demonstrates that the Kenyan Constitution, which specifically elaborates on principles of governance, including democracy and participation of the people, human dignity, equality and the protection of the marginalized, to name a few, is not being locally and regionally implemented and enforced.
Respondents also mentioned the challenges in their communities related to abuses and conflicts, sometimes perpetrated by state operatives. However, these incidents often go unreported due to a lack of mechanisms for dialogue and reporting from the communities to the authorities. It was also noted that unfair treatment of religious groups still exist within the communities.
In regards to youth, interviews and focus groups suggest that youth are generally aware of community, religious and government initiatives occurring in their community. However, respondents felt the youth are not involved in the process as they lack the capacity and power to influence local leadership and address change. The youth stressed that even when they try to participate in discussions, their opinions or suggestions for change are frequently dismissed or ignored. It was observed in Mosques that youths can be alienated for trying to change the status quo.
Moving forward, there is an imperative need for deliberate efforts made by the leadership of African Traditional Religions and Muslim religious organizations to foster strong coordination with disadvantage minority groups as well as faith-based organizations. There must also be actions on behalf of the government to prioritize equalization measures. In light of the war on terror, government operatives must respect the law and due process should be adhered to avoided the further erosion of Muslim rights.
Based on the study, the proposed recommendations arising from the specialist workshop include:
- Increased advocacy for a youth-led, counties-wide, bottom-up, grassroots, and community-oriented approaches. Forum participants showcased how efforts trickled from national and regional level will be only effective if there are locally led implementation initiatives.
- The project should develop inter-active programs of engagement that encourage free debate and collaboration among other youth (helping them to gain skills, values, a sense of belonging, and inclusion, and helping to motivate them to be participants in political processes).
- The project ought to venture into utilizing social media platforms to counter narratives and war framing, exclusion and stereotypes. Social media can be used as an instrument to support harmony and dialogue initiatives as well as counter narratives that resonate with the general public.
- At the macro level, the project need to focus on advocacy, including police reforms adherence, conduct work with the National Council on Administrative Justice (NCAJ), Ombudsman, to name a few. At the micro level, it was proposed to increase initiatives with the local influencers (CICC, teachers in schools, artists). Awareness programmes should be based on key pillars of human rights, rule of law, equity and state and personal security.
The proposed suggestions and feedback from the validation forum will be incorporated in the final report. The findings of the project will be disseminated in upcoming forums.
The objective of the consortium project, “Religious Minorities in Kenya: Overcoming Divides, Respecting Rights,” is to address problems affecting the full enjoyment of rights by the Muslim minority and the African Traditional Religions (ATR) communities in Kenya, arising from mistrust and excessive repression by the State authorities, misunderstandings with other faith-communities, and limited knowledge of constitutional rights, including promotion of gender equality.
The project is implemented by the Network together with Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Islamic Relief Kenya (IRK), The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) and Tangaza University and is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development.
13 December 2019