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Halkano Abdi Wario

Halkano Abdi Wario


 Debates on Kadhi’s Courts and Christian-Muslim Relations:

A Case Study of Isiolo Town HALKANO ABDI

The last 16 years in Kenya have been marked by intensive constitutional negotiations and conferences. The demands for new laws were necessitated by indiscriminate amendments to the Independence Constitution that reinforced ethnic cleavages, created an ‘imperial presidency’ and bad governance. Many drafts were formulated but the government after reviewing the outcome of the National Constitutional Conference brought the Wako Draft (named after the Attorney General) to the people for referendum set for the 21st November 2005. Various issues were considered as contentious and had the effects of polarizing the country along ethnic, political, regional and religious. One such issue of interest to this study is the Kadhi’s Courts debate. The debate had strong implications for Christian-Muslim relations and more so for areas where such relations gone sour, it warranted academic inquiries. This study is such an attempt.

Research is a micro-study of the debates in Isiolo, a town in Northern Kenya. Isiolo is cosmopolitan, diverse religions and cultures fuse within it, but such diversity has not always been reflected in peaceful co-existence and accommodation. Conflicts are common between ethnic groups as well as religious groups. The problems of double identity emerge because mainly people of one ethnic group more often than not are also members of a religious community. Civic education that was conducted during this time did not translate into better understanding of contested issues such as Kadhi’s Courts. The research aims to find out the dynamics of religious relations and its effects on the debate.

Religious groups in Isiolo include Muslims, Roman Catholics, The Methodist Church of Kenya and a few Pentecostal churches. The main ethnic communities include the Meru (Bantu Speakers), the Somali and the Borana (Cushitic Speakers) and Samburu and Turkana (Nilotic Speakers). While the Meru are a significant minority they are predominantly Christian, the Borana and the Somali who are the majority are largely Muslim. In essence the national perceptions of Muslim minority in a Christian majority state are negated in town’s demography as the majority-minority are reversed.

The study is based on research conducted between August 2006 and April 2007. During months of August and September 2006, a pre-test of interview questions was conducted to evaluate their reliability and validity. In the research semi-structured interview methods were used. Group and individual interviews were conducted and around 18 in total. The three group interviews carried out, reflected the position of Muslim, Christian and non-faith based youth groups on the debate. Individual interviews included clergy of Muslim, Catholic and Methodist churches, and the Deliverance Church; officials of local civil society organizations, local Kadhi, a former co-ordinator of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission and a number of ordinary residents for whom the debate meant opportunity to contribute towards ‘people-driven’ Constitution. The research also relied on ethnographic observations of every day interactions in Isiolo town as reflected in social arena such as sport cinema halls for youth, afternoon miraa sessions on the town verandas and trading activities. Miraa is a popular stimulant, mainly produced in Meru region.

Care was taken to make the sample population to be representative of religious, ethnic, age, and socio-economic realities on the ground. Educational background of the study population ranged from basic education to postgraduate degree and the ages from 18 to 65 years.

Preliminary findings of the field data

The views reflected here do not suggest homogeneity and agreement among members of one religious community or ethnic group but it can be said to represent the dominant perspectives. Eight thematic issues are emerging from the field-work.

First, views about Kadhi’s Courts by Muslim and Christian. There is a consensus about the historical existence of the courts in Kenya since colonial period though the existence meant different things for different religions in the area. Muslims view the courts as fundamental to their religious identity and wished it to be expanded and appellate jurisdiction granted to them. The Christians saw this move as a prelude to the introduction of Shari’a and a contradiction of the secular nature of the constitutional foundation as one religion is given recognition and favours over the rest. The calls for appellate jurisdiction were challenged on the grounds that it will create parallel courts system that will not only be costly but also cause contradictions in the law application.

Second theme: Majority-minority contestation. Informants argue that because of the minority position of Muslims in the parliament, if Kadhi’s Courts are not constitutionally entrenched it will be removed by the majority Christian law makers. The Christians are said to have used their majority status to impose their influence on the minority. In the area, religious and ethnic group are observed to be siding with their co-religionists in other parts of the country. The Draft was also argued to have been manipulated to perpetuate marginalization of minority religions and communities. Some informants identify the state and the dominant religion as one and the same and hence in pursuit of the same objectives.  

Third theme: the debates were influenced from within and without. The national debates, fears, suspicions and aspirations of co-religionists and co-ethnics were localized and integrated into the body of local discourse about the Kadhi Courts by local religious clergy, civil society organizations and political elites. Informants also blame the Pentecostals for souring relations and they were depicted as carrying out ‘proxy wars’ for America against Islam. However, the effects of such groups on the local religious scene are minimal. Informants tend to clearly define themselves and others in simple categories such as Muslim or Christian.

Fourth Theme: The debate linked the past and the present conflicts. Competition over resources such as land are intense and other areas of such rivalry include political leadership, economic opportunities, provision of education and shifting boundaries of Meru-Isiolo District. Ultimately it drifts toward ownership of political and social space and as one informant puts it ‘One of the biggest problems is, who owns Isiolo?’  

Fifth theme: Inter-faith relations are good. Though the inter-faith relations are depicted are cordial due to Inter-faith Dialogue Committee, during the Referendum their unity was broken as each religion took sides against each other.

Sixth Theme: Civic education poorly done. This is because civic educators took sides due to religious and ethnic affiliation and time shortage and lack of resources were also cited.

Seventh Theme: the youth unlike the older members of society reflected more cordial interactions and some call for recognition of local norms in disputations at the Court and use of local religious personnel.

Eighth Theme: The Christian courts are not necessary. Such courts were argued to be impractical due to denominational differences.

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