Religious wars are fraught with dangers that only time will reveal. For the past decade or so, Kenyans have inexorably been pushed into a religious war by both faith-leaders and terror organisations like al Shabaab. So far, to the credit of political leaders, Kenyans have not been persuaded that there is indeed a religious war to be fought. It might be that we all dream of becoming tenderpreneurs and all the billions that such a title commands and as such are not interested in a war for which there is nothing but confusion at best and civil war at worst.
Faith leaders, on the other hand, have been less than sanguine. For example, in the Standard on Sunday, David Oginde, the Presiding Bishop at Christ Is The Answer Ministries, seems to stoke the fires of religious war with this astonishing statement: "Therefore, though the government may have to safeguard and protect the interests of its Muslim citizens, it may be hard put justified our being part of "the collective voice of the Muslim world."" He justifies this by stating that "Some would assume that the separation of state and religion is a key principle enshrined in the Kenya constitution."
Mr Oginde writes in response to a proposal by the National Treasury of Kenya joining the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. (Let us think twice before joining the OIC.) First, does the Kenya constitution separate religion and the state? This is going to be a vexed question. Article 8 of the Constitution states that there shall be no state religion. This, I argue, is not a clear-cut separation of the state and religion. In light, especially, of the allusion to "Almighty God" in the Preamble to the Constitution, it could be argued that the State recognises the place of religion even in governance, and that the only way to safeguard the interests of all Kenyans is not to favour one religion over others. It is why the State has legislated the registration of religious societies and the licensing of ministers of religion to officiate at marriages on behalf of the Registrar of Marriages.
Second, would joining the OIC be an instance of fusing the state and religion? I don't believe it would be, even if one of the stated objectives of the OIC is to be "the collective voice of the Muslim world." Henry Rotich, the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury, states that the reason why Kenya wishes to join the OIC is for economic and financial purposes, not religious ones. Mr Rotich has no role, if any, to play in the role the national government plays in its interaction with religious organisations and has never had such a role. His is to safeguard the economic and financial interests of Kenya.
Mr Oginde attempts to connect the membership of the OIC with Kenya's diplomatic relations with the Jewish State of Israel, especially in light of the OIC's politics regarding Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Kenya has always remained neutral to the politics of Palestine and has always pursued its interests, just like Israel and members of the OIC do. It will join the OIC with its interests in mind, and if on the balance, the benefits outweigh the risks, Mr Rotich should not be held back simply because of a concern for the politics of Palestine that have bedevilled the world since 1947 without resolution.
Kenya's interests will not be served by bending to the whims of amateur constitutionalists or amateur diplomats, but by a rational consideration of its interests. It is time Kenya diversified its global financial and economic interests; the World Bank and the IMF are all well and good, as are the deepening entanglements with China and India. But at the end of the day, we cannot simply reject out of hand the OIC plan simply because some religious fanatics have a visceral suspicion of Muslims and are not shy about peddling half-truths about Islamic organisations such as the OIC. If our national treasury is to benefit from joining the OIC, Mr Oginde's should firmly remain the voice of the irrational minority.