‘Hello, my name is Joe Biden. I work for Barack Obama.” With that, the vice president brought Obamacare to Nairobi last month. If not the policy exactly, the strategy: confuse and obscure, make opponents the enemy of the good.
Biden was in Kenya leading what sounded a lot like a rally for the new constitution there, one that will be voted on in August. It’s a fatally flawed one, inimical to the values of many Kenyans. The government lost a constitutional vote once before, and they’ve called out the big guns for this propaganda campaign, including claimed promises of an Obama visit if the people do as asked.
Many foreign observers have enthusiastically joined the government and Kenyan mainstream media in insisting that a yes vote is essential. But it’s far from an open-and-shut case.
First, Article 26 of the proposed constitution would overturn the prohibition on abortion, allowing abortion when “in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger or if permitted by any other written law.” That’s a fairly open window, one that has abortion opponents alarmed.
U.S. financial and rhetorical support for this constitution has some members of Congress calling for an investigation. In a letter to inspectors general of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Republican representatives Chris Smith of New Jersey, Darrell Issa of California, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida raised questions about American constitutional lobbying in Kenya: “The Obama Administration’s advocacy in support of Kenya’s proposed constitution may constitute a serious violation of the Siljander Amendment and, as such, may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.”
Administration officials have denied the lobbying charge. But, as the letter points out, our ambassador to Kenya has been quoted as saying that the U.S. has given Kenya $2 million for “civic education” about the constitution, and that we’re committed to more.
“The U.S. shouldn’t be interfering with this process, and we have serious questions about why the Obama administration is promoting a constitution which allows abortion on demand and waters down protections for religious freedom,” says Rebecca Marchinda of the New York–based World Youth Alliance, which has an office in Nairobi.
And, as if the West’s exporting of its abortion license to Kenya — a nation known for a growing, enthusiastic Catholic and other Christian presence — weren’t alarming enough, the proposed constitution would also create a legal system within a legal system — codifying the strengthening of sharia by making it apply to every Muslim Kenyan. As Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty points out, “People are subjected to these tribunals merely by virtue of what religious community they were born into, and they have no way of opting out.”
Ray Walser of the Heritage Foundation gives the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt: “I would suspect the administration is pushing the constitution package as a whole with the promise to reduce presidential power and to place constitutional safeguards against corruption.” That would take Joe Biden at his word. But the Achilles’ heel of this administration is that it is not, in the subtle words of Walser, “adverse to measures that permit space for sharia-like legal customs — for Muslim outreach/public-diplomacy purposes — and also walk back Bush-administration strictures and squeamishness on abortion issues.” It also serves as a “signal that the voice of the U.S. religious lobby is not as powerful as it believes it is.”
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, warns more directly and alarmingly:
The U.S. is drifting unconsciously, haltingly, inconsistently toward a foreign policy that actively promotes the state coercion of Islamic strictures. It adopted such a policy in its financial and legal drafting support of the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which were drafted to contain provisions stating that no law can run counter to Islamic law. . . . It did so at the U.N. Human Rights Council in October 2009, when the U.S. joined with Egypt, representing the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to introduce a resolution calling for states to enforce their hate-speech laws. It explained its initiative, which shocked many NGOs, as seeking to “reach out to Muslim countries.” . . . Weighing in to support the incorporation of sharia courts in the Kenya constitution is the latest example. If this occurs in Kenya, it will mean that the state will coerce compliance with a specific interpretation of Islam, and will particularly affect the status of women, who, relative to men, are not equal under law in any of the traditional schools of Islam.
“Of course Kenya is its own sovereign, and will do what it wishes,” Angela C. Wu, International Law Director at the Becket Fund, points out, “but like other countries, the U.S. has both a moral responsibility and an interest in protecting human rights anywhere.” And maybe even more so in Kenya, where opponents of the abortion-expanding, sharia-mandating bill have been threatened and killed for saying no. Dissenting government officials have been arrested for their leadership in protest. The Kenyan government has been “egregious” in pulling out all stops to propagandize for this constitution, says Terence McKeegan, vice president and senior counsel for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.
Judy Kalinga, a lawyer in Kenya, emphasizes, sounding a lot like an American voter at a town-hall meeting or tea-party rally, that “we opponents of this constitution — opponents of these provisions on abortion and sharia law — want a constitution, we want reform, we need reform. But not this constitution.” She and other Kenyans want to restart. But Barack Obama and the West say they know best.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.