The Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga
by the Rt. Hon. Raila A. Odinga, EGH MP
Prime Minister of Kenya
Eight years ago, God called His Servant Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga to rest. As we mark this anniversary, it is fitting to reflect on the life of this fine priest. Otunga, the Servant of God, led a pious life. He shunned ostentation. He cared for, helped and prayed with the lowest. And for him, there was no ethnicity. All were God’s creation and part of one Kenyan family.
It is Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga’s dedication to serving all God’s people that led the Catholic Church to commence the process of his canonisation. I want to join the Catholic faithful in celebrating the declaration of Otunga as the ‘Servant of God’, which is the first critical stage in the process of beatification.
I am confident that the second stage, which involves looking at his life, including writings by and about him, will be successful, too.
As we gather to mark this anniversary, I am happy that some of the things Cardinal Otunga wanted for Kenya are now within our reach.
The new Constitution, just a year old, opens frontiers for ensuring no Kenyan goes without food, water, shelter, education or healthcare.
Those are issues that were close to the heart of Otunga, the Servant of God, as evidenced by the schools, hospitals, water projects and other basic social services projects he initiated. Cardinal Otunga firmly believed in life after death, but he also revered life before death.
That life is still very difficult for most of our people. Unemployment remains high, and food, fuel and other commodity prices are constantly rising.
Corruption and impunity continue, and a scorching drought has us in its grip, destroying crops, killing livestock, wiping out incomes and livelihoods, and depriving millions of the basics that sustain life.
A huge step towards alleviating and ultimately solving these problems will be the successful implementation of our new Constitution. And in ensuring that, four issues will test us more than all the rest.
The four great tests will be (1) ensuring free and fair elections; (2) making devolution work for our people; (3) slaying the dragons of corruption and impunity; and (4) combating negative ethnicity.
I am firmly convinced that our future as a nation depends on how well we measure up to those tests.
We need the same kind of focus, dedication and selflessness Maurice Cardinal Otunga displayed in the 50 years of his priesthood. And the church will continue to be an important agency in helping us.
Ladies and gentlemen, this evening I want to touch on two of the challenges we face – corruption and impunity, and negative ethnicity.
To our shame, we play in the super league of corrupt nations. Corruption grinds down our families and our economy -a few hundred shillings for a traffic police officer here, a few thousand shillings for overpriced utilities there, and, too often, a few million shillings to line the pockets of politicians, cowboy contractors and business brokers.
The new Constitution gives us stronger tools against corruption, including the recently enacted Independent Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act.
But tools are one thing, human beings another. Integrity will be crucial to the process of reform, and that is something for which you cannot legislate.
It is here that the Church has a critical role. It must lead the way in demonstrating and demanding integrity. We must all be disciples of Cardinal Otunga. We must be led by his example.
Under the Constitution, no one is above the law. The Constitution does not tolerate impunity, and those of us in positions of leadership – whether churchman or politician – must show the way in observing national principles and obeying the country’s laws.
Only thus will the provisions of the new Constitution have a chance of being the spear that pierces the heart of corruption and impunity.
Ladies and gentlemen, because of negative ethnicity, too many Kenyans have long viewed their countrymen and women with destructive suspicion. The question has been, “When is it our turn to eat?” But the real question should be, “How do we make it possible for all Kenyans to eat?”
Thankfully, many of our young people have begun to rise above ethnic parochialism. They want to know about leaders’ policies, not their tribes. This offers great hope for the future.
We must promote programmes giving our young people even more exposure to each other’s communities. We must encourage unity in diversity.
Above all, this is a challenge of individual and collective leadership. Leaders in churches, mosques, academia, politics and business must speak out against the old ethnic stereotypes and fears.
In the post-election crisis of 2008, the church was found wanting in this. I want to believe that we all learned from that dark moment in our history and have resolved NEVER AGAIN to allow our people to be used against each other.
This country IS too important. What the coming generations will inherit hangs in the balance, and we must secure it. We must not be slowed by inertia, or splintered by narrow sectarian interests.
This is Kenya’s moment. We have a chance to improve our nation in fundamental ways, through a bold, progressive, modern Constitution that offers increased employment, better development, more accountability, and much-needed unity.
We got to this point through testing times. We fought for and achieved the return of multi-party politics and the end of authoritarian rule. We pulled back from the brink of terrible violence. We learned to live together again, and we crafted and adopted a new Constitution.
Now we must pass the four great tests in implementing that Constitution. We must make the most of Kenya’s moment. It is our duty to create the Kenya all our countrymen and women deserve. Ultimately, it is our solemn duty to create a society that would have made Maurice Cardinal Otunga proud.
Let us dedicate our best efforts to his memory.