Barack Obama’s sterling image among Kenyans has dimmed in the wake of a $23M U.S. campaign to promote a draft constitution that included abortion rights. The U.S. promoted the new constitution as a way to stop gross presidential power and corruption. Opponents say that same power and corruption were used to convince many Kenyans, falsely, that the document was pro-life. The constitution passed with 67% in favor on August 4th.
“In a word, we were against a most formidable government machinery that took total control of the message and denied access to the truth to its own people with the help of foreign regimes,” one Kenyan observer told the Friday Fax.
In July, Nairobi’s Catholic bishop told Church faithful to vote NO due to the abortion clause. On August 2nd a full-page ad appeared in the Daily Nation said that, “The Draft Constitution does NOT legalise abortion,” due to a clause stating “life begins at conception.” The ad went on to accuse Church leaders of continuing “to propagate outrageous and inflammatory falsehoods which deliberately misrepresent the proposed new laws.”
In fact, the draft constitution, now approved, contains a clause legalizing abortion, and abortion groups were already preparing for the new laws. Marie Stopes, one of the world’s top abortion providers, began a program in April for texting service information directly to cell phones in Nairobi. In May, a group of medical practitioners released a document entitled, “Standards and Guidelines for Providing Lawful Safe Abortion Services in Kenya.” The week of the vote, electronic and print media published stories about studies claiming that Kenya’s high maternal mortality rate was due to illegal abortion.
In July, a letter from U.S. Members of Congress alerted Kenyans to the fact that the YES campaign was being funded by $23M from the US government.
President Obama had dispatched Vice President Biden to Nairobi to put pressure on President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and then appointed US ambassador Michael Ranneberger to lead U.S. efforts. According to AllAfrica.com, the ambassador directed U.S. personnel, even Peace Corps volunteers, to campaign for the document throughout the country and traded on Obama’s heroic reputation with promises of U.S. funding and a visit by Obama, whose paternal grandmother lives in Kenya.
A Kenyan doctor told the Friday Fax, “Government administrators such as permanent Secretaries, Provincial commissioners, District commissioners, District officers, chiefs and parastatal bosses all went to the villages to convince people to vote for the document.”
Another NO campaigner said he, his wife, and a small group spent every weekend for three months traveling Kenya’s long rural roads to tell their fellow Kenyans the truth about the constitution. He said that the rare opponents of the constitution among Members of the Kenyan Parliament came under such intense fire from high-level officials that they eventually changed positions.
An American missionary in Nairobi told the Friday Fax, “[the fact that] the US has been funding the ‘yes’ camp has been an eye opener for Kenyans. Obama is their idol and this has been placing him in a new light, especially in the Church.”