Why Catholic Bishops Believe the Govt Wants Control Over Church-Sponsored Schools

A photo collage of Education CS Ezekiel Machogu and new KCCB Archbishop Maurice Muhatia.
Ministry of Education, Radio Waumini

In an escalating confrontation between the Catholic Church and the Kenya Kwanza government, the Church has voiced serious concerns about policies it perceives as aimed at diluting its influential role in the educational sector and broader Kenyan society.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), in a press conference on April 11, highlighted the proposed Basic Education Bill 2024 and Universities (Amendment) Bill 2024 as critical areas where the government appears to be encroaching on the autonomy traditionally enjoyed by religious organizations in managing educational institutions.

Archbishop Maurice Muhatia of Kisumu, the newly elected KCCB chairperson, articulated the church's apprehensions. “There appears to be a deliberate intent by the government to diminish and undermine the role of the Catholic Church, and indeed all faiths, as custodians of morality in our society,” he stated.

The Catholic Church operates a vast network of educational establishments, including 5,821 primary schools, 1,756 secondary schools, 2,513 early childhood development institutions, 220 vocational institutions, and 21 teacher training colleges. Collectively, these institutions account for a significant portion of the national educational framework.

“The proposed legislation marks a profound shift in the government's approach towards church-sponsored schools,” Muhatia explained. According to the Basic Education Bill, the role of 'sponsors' in education will be redefined, granting the Cabinet Secretary sweeping powers to influence decisions affecting private and church-sponsored schools.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) addressing the press on Thursday, April 11.
Radio Waumini

Under Section 151 of the contentious Bill, any institution wishing to sponsor an educational establishment must notify the County Education Board, which, in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary, has the authority to approve, amend, or reject such requests. This section also empowers the Cabinet Secretary to set regulations guiding the recognition and management of sponsorship contributions.

“This is a stark departure from the historical agreements between the Church and the State regarding the administration of church-founded educational institutions,” Muhatia added, emphasizing the breach of trust and tradition this represents.

Moreover, the Bill specifies that the chairperson of the Board of Management for public schools sponsored by faith-based organizations will be appointed by the County Education Board in consultation with the sponsors, a move that the Church sees as a further erosion of its influence.

On the higher education front, the Universities (Amendment) Bill 2024 is another source of contention.

This Bill allows the Cabinet Secretary for Education unprecedented powers to dissolve, merge, or convert private universities — including those founded by faith-based organizations — without adequate consultation with the stakeholders originally responsible for their establishment.

Section 38 of the proposed legislation outlines extensive powers for the Cabinet Secretary concerning higher education institutions.

It states, "The Cabinet Secretary may, upon recommendation from the Commission and other relevant stakeholders, recommend to the President the merger, conversion, or amalgamation of two or more private universities; the acquisition of one university by another; or the closure of a university."

Additionally, the Bill grants the Cabinet Secretary authority to devise regulations aimed at enhancing the practical application of this section, thereby further solidifying the government's influence over the administrative futures of private universities.

“It is perplexing that the government chooses to focus on the control of private and faith-based universities at a time when public universities are facing severe challenges,” remarked Muhatia. 

He added, “We advocate for standards and guidelines set by the Ministry of Education, but insist on thorough and respectful consultations with all parties involved in matters that impact our institutions.”

A picture of the entrace to Catholic University of Eastern Africa.