Casting the first stone
ChurchBy Hassan Galana
In ancient Britain and Ireland, October 31 was referred as Halloween Day, a day in which people invoked the devil's name and sought his help in their lives. Today that is no more. But in distant Kenya, ten days to that date and five years ago on October 21, 1994, President Daniel arap Moi revisited the issue of devils when he appointed a 10-man Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations that there was devil worship in the country. The Commission did the task and handed him the report on July 1995. But the report had to wait five years before it was released only to meet widespread condemnation in the country and inflame religious passions.
Days after the report titled Presidential Commission of Inquiry Into the Cult of Devil Worship in Kenya was released on August 4, critics set in dismissing it as a waste of time, clouded in generalities and that it lacked any authoritative evidence. The criticism came not only from the media and those religious organisations that the Commission had identified as 'avenues of Satanism' but also from the general public.
A columnist with the Daily Nation newspaper and which was the first to break the news of the report's release wrote: " The report is no more than a jumble of narrow-minded prejudices from old, conservative, largely 'born again' Christians from mainstream churches who sniff the hand of Satan in anything unconventional that doesn't fit into their own religious worldview." This dismissive tone was warranted by some vague conclusions that the report passed as evidence.
The practitioners of this type of worship it simply stated: " Devil worshippers are usually wealthy and prominent people who drive very expensive cars and possess large amounts of money." Their rituals, it added, " generally include the presence of snakes, drinking human blood, cannibalism and human sacrifice."
Even the country's currency was not spared. A Ksh 20 note-no longer in use- was alleged to bear a Swastika, the Ksh 100 one had naked people holding a monument while the KSh 200 one is said to reveal a snake, " all which," the report stated, " have been associated with devil worship."
Music in public minibuses (matatus), wrestling matches on TV and graffiti were also identified as other avenues. While it was vehement in defending these phenomenon as the evidence, it must be noted all the ritual related aspects were the general ideas that people had when they talked on the issue. Many expected more definite facts than these only to be met with what many saw more as street rumours.
The attempt to link the devil with some national tragedies removed any credibility on the report. Singled out were the sinking of a ferry in the country's port town of Mombasa in 1994 and which killed about 300 people and a train crash that killed 63 people a year before. These two incidents, the report was confident, were the work of the devil's agents despite evidence of poor maintenance of the machines.
Particularly hit were the Freemasons who were accused of praying in the dark while nude, ate human flesh drank human blood and walked backwards when entering their temples.
Other groups that were charged with practising Satanism are the Theosophical Society, Transcendental meditation, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, freelance street preachers, the New Age Movement and the Rastafarian movement.
The report warned that the practice had crept in the country's educational institutions and that it posed a threat to the national educational objectives.
It is in this context that the clerics recommended the establishment of a special police force trained in the manifestations of occult crime, the banning of matatu music, arrest of suspected culprits and screening of prospective preachers. All this, critics countered reeks of the medieval inquisition and in short was a witch-hunt by the mainstream Christian churches acting in league with the government against other religious movements in the country.
"The Commission was more intent on linking every unconventional movement with the 'devil' rather than establish the real scope and extent of Satanism in Kenya", wrote a columnist in the Sunday Standard. He went on to say. " Entrusting an investigation on devil worship to a group of religious leaders was a mistake." It must be noted that the all-male members of the Commission headed by the Catholic Archbishop of the Nyeri Diocese Nicodemus Kirima were drawn from the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Neither did it (Commission) have among its ranks non-Christian or representatives from other faiths or trained professionals like psychologists, sociologists, and religious philosophers.
Such a composition only succeeded to invite a predictable response from some of the religious groups implicated in the report. Jehovah Witnesses accused the mainstream churches of implicating them in the practice out of jealousy. " We expose their (mainstream churches) false teachings, which are not Bible-based. These include the holy trinity and the immortality of the soul," said Christopher Kanaiya, an overseer of one of the Witnesses' halls.
The Freemasons through a statement issued by the East African District Lodge said: " Freemasonry is a society concerned with moral and spiritual values. We are therefore surprised and disappointed at what we consider misrepresentation of the objects, principles, philosophy and activities of our institution."
Man should only strive for the Truth as it is higher than any religion, countered the Theosophical Society which is a group composed of members from different religious groups. By then any sober discussion on the report had all but disappeared.
Whether there is a conspiracy between the authorities and the mainstream churches to target the peripheral religious movement it has yet to become clear. What however is evident is the fact that it is largely the government and the commissioners who have come out in the report's defence. "The report is a reality. We have evidence in our report," said Right Rev Bernard Muindi, one of the commissioners. President Moi himself stated that the report was in line with other measures that his government had taken in keeping close watch on what he called 'anti-social practices.' He didn't tell which were the other anti-social actions.
But even the manner in which the report was issued was also sinister. A few days before the Nation newspaper splashed it as its lead story, Archbishop Ndingi Mwana A'Nzeki, the head of the Catholic Church in Kenya indicated he had received a copy of the report from the president but wouldn't release it to the public. His reason? Only the president had the authority to do so. And when the media carried the report the head of the Anglican Church in the country Archbishop David Gitari could only abhor the fact that somebody other than the president had leaked the report to the public. Such is the reverence the church has of the government in the country.
Even what was given to the public enraged some of the Commissioners like Bishop David Njue who claimed that the report had been doctored. If that is true, then it ties with the excuse President Moi gave in 1996 as to why he could not release the report, one year after it had been presented to him.
He claimed that its contents 'were sensitive ' and whose 'legal implications' would be inappropriate for the government. Well Moi might have postponed the legal implications that time, now he faces the dilemma of how to deal with the 'guilty' groups in a country where there is no explicit definition of devil worship.
The country is not a theocracy and actually its constitution trumpets the freedom of worship. That is the framework in which the likes of Freemasons have been able to legally exist in the country. At the same time the mainstream churches with their holier-than-thou attitude may have cast the first stone in what may later turn out to be religious animosity in the country.
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