Atheists in Kenya challenge the status quo
Despite the incredible growth of Pentecostalism across Africa, there is a slow growth of people who subscribe to no religion or deity. The best example of this can be illustrated in Kenya, where earlier this year an atheist organization applied for formal recognition from authorities. This move ruffled feathers and raised protest from the Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches, which expressed concerns on the grounds of morality and growing number of atheists.
The application by the Atheists in Kenya (AIK) organization was initially suspended due to these concerns. The registration body cited worries over peace and order in Kenya, fearing that it would suffer if the atheist body was registered. The Kenyan constitution advocates for separation of religion and state, and AIK is a lawful organization. However, the suspension shows the sway that religious organizations have. Although the Atheists in Kenya organization was granted a registration certificate in the end, the episode raised issues on the constitution, religious tolerance and secularism.
According to statistics from 2014, the dominant religion in Kenya is Christianity, with over 82.5 percent of the country’s population professing different denominations under the banner of Christianity. Kenya recognizes eight other religions, including Hinduism, Islam, the Bahai faith and traditional religions. The same report puts the number of people registered as having no religion at about a million people or 2.5 percent of Kenyans. These are mostly young people with an average age of 20 years old.
Some suggest that there may be more than a million Kenyans who do not subscribe to any religion. In a country where there is stigma attached to atheism and where a good number of people associate atheism with evil and Satanism, people may prefer to keep their lack of belief private for fear of reprisal. AIK is the first atheist society to be registered in Kenya and currently has 115 members. It has as its mission, the promotion of growth and interaction among Kenyan atheists.
Is atheism really rising in Africa? Should atheists organisations receive formal recognition from the government? Let us know what you think in the comments section below or on Twitter @rafeeeeta